Archives for posts with tag: mentoring

This is a guest post from Charlotte Turnbull, Coaching & Mentoring Consultant

mortar board image.pngThe 14th November 2016 was a great day. I graduated from my MSc in Coaching & Mentoring from Sheffield Hallam University. Having worked in the HE sector for almost 25 years in HR and development roles across both universities in Sheffield, it was great to be in the audience this time rather than the platform party. But another change had also occurred. My dissertation research into the role of mentoring within a women’s leadership development scheme had led me to a series of powerful realisations around the role of mentoring and mentors within the development of leaders.

Using mentoring to address issues of under-representation of groups within leadership is a popular approach. My research focused on exploring this from a mentors’ perspective and was a small study of 6 mentors (50% of the mentors participating in the programme in the two years reviewed) within one university as part of a national programme.

To set the context for the role of this mentoring, I explored the literature around women in leadership, which revealed insights new to me beyond the standard ‘glass ceiling’ approach. Eagly & Karau’s (2002) ‘Role Congruity Theory of Prejudice Towards Female Leaders proposes that women are judged harshly for (a) being in a leadership role in the first place, as this was not congruent with society’s expectations, and (b) once in a leadership position their behaviour was also subject to more criticism than men. If a women leader acted agentic, that was not considered acceptable as this behaviour was aligned with male behaviours, but if they acted communal then that was also criticised as it was not aligned with the accepted stereotype around successful leadership (i.e. males acting in an agentic manner). An interesting ‘double whammy’ which could usefully be explored within the mentoring relationship I thought, but was not being openly discussed by mentors within the programme.

A further standout revelation for me was from Morley’s (2013) stimulus paper for the Leadership Foundation ‘Women and Higher Education: Absences and Aspirations’. Morley outlined a range of limitations put on women in HE leadership which kept them from the top positions. From these, the concept of permitted success for women in supporting areas, but not core organisational business (i.e. academic roles for HE), jumped out at me.

The description of ‘velvet ghettos’ for communication, finance and human resource management roles stopped me in my tracks. That was me! I consider myself to be a pretty independent thinker, comfortable with being agentic and driven in my career as well as being emotionally literate and relationship focussed. But reflecting back on my choices and experiences of how others had responded to me, through the combination of these new perspectives was a real eye opener. If I was unaware how gender stereotyping in leadership had potentially impacted upon my behaviours and decision-making as I built up my career, then how might it have impacted upon my coaching and mentoring practice? And how did it impact upon the women’s mentoring programme that I was reviewing?

By looking afresh at the mentoring programme, I revisited its core aims and compared that with how it operated. The aim was to boost the number of women into leadership, admittedly not necessarily in the same year of operation, but presumably sooner rather than later! This was within the organisational context (which mirrored the national picture) of a male dominated senior leadership team. The mentors taking part in the review period were senior women from both academic and professional services areas. So, we had women mentoring women in isolation from the main, male dominated leadership board. It struck me that this leadership paradigm, and the thinking of the top decision-makers, and holders of resources for the organisation, were not being disrupted in any way. Without any disruption at this organisational (macro) level how could any change occur?

Disruption at the mentoring relationship (micro) level also interested me. Was the mentor’s role one of steward and to help emergent women leaders navigate the system that appeared to currently work against them? Or was it to be a change agent, who considered the mentor role and the mentoring relationships could shake up the status quo? Most mentors in my study considered it to be’ a bit of both’, but further exploration revealed that they focussed on change, or disruption, at the individual level e.g. raised self-awareness of the mentee.

I was surprised that one of the key questions that jumped out at me from my reflections on all this was – is this ethical practice? If we have a recognised national issue around the lack of women in leadership then why are we not (a) including reasons for this as a key feature in the mentoring conversations and (b) why are the people who could influence sustainable change not being required to participate in those conversations as mentors? I appreciate the vulnerabilities of conscripting mentors to participate in any programme, but perhaps it’s a worthwhile step if change is needed?

A further ethical question was the need to support mentors (women and men) in exploring their own prejudices around gender and leadership. I’d consider this a valid step to ensure that destructive messages were not being passed on, either consciously or not. It would also enable the mentors in turn to support mentees to explore their own opinions and bring a transparency and openness to the discussion.

I’m sensitive to being perceived as being critical of the scheme I observed. I’d emphasise that it was due to the high calibre of the mentors and the evident quality of the mentoring across the programme that I was able to explore it on a higher level principles basis. I’m also pleased to say that observations arising from my dissertation have also been fed in to help enhance the scheme further.

Change takes time, but we can all consider how our mentoring can disrupt the status quo, even from our ghettos, however comfortable they may be!


I teach professional practices in coaching and mentoring* in an education context and have developed some short workshops for academic supervisors and principal investigators that focus on the relational aspects of research leadership and use coaching techniques as the basis for conversations that help people develop their thinking and understanding.

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Guest post on the University of Edinburgh IAD4RESEARCHERS blog


This is our first guest post on iad4researchers and I’m delighted that Dr Kay Guccione (@kayguccione) at the University of Sheffield took the time to share her perspectives on the valuable role postdocs play in supervision. Unless there are factual errors I won’t be making any edits to our guest posts, so their views are their own.

Postdocs view experience in supervision, teaching and learning as core to scoring that academic career (Akerlind 2005). And post-doctoral research staff are actually very active in teaching and learning*. I believe that post-docs are a really important but often under-recognised group of teachers in research intensive universities. Development of an academic sense of self is in part a result of having the right formal institutional responsibilities and resources (McAlpine et al., 2013) yet, post-docs aren’t often included directly in university Learning & Teaching strategies, or seen as key assets with specific skills, position, and the right experience…

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I’ve been working as an insider in research and academic staff mentoring programmes for a good fair bit now, and I’ve tried to anchor my work in the idea that mentoring is for any and all people who see a benefit to being part of the programme. There are also people for whom mentoring is not the right approach right now: perhaps it’s not the right time, maybe they haven’t got enough time to dedicate to such an involved form of development, or maybe they need a more specialist conversation (e.g. specific funding expertise, english language support, software training, careers service consultation, disability services, counselling services, HR specialists, occupational health etc). It’s my job to facilitate this understanding, and to signpost to alternative/complementary services.


Not signing up to the mentoring programme is therefore ok with me. Similarly I count it as a positive outcome if a potential mentee changes their mind after attending the induction session and decides that mentoring is just not what they thought, or not for them. Properly engaging people in their development is not about coercing them. No-one needs to be guilted into 3-6h critical career evaluation over a 6 month period. Read the rest of this entry »

mentoring.pngAcademic work is commonly understood to be a tripartite trifle of research, teaching and admin. Researchers obviously have free and abundant access to doing research as a formalised part of their role, and can find admin work to do by joining formal research staff committees, organising sector conferences, and belonging to institutional special interest groups e.g. Athena Swann.

So what about teaching? Where do researchers learn not just how to ‘do teaching’ but also how to ‘be a teacher’ in a university setting. David Hyatt says that thinking beyond workshop learning and skills development, we need to aid researchers in developing ‘repertoires of practice’ that fit their work environment, doing academic work by a process of inclusion and actually supporting them to get on with the job. And for universities to do this properly we have to look around at the value that research staff offer to our teaching & learning, and supervision strategies.

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rmpOur early career Research Staff Mentoring programme has been running for 5 years now. Having trained about 150 academic volunteers in mentoring techniques and ethical practice, and having seen more than 500 pairs come through the scheme, I’ve learned a lot about the power of dialogue in supporting planning for research careers. Taking a research-led approach has helped craft a programme of value to the primary learners, the early career researcher mentees. But there’s wider listening to be done to fully embed a mentoring culture across the university – a successful mentoring programme has to align with existing structures and cultures, not circumnavigate them or try to replace them.

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