Role models and mentors play an important role in counteracting this gender imbalance. Mentoring programmes are a very common tool for promoting the careers of people in minority groups at the management level.  The basic idea of a mentoring programme is that the mentor offers various types of support to the mentee. There is ample evidence to support the positive effect mentoring has on mentees’ development, such as promotion decisions, increased wages, and career mobility. On the one hand, mentors open doors to potentially relevant career opportunities by increasing visibility. On the other hand, they also play an important role in providing access to networks.

However, it is important to take a closer look. Can men be concrete role models for women? After all, if women replicate the behaviours of their male mentors too closely, they run the risk of the so-called ‘backlash effect’. That is, they are sanctioned for the same leadership behaviour for which a man is rewarded. Thus, female leaders face the problem of a mismatch between what is expected of a leader and what is expected of women. They face the dilemma of the ‘double bind’, whereby women can either be perceived as competent or friendly and likeable. This limits the opportunities for women in leadership positions. Since leadership development can be described as identity work, male mentors cannot replace female role models. Female role models are very important in this context, because visible examples of successful women can be an inspiration for other women. The basic idea of a mentoring programme is that the mentor offers the mentee various types of support. The relationship between male mentors and female mentees presents challenges for mentees in this regard. A female mentor can be a better role model for the female mentee because she can identify with the mentor.

Organizations should take this into consideration. Implementing such a mentoring programme can not only spur innovation, increase organizational commitment, improve job performance, and reduce turnover, but also create a psychologically safe workplace, thereby increasing the number of women in leadership positions.


We also harness the benefits of mentoring in our Aiming Higher Women’s Leadership Programme. This 3.5-day online programme is aimed at women in lower and middle management positions who want to prepare for the next step in their careers. Participants learn about different leadership approaches, improve their negotiation skills and strengthen their communication skills. In addition, participants get the opportunity to expand their personal network, and through the online mentoring programme they can continue their individual learning journey with a sparring partner even after the programme ends.


Vgl. Rudman & Phelan, 2008, S. 61 – 79; Ibarra, Ely & Kolb, 2013, S. 60 – 66; Gould, Kulik & Sardeshmukh, 2018, S. 6 – 30; Benshop et. al., 2015, S. 553 – 574

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Executive School of Management, Technology and Law


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