Who needs a Mentor? The High Potential Mentoring Programme of the HBP

Karin Grasenick & Julia Trattnig

HBP education worrkshops

Images from HBP Education workshops and conferences 2018/2019

Probably everyone has had a mentor once in their life if mentoring is understood as a beneficial relationship between two or more persons, in which one of the persons has more experience. A mentor can be a colleague, a relative, a supervisor, a friend, or literally anybody else providing organisational insights, advice or personal guidance. Mentoring can thus take place within an informal framework.

Most unfortunate not all supervisors – employee relationships are a perfect match. It might be difficult to speak openly with a supervisor for example about dissatisfaction with the current position or private issues. And even in a perfect relationship, it is always a good idea to learn by broadening networks and perspectives. It depends on traditional ideas, stereotypes, cultural background and personal experiences to decide which persons are considered as specifically talented and therefore supported in informal mentoring relationships. Homophilia, a natural tendency to collaborate and support persons who share similarities, leads to disadvantages for employees not represented (yet) in leadership positions.

Thus, formalized mentoring systems have been implemented in larger companies and universities to enhance equal opportunities and often focus on minorities or women in science because they are less frequently informed, integrated into networks or actively supported (cf. Husu, 2005). Formal mentors have no working relationship with their protégés, they ask guiding questions and offer insights based on their experiences which might otherwise be kept behind closed doors. Interestingly, the HBP offers a “High Potential Mentoring Programme” to enhance equal opportunities for early-career scientists and managers of science.

What is so special about the HBP Mentoring Programme?

The HBP is a complex project, characterised by spatial remoteness of involved partners and interdisciplinary collaboration. The HBP implemented a “High-Potential Mentoring Programme” to provide cross-organisational, virtual mentoring, with a focus on improving or defining career opportunities for scientists and managers of science. All genders are encouraged to become mentors or mentees, whereas half of the mentees are expected to be women. The HBP High Potential Mentoring thus follows an inclusive approach, valuing different contributions to the project.

These digital mentorship meetings contribute to inclusiveness because remote mentors are accessible for everyone. Mentors stem from different disciplines or workspaces or even HBP-external institutions to guarantee full confidentiality. To ensure a clear focus on strategic (personal) decisions and/or further career steps of interdisciplinary scientists and managers alike, guiding materials have been designed. As it is specially shaped for the international and interdisciplinary needs of the HBP, these structures and focus clearly differentiate the HBP High Potential Mentoring Programme from mentoring programmes at universities or on a national level.

Is there a perfect match of mentor and mentee?

who share similarities. However, new perspectives and insights are derived from differences. Therefore, there is no definite answer to questions like: is it better for mentors and mentees, if they stem from the same scientific discipline? If they have the same gender, origins, age, social context? Or, if they have similar or different professional and personal experiences? Both aspects, similarities and differences, have their advantages and disadvantages.

For example, sharing the same scientific background might make it easier for the mentee to gain knowledge about informal rules and practical advice. Within an inter- or transdisciplinary exchange patterns and perceptions might be questioned more closely.

Same gender relationships are important to reflect e.g. life-domain-balance and experiences of discrimination and how to overcome them. On the other hand within a mixed gender relationship, mentor and mentee might develop a better understanding of perceptions and expectations one might not encounter personally. Diversity in mentoring relationships can raise awareness for privileges and stereotypes.

What does it take to make the most of mentoring?

When defining the mentoring goals, the focus might be on mastering the current area of responsibility in the best possible way, or on future tasks and thus on strategic development. Additionally, such issues as changes in career paths from university to industry or vice versa might also be a subject of discussion.

Studies show that mentoring for women (see Colantuono, 2010) often involves working on self-competence, i.e. personal development, building self-confidence and courage. However, not only professional excellence and self-competence are decisive for career development, above all the opportunity to gain visibility and to obtain new, strategically important tasks are highly relevant. Colantuono calls that ‘the missing 33%’, the knowledge about how to contribute to leadership positions at higher levels.

So, if mentoring focuses too much on the current tasks and competencies, there is a risk that this will contribute to personal development, but not change the career substantially. This includes self-reflection to avoid striving for perfection instead of “good enough performance”. For instance, when it comes to job requirements, women typically think they have to meet all of them, whereas men who might think that 60% is sufficient and would thus apply for the job anyway.

Mentees who like to work on themselves may underestimate the importance of strategic orientation. Therefore, career-promoting mentoring should take sufficient account of future orientation when formulating goals. Examples for key questions for goals with future orientation are:

  • Which achievements show that the next, future position can be fulfilled?
  • Which networks are crucial to gain the position and the necessary resources? Who is willing to take over a sponsorship?
  • What additional skills will be required?
  • Which leadership competencies will be of particular importance in the future?
  • What priorities should, therefore, be set?

Who benefits from mentoring?

Both mentor and mentee benefit: Mentees have nearly unlimited possibilities of development and can broaden their networks while mentors have the chance to optimize their leadership skills and reflect on their own success factors that were important for their career. Especially mentees can be empowered by such a prosperous mentorship.

If you want to profit from the benefits of mentoring, we kindly invite you to join the programme by becoming a mentor or mentee! The HBP High Potential Mentoring Programme is open for registration until the end of June (see https://www.convelop.at/humanbrainproject/mentoring/). Guiding materials are available at: https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/en/about/gender-equality/measures-and-materials/#_mentoring

HBP specific contacts and support

For questions on gender, diversity and equal opportunities contact the coordinator of the Diversity and Equal Opportunities Committee: Karin.Grasenick@convelop.at

For concerns that cannot be handled HBP internally, you might wish to contact the HBP Ombudsperson Krista Varantola

References

Colantoni, S. L (2012): Make the Most of Mentoring – Capitalize on Mentoring and Take your Career to the Next Level; Charlestown: Interlude Productions.

Nesher E., Murphy S. (1997): Effects of Race, Gender, Perceived Similarity, and Contact on Mentor Relationships” Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Band 50, Nr. 3 S. 460-481.

Herzog M. (2014): Mentoring programs at universities: a contribution to institutionalized inequality? Journal for University Development ZFHE vol.9 / no.1 pp. 57 – 69.

Hewlett S., Coles C., West C., Hobson M., Yoshino K (2014): Brainpower: Leveraging Your Best People Across Gender, Race, and Other Divides. Los Angeles: Rare Bird Books.

Hey B., Wieser I. (2011): Mentoring as a new component in the women’s advancement program of the University of Graz. In: Aigner M., Rapp, U. (ed.) (2011): Klara. Clearly different! Mentoring for female scientists. Workshop Theology vol. 19 Vienna: LIT.

Magg-Schwarzbäcker, M. (2014): Mentoring for women at universities. The organization of informal knowledge transfer. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Maurer E. (2010): Fragile friendships. Networking and Gender in the Promotion of Young Scientists Frankfurt: Campus Verlag

Ross H.J. (2014): Everyday Bias. Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgements in Our Daily Lives. Lenham: Rowman & Littlefield Schulz von Thun, F. (1981): Talking to Each Other: 1. Disturbances and Clarifications.
General psychology of communication. Rowohlt Paperback Publisher, Reinbek


Karin Grasenick is the founder and managing partner of Convelop, a company addressing topics of equal opportunities in research technology and innovation. Karin holds a PhD in biomedical engineering and computer science. She works as a process facilitator, coach and lecturer. As a partner of the Human Brain Project, she coordinates the Diversity and Equal Opportunities Committee (DEOC). The DEOC has developed diversity and gender equality activities in close collaboration with her and in coordination with the Directorate and the Science and Infrastructure Board in the HBP. Examples of these activities are the Mentoring Programme, Lectures and HBP specific Guidelines

Julia Trattnig is a consultant and scientific staff member at Convelop, where she fulfills diverse tasks such as research, reporting and structural organisation. Julia holds masters in Roman languages and Gender Studies as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Before joining the Human Brain Project, she completed several internships in the media sector and at different NGOs in Vienna and Graz. She supports the Human Brain Project concerning all measures and activities for gender mainstreaming and diversity management.

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