One of the big issues I need to address in the eMentoring project I am managing is how to match the participants ie which mentor to put with each mentee. This is the first of two posts about the issues of matching participants in a formal eMentoring programs.
My original intention was to match the participants myself according to the information they give me, a bit like a dating agency. The mentors will provide information about their skills and experience which I match with the goals and needs of mentees. I will also ask participants to provide information about personal interests with the aim of matching people with similar interests, so they have something in common to provide a foundation on which to build the mentoring relationship.
One advantage that these participants will have is that they will be able to meet face-to-face at the start of their relationship. The project has funding that will allow participants to attend mentoring workshops to learn more about the mentoring process. The participants will meet their mentoring partners, develop their contracts and agreements, and make a start to getting to know each other.
Nevertheless, there are a number of issues to consider when matching people in formal mentoring programs. One issue is gender and how that effects relationships. Ehrich (2008) cites a number of authors and studies that state that cross-gender mentoring can lead to romance and sexual intimacy which result in professional and personal problems. Participants can be pressurized to enter a sexual relationship because of power imbalances. At the same time, people may be dissuaded from entering a cross-gender mentoring relationship because of the potential of these problems developing. I would imagine that online relationships are less likely to have that problem because of the physical distance between participants, but it should still be considered.
A further problem can be that stereotypical behavior between male and females is accentuated ie females are submissive and males are dominant or paternalistic (Ehrich, 2008). If this is the case, the mentoring relationship will be dysfunctional.
Cross-ethnic mentoring can be similarly problematic if power in-balances come into play. People who struggle to maintain their ethnic identity are more likely to connect with mentors/mentees of the same ethnic origin (Darling et al, 2006).
The other issue to consider when matching people in this project is the difference in professions and role. This may cause difficulties because of a lack of understanding of people's contexts and backgrounds (Stewart & McLoughlin, 2007). But as mentoring is about reflection, learning and development, this should not be a major problem. But it will be interesting to see if occupation has an effect on the 'success' of the mentoring relationship.
At the same time, diversity is to be celebrated, and too much similarity should be avoided because it may dampen down the challenges and stimulation that occurs when there are differences in approach and opinion (Klasen & Clutterbuck, 2004). Cross-gender and cross-ethnic mentoring encourages people to be accepting of differences.
It may be that I am restricted on how I match people by the numbers and locations of people. I am keen to match people to ensure they are not in the same geographical location so as to test the efficacy of computer-mediated communication, and to increase confidentiality. But in the end, it may be pragmatics that underpin the matching process.
What is your opinion - what do you think are important issues for me to consider when I think about matching participants? What would you want from your mentor/mentee if you were in this project?
My next post is considering exactly how I should match participants in the eMentoring program.
Ehrich, L. (2008). Mentoring and women managers : another look at the field. Gender in Management : An International Journal, 23(7). pp. 469-483. Retrieved 21 February, 2009, from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/17129/1/c17129.pdf
Darling, N. Bogat, G., Cavell, T., Murphy, S., Sanchez, B. (2006). Gender, ethnicity, development, and risk: consdieration of individual differences. Journal of Community Psycology, 34, 6, 765-779.
Klasen, N., & Clutterbuck, D. (2004). Implementing mentoring schemes. London: Elsevier.
Stewart, S., & McLoughlin, C. (2007). Design features of an e-mentoring system for the health
professions: Choosing to learn in partnership. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning.Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007. Retrieved 20 February, 2009, from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/stewart-s.pdf
Image: 'la cumbre de los fÃ³sforos' yakanama