It’s not you, it’s me: An exploration of mentoring for women in STEM

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Although the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is growing, men still represent a significant majority. Mentoring programs have been identified as a useful tool to alleviate this gap and therefore have been developed in an effort to attract and retain women in STEM careers. However, research suggests that women are still being mentored less often than their male colleagues, which could have a detrimental effect on women’s career development and growth. In an effort to understand this issue in depth, this exploratory qualitative study was conducted. Thirty six women holding managerial positions in more than twenty different STEM organizations were interviewed to understand their experiences with mentoring. Through content analysis of the data, the existence of a type of barrier previously unidentified in the literature was unearthed, namely Barriers to the Development of Mentorship (BDM). It was previously believed that women were under-mentored because they did not have access to potential mentors. The results of this study suggest that women do have access and indeed find potential mentors but they experience barriers that prevent these initial meetings from developing into mentoring relationships. In particular, this study found four such barriers, Need for Fit, Demonstrating Capability, Commitment of the Mentor and Trust in the Mentor, barriers that are described and discussed in detail. These barriers help understand why women are under-mentored and consequently underrepresented in STEM workplaces. Implications of these findings for researchers and practitioners are discussed.



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