Women frequently lack access to within-profession (and more frequently within-department) mentors to help them clarify and maneuver within the unwritten rules of their profession's culture (Cawyer, Simonds, & Davis, 2002). Such access is especially vital in academia. Women have access to graduate programs, yet the major obstacle they face is advancement, both through the academic programs and professionally. Through mentoring relationships, women and minority group members can attain advantages similar to those most often provided to junior members of the majority group (P. F. Wilson, 2001).
Mentoring is an integral tool for student success (Hurte, 2002). It is not always the best student who gets through a difficult graduate program, it is the one with endurance and perseverance. More often than not, this is achieved because that student has received support and guidance from a mentor. Woman-to-woman mentoring can bring together women of all ranks by supporting professional women working with female students in their field (R. Wilson, 2003). The purpose of this article is to discuss the potential benefits of women mentoring women in counselor education and to provide guidelines for both mentor and mentee to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.
Benefits of Woman-to-Woman Mentoring
Many female students report feeling shocked, overwhelmed, out of place, and alone in accomplishing the arduous task of graduate study (Ellis, 2001; R. Wilson, 2003). Second author Charmaine Caldwell attests to this:
I was in a new town, at a new university, in a new culture that I had heard could be politically volatile, starting a new chapter in my life, and I did not know a single person. This was a totally new experience, and I did not know where to begin to find my place. (personal communication, January 20, 2004) Women who mentor women can help counter possible feelings of isolation or fears of failure that may be engendered in the course of pursuing higher education, especially in a male-dominated field. It is essential for women to have someone to listen to their ideas and give them objective, critical feedback without the influence of gender bias (Greene, 2002). Mentors provide career advisement and instruction, support, understanding, positive role modeling, protection, and overall assistance to propel students to the next level of development. Female mentors can offer the personalized attention that female students need to deal with the problems specific to them as women that they may encounter in the higher education environment (Hurte, 2002).
Mentoring is crucial if female students are to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to effectively contribute to their field. The relationship between a female faculty member and a female student can help the mentee gain a greater awareness of their program's organizational structure and politics and can motivate her to achieve higher productivity levels. Women who are mentored often report higher ratings of career and life satisfaction as well as more rapid promotion and higher salaries (Ragins & Cotton, 1999). Some general benefits of mentoring include a continuing relationship with the mentor, a greater understanding of the nuances of the graduate school culture, constructive and supportive feedback, and the opportunity to network with other students and professionals (R. F. Wilson, 2001).
The Authors' Personal Mentorship Experiences
Each of us has experienced a mentoring relationship as mentor and/or mentee. Our personal experiences underscore the need for, and benefits of, woman-to-woman mentoring in counselor education. In the following sections, we have each provided a first-person summary of our experiences with a mentoring relationship.
I had been active in my department, successful in my courses, and had presented independently at state conferences, yet I remained without a clear mentor. …