Why Group Mentoring Works…Best
With the Council’s launch of its inaugural Women in Leadership Group Mentoring program, we asked Joanne Kamens, Ph.D., a mentoring consultant and champion, to share her experiences and insights into the enhanced benefits of mentoring in/as a group.
Joanne Kamens, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant, The Impact Seat
Founder, Mass Association for Women in Science
4 min read
At a Glance:
Mentoring relationships enhance success for employees across all levels. However, access to mentors and knowledge of how to succeed as a mentor or mentee isn’t always available
To help bridge this gap, the Massachusetts High Technology Council proudly launched the WIL Group Mentoring Program in 2022 for early/mid-career mentees who are employees of MHTC member companies and who self-identify as women
We sat down with Joanne Kamens, Ph.D., a mentoring expert who has been advancing diversity and inclusion for decades throughout her career in academia, pharma, biotech and non-profit, to discuss the many benefits of group mentoring
MHTC: You’ve been advancing mentoring as a training and inclusion strategy for some time. How did you first get interested in mentoring?
Joanne Kamens, Ph.D.: Several years ago, I volunteered to participate in an online mentoring community for students in STEM fields. The mentoring relationship was intended to be “remote” with mentor/mentee pairs communicating only via email. Looking back on this from our 2022 virtual work world perspective, this doesn’t seem very innovative. But it was unusual at the time.
I had one resounding match success. I actively helped a student write an excellent master’s thesis presentation when, weeks before their defense, they were blamed for an administrative error made by their advisor, who had not registered the work that was done with human stem cells. Unfortunately, the advisor widely criticized the student throughout the university to cover up his error. We broke away from the email relationship and started talking on the phone to strategize. I helped them figure out a way to both get the degree and move to a different lab. Sometimes, mentors really do come to the rescue. I got a great sense of satisfaction from this first experience in successfully helping a mentee to advance.
MHTC: Were there specific factors that steered you to focus on group and peer mentoring models vs. the more traditional form?
JK: In that online program, I was matched with six different mentees. Of the six matches, one never responded to my first email. Four out of the five remaining mentees exchanged a few emails with me but, correspondence pretty rapidly dropped off after that. Just one of the six moved on to a mentoring relationship with me. I was suspicious of this lack of success, as I had some fantastic 1:1 mentors already by that point in my career. I did some research and realized that this online program missed the mark on many of the hallmarks of an effective mentoring program as described in this Catalyst Report, “Making Mentoring Work.” Notably, the matching was largely random and there was no required training to set and manage expectations for the participants.
Around that same time, I was trying to find some support for the few women who had managed to stick it out with our pharma employer. There were very few senior women within the organization to serve as mentors and a group model seemed like an efficient approach to consider so that these senior women could meet with several of us at once. We had to sneak out of the building for our mentoring lunches, as no one felt we could do this openly at the time. But that’s another story…for another day.
It turns out, random mentor matching is like blind dating. There are going to be a lot of misses. Successful 1:1 mentoring relationships develop when mutual familiarity grows, and mentor and mentee have “clicked” –realizing they will both enjoy and benefit from the experience. Mentoring has been shown to be a vitally important path to career success, especially for increasing diversity and inclusion in the workforce. There’s nothing worse for convincing people of the importance and benefits of mentoring than a bad mentoring program. In my experience, the unsuccessful matches of too many 1:1 mentoring programs undermines the good work of the few matches that do succeed.
MHTC: What factors contribute to the high success rate of group mentoring programs?
JK: Fortunately, there is a way to design mentoring programs that increases success and satisfaction rates for the participants—a group mentoring format. The group format removes the need to create that magic 1:1 match chemistry. And, with good introductory training, the group members commit to working as a team to help one another achieve goals and make change.
Further, the group mentoring format:
Dramatically reduces “mismatch failure”
Allows mentors from underrepresented groups (and there are never enough) to engage with multiple mentees efficiently
Mentees with common backgrounds can meet together to share common struggles
Provides the opportunity to develop understanding relationships with diverse group members, which is an excellent way to reduce bias and improve inclusion in an organization or company
Incorporates advice from peers, which further increases the diversity of input, ideas, and perspectives
Is one of the best ways to learn to be both a good mentee and mentor – as all members of the group lead and learn at the same time
MHTC: What advice would you give organizations that are thinking about starting a mentoring program?
JK: To achieve the benefits of a successful mentoring program in your group or organization, consider establishing a group mentoring format. Your organization can be small or large, nonprofit or for-profit, and in any sector to benefit. I’m excited to be working with the Massachusetts High Tech Council to launch their inaugural group mentoring program. MHTC’s unique position in the business community allowed us to design a cross-organizational program, affording the participants a level of confidentiality for their discussions that will elevate what they get out of the experience. We look forward to sharing outcomes with the MHTC membership and expanding the program in the future.
The Massachusetts High Technology Council created the Women in Leadership Group Mentoring program to help bridge the gap for early/mid-career mentees who self-identify as women and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging in our community.
Interested in learning more? Check out these resources from Dr. Kamens: