Background: The professional development of under-represented faculty may be enhanced by mentorship, but we understand very little about the mechanisms by which mentoring brings about change. Our study posed the research question, what are the mechanisms by which mentoring may support professional development in under-represented groups? The study aims to: (i) to pilot a mentoring scheme for female academics; (ii) to compare various health-related and attitudinal measures in mentees at baseline, 6 months, and 1 year into the mentoring relationship and, (iii) to compare pre-mentoring expectations to outcomes at 6 months and 1 year follow-up for mentees and mentors.
Methods: Female academic mentees were matched 1:1 or 2:1 with more senior academic mentors. Online surveys were conducted to compare health-related and attitudinal measures and expectations of mentoring at baseline with outcomes at 6 months and 1 year using paired t-tests and McNemar's test for matched cohort data.
Results: N = 46 mentoring pairs, 44 (96%) mentees completed the pre-mentoring survey, 37 (80%) at 6 months and 30 (65%) at 1 year. Job-related well-being (anxiety-contentment), self-esteem and self-efficacy all improved significantly and work-family conflict diminished at 1 year. Highest expectations were career progression (39; 89%), increased confidence (38; 87%), development of networking skills (33; 75%), better time-management (29; 66%) and better work-life balance (28; 64%). For mentees, expectations at baseline were higher than perceived achievements at 6 months or 1 year follow-up. For mentors (N = 39), 36 (92%) completed the pre-mentoring survey, 32 (82%) at 6 months and 28 (72%) at 1 year. Mentors' highest expectations were of satisfaction in seeing people progress (26; 69%), seeing junior staff develop and grow (19; 53%), helping solve problems (18; 50%), helping women advance their careers (18; 50%) and helping remove career obstacles (13; 36%). Overall, gains at 6 months and 1 year exceeded pre-mentoring expectations.
Conclusions: This uncontrolled pilot study suggests that mentoring can improve aspects of job-related well-being, self-esteem and self-efficacy over 6 months, with further improvements seen after 1 year for female academics. Work-family conflict can also diminish. Despite these gains, mentees' prior expectations were shown to be unrealistically high, but mentors' expectations were exceeded.