Study reinforces idea that having a mentor can help your career


CHICAGO -- If you don't have a mentor to guide your career, hire one.

That was the advice given to women in the 1970s by women's employment advocates, who observed that men with mentors often get an extra boost up the corporate ladder.

And it turns out they were right.

A new study of women executives shows that if you're chosen as a protege to be guided by a more experienced, higher-ranking person -- you, too, will move up the career ladder faster.

Having a qualified professional in your corner who shows you the ropes "actually does make a difference," said Lucy R. Sibley, professor and chairwoman of the department of textiles and clothing at Ohio State University. "Women with mentors actually get more promotions faster."

Sibley is co-author with LuAnn Ricketts Gaskill, assistant professor in the department of textiles and clothing at Iowa State University, of a study of 205 women who work in retail.

The 1987 research shows that 142 of the women, or 69 percent, had mentors. Of the 94 women in senior positions as store managers, vice presidents and divisional merchandise managers, 74 had mentors. Of the 111 middle managers who were branch personnel directors, group managers and buyers and senior buyers, 68 had mentors.

Their first conclusion: Women with mentors move higher in the organization and are on a faster career track.

The researchers also found that of the 142 mentored women, 88 percent got promotions; 76 percent of those without mentors got promotions. Among middle managers, those with mentors were promoted on the average of 2.3 times over a five-year period, those without only 1.7 times.

The women ranged in age from 25 to 65, with an average age of 37.5 years. Each had been in retail for at least five years; 71 percent worked in department stores, 23 percent in specialty stores and 6 percent in discount stores. Those who had been proteges were mentored from two to five years.

The professionals in the study were from Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. "The Southwest region has a strong population growth and a strong retail trade," said Sibley, a textile historian who has a doctorate from the University of Missouri.

Other findings:

* Fifty-five percent of the women who had mentors said the mentoring relationship was mutually initiated. Only 10 percent had asked to be mentored. All agreed there had to be a feeling of friendship between the mentor and protege.

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