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Understanding the mentoring relationships of women in higher education administration



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The purpose of this study was to explore the concept of mentoring amongst administrative women in higher education from an appreciative perspective. In 1985, Kathy Kram published her book on mentoring entitled, Mentoring at Work. This seminal work provided an initial body of knowledge that helped scholars conceptualize mentoring and encouraged a proliferation of research, in what was then an emerging topic for academic inquiry. However, twenty years after Kram advanced her understandings of mentoring, Chandler and Kram (2005) reported that “[t]o date, multiple definitions of a mentor have been advanced, but researchers in the field have not unconditionally accepted any specific one” (p. 5). Mentoring has suffered from a lack of definitional and conceptual clarity. This lack of clarity has hampered research efforts and rendered research vulnerable to criticism. This lack of clarity has also made implementation of mentoring programs difficult with respect to whom or what exactly is providing the benefit. This study explored the concept of mentoring through focus groups with administrative women in higher education. The study was conducted within a qualitative paradigm, adapting elements from the work on grounded theory by Corbin and Strauss (2008). Focus groups were used to gather the data, with the questions based on the appreciative inquiry method. The worldview underlying the methodological orientation and study design is best described as constructionist. A constructionist worldview assumes that knowledge is constructed as persons explain or try to make sense of their experiences in the context of conversing with others. I anticipated the findings of this study would be significant to mentoring research in three ways. In the study, I addressed the lack of definitional and conceptual clarity of mentoring that have presented academic and practical challenges; I employed a methodological orientation and study design that focused on understanding the participants’ recollected experiences of relationships that have worked; and the population of interest (administrative women in higher education) was one that had been understudied in mentoring research. In addition to my academic interest in mentoring I was intrigued by the myth behind mentoring. References to the mythical figure, Mentor, in Homer’s Odyssey abound and yet two important points about Mentor have gone largely unnoticed. First Mentor was actually a woman. Mentor was Athena. That Mentor embodied both male and female characteristics may be interpreted to suggest that features of both sexes are necessary to mentoring. The second point is that Mentor was only one of the disguises Athena wore in order to provide advice and guidance to Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus. The second point may be interpreted to suggest that it takes more than one kind of person or relationship to provide the full range of support that an individual requires over the course of their career. It was my hope that this study would help reconcile the myth of Mentor with the reality of mentoring.



post-secondary education, university, female, mentorship, mentor, appreciative inquiry



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Educational Administration


Educational Administration


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