It’s Not You, It’s Me: An Exploration of Mentoring Experiences for Women in STEM

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Although the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) continues to grow, men still represent a significant majority of those employed in these industries. 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. However, research suggests that women are still being mentored less often than their male colleagues. To understand this issue in depth, 36 women holding managerial positions in STEM organizations in the United States and Canada were interviewed and their experiences with mentoring were discussed. The results suggest that women do have access and indeed find potential mentors but they perceive significant barriers that prevent these initial meetings from developing into long-term mentoring relationships. Specifically, four Barriers to the Development of Mentorship (BDM) were identified including: Need for Fit, Demonstrating Capability, Commitment of the Mentor, and Trust in the Mentor. BDM might help researchers and practitioners understand why women are under-mentored and consequently underrepresented in STEM workplaces. Implications of these findings are discussed, such as how to improve formal mentoring programs to overcome BDM and better serve women in STEM.


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