Gender MATTERS in Mentoring

3/26/2010
By Allison Smith, Social Media & Outreach Associate at MMP

Women are brilliant, amazing, funny and beautiful. I am not just saying that because I am a woman and I think I am awesome, but because I am constantly in awe of the women around me- coworkers, fellow T riders, my mother, my sister and my friends.

The emotional support we gain from one another is a bond of sisterhood that is invisible but as strong as a chain of steel - and one that is closely related that with our own mentors and role models. This may seem mushy and a little too sentimental, but I feel compelled to celebrate National Women’s History Month and after a workshop I attended last week, it is all too evident how powerful a force that sisterhood is.

It was in full force at BNY Mellon, where “Getting Results: Why Gender Matters in Mentoring” was held on March 26. This event, hosted by Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, in collaboration with The Girls Coalition of Greater Boston and BNY Mellon brought out three incredible women to enlighten the group with new research about how and why gender matters in mentoring.

The message of the day was clear: a gender-neutral approach to mentoring is a blind approach, as there is a significant difference between the relationships of young men and their mentors and young women and their mentors. Dr. Jean Rhodes and Dr. Renée Spencer presented research on the differing components of mentoring for girls, as well as new research on successful matches from Big Sister.

According to Dr. Rhodes, research suggests that girls have more emotionally intense relationships with their mentors, and boys have instrumental relationships. She went on to explain how mentoring programs go about addressing programming for these relationships is crucial to their effectiveness.

She also revealed that girls are more alienated from their parents, specifically their mothers. An even more interesting fact is that the mentoring relationship helps build socio-emotional, identity and cognitive development, which in turn improves relationships with parents and teachers… something I wish I knew when I was 14-years-old.

Joining Dr. Rhodes was Dr. Renée Spencer, who shared excerpts from her study of girls mentoring, “She Gives Me a Break From the World.” In the study, she interviewed female mentees, their mentors and then the matches together, and gathered a wealth of information on the variables in the relationship that made it successful.

Dr. Spencer was able to show us that for a girl’s mentoring relationship to be positive, there needs to be engaged and authentic emotional support and companionship, as well as the development of new skills and confidence through collaboration. She gave a great example of a match that sang into hairbrushes at home and in the car so the mentee would be more confident when auditioning for plays and musicals.

Sometimes there is nothing more moving than hearing actual anecdotes from the mentees and mentors to really understand the transformation that mentoring has had on them. Dr. Spencer quoted a mentee stating that she enjoys her time with her mentor because she “talks to me as a human being” and gives her intensive one-on-one time she would not regularly get with her parent. The mentors, Dr. Spencer said, are “jumping in to help develop skills” and they are instrumental in challenging their mentees to do more.

When the presentation was over I was delighted that it opened up for a discussion that was moderated by Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, author of Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice. This gave both Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Spencer a chance to share how their own mentor/mentee relationship has grown over the years into a collaborative process, from teacher and student to colleagues- one that I relate to with those mentors I find in the Mass Mentoring office.

I left feeling refreshed in my on-going AmeriCorps mission to "get things done" and my own personal mantra to "change the world." But even in the midst of this excitement I am reminded that there are still over 200 girls on the wait list for mentors across the state. There are more than 14 mentoring programs primarily serving girls in the Greater Boston area and more throughout the state.

Interested in mentoring? Check out some of Mass Mentoring’s Quality Based-Membership programs that serve girls in Massachusetts and volunteer today!

Big Sister Association of Greater Boston
Since 1951, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston has been helping girls reach their full potential through positive mentoring relationships with women. Big Sister is the largest mentoring organization exclusively serving girls in Greater Boston, covering 69 cities and towns. Big Sister offers both school-based and community-based one-to-one mentoring. It also has a group mentoring approach through TEAM (Team Enhanced Approach to Mentoring) and Life Choices, where Little Sisters can openly explore the choices and challenges they face in their lives.

Interested in becoming a mentor with Big Sister? Contact Anita Yip for more information.

Girls Inc of Holyoke
Help mentor girls that are children of incarcerated parents in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield and Belchertown. Volunteer in the Teen Center with Girls Making a Difference in Chicopee and Holyoke Youth Pride Empowerment (HYPE). Girls Inc. of Holyoke was one of six sites that were chosen by ING to start a three-year program teaching girls safe and smart investment practices with the stock market. They are given $50,000 virtual dollars and learn how to research companies, and at the end of the second year the gains of the $50,000 is divided up among the participating girls for them to use for college as a scholarship.

Interested in becoming a mentor with Girls Inc Holyoke? Contact Rosa Santiago for more information.

“It is an amazing experience just having someone there. This is why I do what I do - because every girl should have an opportunity to thrive like that.” - Rosa Santiago speaking about her own mentor.

Mother Caroline Academy- Dorchester

The Academy serves girls in grades 5-8. The mentoring program introduces the girls to the idea of a mentor in 7th grade and is formally matched with one at the beginning of 8th grade. The groups of matches go to musicals and shows in Boston, like “Dream Girls” and “Stomp.” In 9th grade, the girls go to other schools for high school, and the mentors serve as a bridge and support from Mother Caroline to high school and college.

Interested in becoming a mentor with Mother Caroline? ContactGay Crowley for more information.

Strong Women Strong Girls

SWSG is a mentoring program for girls grades 3-5 with a group model at select schools. There are over 375 girls in the program with 105 mentors and 35 sites in Boston. Mentors are from the chapter programs at colleges in the Boston area. The female college students help with the leadership development of the girls as well as themselves. They build a strong female collaboration. Currently there are chapters at Harvard, Boston College, Simmons, Northeastern and Tufts. It is a one year commitment for the mentors.

Coming soon is the 3rd Annual Jump into Spring on April 10, a jump rope-a-thon for mentees and mentors in all three cities where SWSG operates in (Boston, Miami, Pittsburgh). It will be simulcast at each location from 10 a.m. to Noon.

Interested in becoming a mentor with Strong Women Strong Girls? Contact Lydia Bradley. for more information.