The Importance of Mentors for Girls and Young Women
At GENaustin staff meetings, we often begin the meeting with an icebreaker led by a staff member or volunteer. At a recent staff meeting, the icebreaker facilitator asked us to reflect on a person in our lives who had made a difference and share with the group who that person was and how they had impacted our lives. Answers ranged from middle school teachers through graduate school professors. A theme prevalent throughout the discussion was the realization that our mentors often have an almost uncanny ability to help us be more than we thought we could. Mentors can encourage us to stretch ourselves outside our comfort zones, to open our minds to new ways of thinking, and help us realize that the world is much broader and more diverse than our little corners of it.
This discussion brought back memories of the many mentors I have had in my life, and the profound impact that they have had on me. It also caused me to reflect on why female mentors are particularly important to girls and young women today. As girls navigate adolescence, they face the challenge of moving through physical, psychological, sexual, and emotional development with a healthy sense of self intact. A mentor at this stage in a girl’s life can have a broad impact on her successfully navigating the years to adulthood. A mentor-mentee relationship provides a protected space for the adult woman and the girl/young woman to connect through shared experiences. The mentor has the opportunity and privilege of offering feedback, teaching, affirmation, support, and guidance.
According to Dr. Lucia Gilbert of Santa Clara University, not only do female students need mentors, they particularly need female mentors who can model the greater diversity in women’s lives today. Dr. Gilbert’s research shows that female students, more than male students, rated the same-sex mentor’s lifestyle and values as highly important to their own professional development. Gilbert also stresses that female students working with female mentors may provide an important antidote to some women’s socialization to please and defer to men. Rather than being in a relationship of unequal power, in female mentor-female protégé relationships, both parties learn through this empowering relationships how to mobilize the energies, resources, and strengths of each individual. Therefore, mentorship can be empowering for both mentor and mentee.
Other benefits of mentoring include improved self-confidence, leadership, and communication skills for both parties. Have you considered becoming a mentor to a girl or young woman? There are many opportunities to become a mentor in Austin including:
In addition, GENaustin offers many ways to get involved in girls’ lives as a volunteer.