NZIM: Mentors – NZIM study shows they help advance careers

New Zealand Institute of Management mentors help their proteges overcome important obstacles which impede their progress in reaching the highest levels in business. This conclusion emerged from research undertaken for NZIM by Carol Chamove.

If protege needs help towards advancing their career, then an effective mentor should help with what is considered important by those who have already reached the top. Catalyst, North American-based research company, surveyed more than 1000 male CEOs and female executives from Fortune 1000 companies and identified five critical barriers to career advancement including:
* Inhospitable corporate culture
* Exclusion from informal networks
* Stereotyping and preconceptions
* Not in pipeline long enough
* Lack of significant general management or line experience.

The New Zealand study used these five factors to evaluate what mentors did to help their protege, and how much they did of it. The approach allowed Chamove to see if local mentors do what is considered important. The results clearly show that mentors do precisely that.

Catalyst found from the US study that male CEOs viewed the barriers’ relative importance differently than did female executives. Most males viewed “lack of general management or line experience” as the most important obstacle to advancing their career.

“Not being in the pipeline long enough” ran close second By contrast, female executives placed “stereotyping and preconceptions” at the top of their list of obstacles, followed by “exclusion from informal networks”. Males, it seems, stress critical barriers relating to lack of experience, while females emphasise barriers associated with an inhospitable work environment.

NZIM mentors helped proteges with all of the five critical barriers, and they did so to surprisingly high level. As if guided by the Catalyst study, New Zealand mentors in the study provided the most assistance to overcome the barrier ranked by North American male CEOs as most important – lack of either general or line management experience. They helped least with the barrier ranked as having the lowest importance – exclusion from informal networks. Nevertheless, they gave at least moderate assistance to overcome the least-important barrier.

The research showed that stereotyping is only an obstacle to females. Interestingly, however, female proteges were helped as much by male as they were by female mentors to counter this putative impediment.

Extraordinary impact
On average, as many as 60 percent of mentors and 70 percent of proteges felt that the mentor had high or extraordinary impact on their careers. Only one mentor and none of the proteges reported the mentor having no effect. Not one respondent said the relationship was detrimental.

Mentoring is generally considered good thing, but there is minimal hard data measuring mentor impact on careers, which is believed to be the prime objective of personal mentoring. The study suggests that mentoring relationships have positive, substantial, and measurable effects on people’s careers.

The findings using New Zealand mentors support Catalyst findings in North America research on the career importance of overcoming both lack of experience and an inhospitable work environment. The level of help with both of these categories of obstacles was positively and highly associated with the mentors’ ratings of impact on the protege’s career. Assistance with inexperience was correlated four times more with impact on career than assistance with female executives’ priorities – an inhospitable work environment. In other words, what has the most impact on career is the provision of what men say is important rather than what women say is important.

Formal mentoring works
By the 1980s around 80 percent of North American corporations had implemented formal mentoring programmes. decade later similar levels were being reported in the United Kingdom. New Zealand is showing comparable trend exemplified by the programme currently offered by NZIM.

Despite the increase in formal mentoring, there is still speculation in management literature that formal mentoring is less beneficial than naturally-occurring mentoring relationships. Some critics suggest that formally-initiated programmes should not be referred to as mentoring.
The Chamove study, however, suggests excellent results evolve from formal mentoring. There was no difference between formal and informal mentoring in any key factor measured. The formal mentors helped their protégés overcome all five of the critical barriers to advancement identified by Catalyst, and they did so at least to the same level as spontaneous mentoring relationships. NZIM is, therefore, confident about recommending the strategy of implementing formal mentoring programmes.

The mentors
At the beginning of their mentoring relationship, almost all the mentors were at senior or executive level. Sixty-six percent of them were two rungs or more above the organisational level of the protégé and, unexpectedly, eight percent were at the same or lower levels. The average age of mentor was 48. Their protégés were about 16 years younger. Sixty-five percent of mentors were in the same organisation as their protégé, and 64 percent of these had their protégé reporting directly to them. No one had looked at the effects of mentor and protégé being in the same or different organisations before this study was initiated.

The average length of the relationship was four years, but few had been maintained for more than 20 years. Just over half of the mentors had spontaneously developed relationships with their protégé, and the remainder had been matched with the protégé by organisational assistance.

Males made up 86 percent of the mentors and half of the protégés. The pairings looked like this: Male mentors with male protégés were one-half the sample; one-third were male mentors with female protégés; one-seventh were females mentoring female protégés. Only one of the 115 mentors was female with male protégé, rare combination which mirrors the finding of other international researchers.

Gender counts
The study also found that the gender composition of the mentoring had unexpected and striking effects on the factors mentors helped with. What male mentors did for females was not in line with what was expected from the priority placed by men on overcoming lack of experience. Men might have been expected to help most with lack of experience regardless of the protégé’s gender, but they did not. They only help most with inexperience if they have male protégé; when the protégé is female they help them to cope most with factors related to an inhospitable environment. And there’s more:
• Mentoring was also evaluated from the viewpoint of the protégé. The view was rather different when looking up rather than down.
• Data was collected relating to other developmental relationships, those not seen by respondents as mentoring, but as having made significant impact on the career development of the understudy.
• The study is the first to look at whether the mentor and protégé being in the same or different organisations has any effect. It turned out to be more consequential than anticipated.
• Emotion has never been examined in mentoring. The study found that protégés like their mentors more than mentors like their protégés.

The research was completed as part of Massey University thesis by the author, Carol Chamove who, with Dr Arnold Chamove, has founded Innovate, consultancy specialising in the implementation and evaluation of formal and informal mentoring. She talked with 198 NZIM Fellows and Associate Fellows and 154 other senior-level business people. M

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