Research Corner: Benefits of Mentors

By Bridgette Ouimette, Strategic Initiatives & Research Director

The Women’s Symposium is upon us! This presents a great opportunity to have conversations with our girls about who their role models and mentors are, especially given the body of research that points to the importance of caring, supportive, and growth-fostering relationships in the development of intrinsic youth outcomes (Damon, 2008; Liang et al., 2016). 

As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of Living the Confidence Code, pointed out this week in the New York Times, “Role models have also been shown to have a bigger impact on women and underrepresented communities.” They recommend that parents and educators follow this formula for leveraging the benefits of role models:

  • Storytelling: Share the process of how you got somewhere
  • Details: Unpack what is authentic about a person, not just her achievements 
  • Values: Help girls to find shared values with female mentors
  • Find the extraordinary: Point out everyday heroes who aren’t typically noticed

The benefits of growth fostering mentoring relationships for adolescent girls are vast as they facilitate conversation about goals and future (Liang et al., 2007) and promote positive youth development (Zeldin et al., 2005, p. 5). Mentorships can provide the acceptance, inspiration, and support girls need to resist the pressure to be successful per extrinsic measures and to engage instead in a purpose that is more personally meaningful, and ultimately beneficial to others (Gilligan, 1990; Liang, Spencer et al., 2016). Schools and afterschool programs for adolescent girls should prioritize resources and set regular periods of time in students’ schedules to build growth-fostering mentoring relationships, as well as provide training for staff and teachers so that they may help counteract, rather than increase, performance expectations (Liang et al., 2016) and encourage youth engagement in purposeful activity. 

Mentoring relationships also serve to build social capital as mentees then use these newly acquired relationships to help pursue educational outcomes through acceptance to university programs and connections to practicing professionals (Shier et al., 2018).

The OLP Women’s Symposium seeks to capitalize on the compelling research that indicates that the achievement pressure experienced by girls can be mitigated by providing access to role models and mentors that help to inspire their individual sense of purpose (Kuperminc & Thomason, 2013) while supporting the development of social skills and growth that results from interaction with role models. 

The literature recommends that schools make time in their schedule to prioritize the development of growth-fostering mentoring relationships to shift emphasis from short-term goals to endeavors that  inspire girls’ purpose; in turn, this work supports curricular objectives as students who know what they want out of life and see how what they are learning are likely to be highly motivated in the classroom (Bronk, 2011).