Mentoring and Women in Engineering -- Abstract

By Catherine T. Amelink, Ph.D.
Virginia Tech

To succeed in engineering, young women must believe the field of engineering is one in which they can exist as women and engineers. Mentoring provides women in STEM fields an opportunity to observe and interact with successful colleagues and more experienced professionals. By mitigating feelings of isolation in a male dominated field, mentoring relationships encourage positive socialization among women to STEM disciplines (Chesler, Boyle Single, & Mikic, 2003; Kahveci, Southerland, & Gilmer, 2006).

Mentoring is typically viewed as a series of meaningful interactions between a more experienced person, identified as the mentor, and a protégé that enhances the protégé’s personal growth and professional advancement (Fagenson, 1989; Paglis, Green, & Bauer, 2006). For instance, protégés reap the benefits of increased sense of confidence, self-esteem, and job satisfaction (Fagenson, 1989). Mentors benefit from the creativity and energy of their protégés and find that their own career is enhanced through interactions and increased visibility as they are associated with the successes of their protégé (Wright & Wright, 1987). Public and private sector organizations that provide formal mentoring programs also report benefits such as lower turnover levels for both mentors and proteges (Aryee, Chay, & Chew, 1996).

The composition of the mentoring relationship with regard to the gender of both mentor and protégé appears to be less important than (Ensher & Murphy, 1997) the type of mentoring provided (Buell, 2004) and the length of the mentoring relationship (Turban, Dougherty, & Lee, 2002).
Terms associated with the formation of mentoring relationships can be either formal or informal. Mentoring interventions vary from online communication to one-on-one pairings to portable mentors (Buell, 2004). Assessments of mentoring within the context of STEM applications thus far show it to be a positive factor in the retention of women in STEM fields (Kahveci, Southerland, & Gilmer, 2006).

This ARP Resource is designed to serve as a tool for STEM classroom instructors as well as individuals responsible for administering programs that are designed to address the underrepresentation of females in engineering and related disciplines. The Information Sheet outlines key research related to mentoring as it applies to the success of females in STEM fields and emphasizes how research on mentoring can be applied to aid in the development of mentoring programs or the improved implementation of existing mentoring programs in the K16 setting. The Literature Overview provides definitions and discusses theoretical constructs associated with mentoring, benefits of mentoring, the role gender in mentoring relationships, and specifically how mentoring can be used to address gender issues in STEM disciplines is reviewed. Also discussed are interventions and successful programmatic initiatives in STEM disciplines utilizing mentoring as well as assessment tools that are useful for evaluating a mentoring program.

Download ARP Information Sheet

Download ARP Literature Overview

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)