Saturday, February 21, 2009

Matching participants in eMentoring programs

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.

Blind date
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.

Face-to-face connecting
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).

Different disciplines
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

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

Image: 'la cumbre de los fósforos' yakanama


umapandrea said...

I've been a mentee, though I confess it wasn't an e-relationship, though from time to time we did exchange emails.

I was quite interested in how the matching program worked in the program I was involved in. Essentially people offering to be mentors gave the skill areas they felt they would like to contribute, and mentees were asked to state what they wanted help with. And then the coordinators made tentative matches, phoning the prospective mentees to discuss whether the match they were proposing seemed a good one, and then checking with the prospective mentor after that. Issues about gender, experience and other things were open for discussion before agreeing to go forwards.

It was a really positive experience and I am still in touch with my mentor.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you very much for that feedback. I agree that even if I match people myself, I should still give them an amount of choice. Say I matched them, and then they hated each other when they met at the workshop, then I'd have to think again.

John Coxon said...

Hi Sarah
I feel in any relationship there needs to be some form of face-to-face contact early on. Mentoring relationships are about one party bring their experience into play to help another less experienced party. Technically this doesn't require any form of physical contact - yet I feel it helps if people have an opportunity to 'see
who they are working with.

Were I seeking a mentoring relationship as a mentee, I would be looking for someone that had been where I wanted to go. I would look for someone with a proven history of relationship building, someone able to ask questions and importantly someone able to listen. Even with all that, I would want to hear that person say, "I've been there, I have learned a lot from my experiences and I can share the lessons with you". If I am seeking to advance in the education sector I would want to be talking to someone with senior teaching experience. I am not sure I would wish to be matched up with a mentor, rather I would prefer to have a choice. Maybe your role could be to provide the info that enables such a choice.

John Coxon
John Coxon & Associates
Taking You from Frontline Manager to CEO
Skype: john_coxon
Follow john_coxon on Twitter
Join John Coxon on Facebook

Sue Waters said...

Here are my thoughts based on experience as a mentor at my campus.

Being a mentor and a mentee is quite a personal relationship which involves quite a bit of trust between both people. To develop this trust you need to have established a connection with each other and built up the relationship.

Without trust the mentee won't feel comfortable approaching the mentor for advice and the mentor will struggle to create the connection.

My thoughts are people often choose their own mentoring relationships. Perhaps the key is to provide a mechanism for them to build the trust so they can choose each other?

Alternatively perhaps include a coaching program also?

M-H said...

John, I don't agree about people needing to meet. Forming a relationship with someone you haven't met 'in the flesh' requires more commitment from the two people, but videos, webcam and even photographs can help. You're not looking for a best friend or a life partner; this is a professional relationship and thus the honesty in communication is what matters, not whether they like each other or have a lot in common. Even a shared history doesn't have to matter; in fact it's rather arrogant to assume you've ever been exactly where someone else is. Knowledge of the system that you're both involved in - how it works, what the hidden channels are and so on - would be useful for the mentor, and for both keeping an open mind, thinking before you write, and a commitment to honesty seem to me to be the important elements for success in a mentoring relationship.

Sarah Stewart said...

From an email:

Hi Sarah, from my experience I have found better satisfaction rates (in particular from the mentees) when they are able to choose their own mentor. I would suggest option 2 is the better option but I may also add some of the information from option 1 and post this on to the web site to allow the mentee as much information as possible to choose their mentor – skills, experience, biographical details, philosophy, how they see the mentor/ee relationship working, their expectations of their role and that of their mentee, etc. You may still have the problem of too many people picking one particular mentor so maybe you could ask them to go on the site select 2 - 3 possible mentors from the list and then you finalise the numbers. This way they have some control over their choice of mentor but it also gives you the freedom to juggle things if need be.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello everyone, thank you all for your comments. Sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you - have been processing things.

@John I will be giving the mentors/mentees a chance to meet each other in F2F workshops. I'm going to factor in some social activities (which will include lots of food and drink) to help people build up that relationship. I myself have had wonderful relationships with online mentors, like Sue, who I have never met F2F. But I do think that in this project, with the people I am working with with, F2F will help relationship development.

I will have to have a strategy to deal with people who do not get on, even after meeting F2F - a 'no fault' clause.

@M-H Since being here in Oz, I am impressed with how much web cam helps me to identify with the person I am speaking to. With web cam equipment being so cheap these days, I will be able to provide that equipment to the people in my project. It will be interesting to see how much people use web cam, compared to other forms of communication like email.

@Sue Trust - hit the nail on the head. How can people build trust in online relationships compared to F2F ones?

I have decided to do what you have all recommended, and give mentees some choice in who they have as mentors. I originally thought I would put the mentors' details on a website, but knowing people's objections to confidentiality in health, I'll probably manage it in a different way - like individual emails.

It will be interesting to see how it goes, compared to me doing the matching.

Viki said...

I am involved with running several ementoring experiences ( and found your blog extremely interesting. Our ementoring is very much focussed on helping young people aged 14-18 year olds progress to higher education and study a specific subject. We have found some interesting findings. For example female mentors seem to provide a higher level of psychosocial support. In addition, female mentees seem to respond better to female mentors, especially in the engineering field ( We also found that professionals are better at providing career advice then undergraduate students as mentors. Whilst undergraduate students are better at helping with revision technique etc and study support. We also found that male mentees for example interested in the medicine/healthcare field ( seem to engage more successfully with e-mentoring then other outreach activities - maybe because of the anonymous side of things. I will keep my eyes peeled to find out what works for your scheme. Hope you found the above interesting too. Viki

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Vicki, thank you so much for your comments-they are extremely interesting and very timely. I am just sorting through people and supporting mentees to choose mentors. It's a very time-consuming job but I am beginning to think it crucial part of the whole process. Would love to talk more to you about your project. Thank you.