Women Prefer Other Women as Mentors—Sometimes | Kanebridge News
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Women Prefer Other Women as Mentors—Sometimes

A new study suggests that under certain conditions, the preference no longer holds

By LISA WARD
Mon, Sep 26, 2022 8:30amGrey Clock 3 min

A lot of mentorship programs pair women students and mentors. But do women always prefer female mentors?

A recent study suggests that female students do show a preference for female mentors in situations where they lack information about the mentors. But when there is more information—for instance, about the mentor’s affability, likelihood to give personalised advice or awareness of job opportunities—the preference no longer holds.

“It seems that women often use gender as a proxy for personality traits, like friendliness,” says Melanie Wasserman, an assistant professor of economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and co-author of the study.

In the first part of the paper, the authors conducted an observational study that looked at a mentorship website connecting students and alumni from the same college or university. The authors looked at 6,325 conversations between students and alumni, and found that female students were more willing than male students by 20 percentage points to contact female mentors, regardless of majors and occupations.

Valued traits

To better understand these results, the authors conducted a second study to identify mentor traits that students valued most highly. And while they continued to focus on female students’ mentor preferences, the authors also looked at preferences of students who were the first in their family to attend college.

In this experiment the researchers divided 834 UCLA students into two equal groups. The first group was shown 30 pairs of hypothetical mentors and asked which one they preferred. Students were told each mentor’s occupation, whether they had 30 or 60 minutes available, whether they, too, had been first-generation college students, when the mentor graduated (as a proxy for age) and a made-up first name that unambiguously conveyed gender. The students, who were asked to identify their preferred occupation, were only shown mentors with occupations relevant to their interest.

For this first group, female students were 19% more likely to choose a female mentor than a male mentor when all the other characteristics were the same. When the mentors had different traits, such as a different focus professionally, female students were willing to give up a mentor with their preferred occupation 28% of the time to get a female mentor.

By contrast, male students’ preference for male mentors was only marginally statistically significant when all other characteristics were the same. When mentor characteristics differed, male students were only willing to give up a mentor with their preferred occupation 5% of the time to get a male mentor.

More information

The second group of students received all of the same information about the 30 pairs of mentors, with one additional detail: star ratings from past mentees. The ratings reflected each mentor’s knowledge about job opportunities, affability and likelihood to give personalized advice. When this additional information was given, neither female nor male students were willing to sacrifice a mentor with their preferred occupation for a female or male mentor.

“When women knew that they were likely to get along with the mentor, gender mattered a lot less,” says Yana Gallen, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and co-author.

The findings related to first-generation were significant as well. First-generation students still wanted first-generation mentors even when they received additional information about the mentor.

“This suggests first-generation mentors may provide some unique perspectives that students value,” says Dr. Gallen. For instance, first-generation mentors might have insight into how to look for a professional position while holding down a full-time job and being a full-time student—“considerations that people with less financial constraints may not even think about,” she says.

The authors both say the study’s results could be used to improve mentorship programs.

“It can better help people who run these programs decide how to best allocate the resources they have,” Dr. Wasserman says.

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Masks off, lipstick index on.

In a gloomy economy, consumers might cut back on other discretionary purchases but will keep shelling out for small luxuries such as lipstick—or so goes the theory. “When lipstick sales go up, people don’t want to buy dresses,” Leonard Lauder, then-chairman of Estée Lauder who is widely credited for coming up with the so-called “lipstick index,” told The Wall Street Journal in 2001.

L’Oréal Chief Executive Nicolas Hieronimus called this out during the company’s earnings call in October, noting that a luxury lipstick or mascara is only €30, making it an “affordable treat.” Sales at L’Oréal rose 9.1% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier despite slower sales in China due to Covid-related lockdowns. Coty, maker of CoverGirl makeup, said organic sales grew 9% over the same period.

Beauty sales have also been a rare bright spot for retailers: Target said beauty category sales grew roughly 15% in its quarter ended Oct. 29 compared with a year earlier, with Ulta Beauty shops in Target tripling their total sales volume over that period.

While Macy’s namesake stores saw comparable-store sales decline last quarter, its beauty-focused Bluemercury chain saw same-store sales grow 14% last quarter compared with a year earlier. Kohl’s locations with Sephora are outperforming the rest of the department-store chain.

Of the 14 discretionary categories that market research firm NPD Group tracks, prestige beauty—products you might find at a department store or a Sephora—is the only category that is seeing unit sales growth year to date. And lipstick, which suffered during the masked-up pandemic, is making up for lost time.

Lipstick sales have grown 37% through October this year compared with a year earlier, according to Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD Group. That is an acceleration from the 31% growth seen during the same period last year. Lip product is the only major category within prestige beauty where sales are actually up compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to Ms. Jensen.

Cosmetic companies have also called out strong sales in fragrances, calling it the “fragrance index.” Demand has been so robust that there is an industrywide fragrance component shortage, Coty said in a press release announcing third-quarter earnings earlier this month. CEO Sue Nabi said during the call that Coty hasn’t seen any kind of trade-down or slowdown, also noting that consumers are shifting away from gifting perfume to buying it for themselves.

“A big piece of it is just a shift in what wellness means to consumers,” NPD Group’s Ms. Jensen said. “Beauty is one of the few industries that are positioned to meet [consumers’] emotional need. It makes them feel good.”

While the lipstick effect could be observed in the recession in the early 2000s, that wasn’t the case during the 2007-09 recession, during which lipstick sales declined alongside other discretionary purchases. Part of this might have had to do with category-specific dynamics.

There was a lot of newness in the cosmetic industry in 2001, including lip gloss, a relatively nascent category back then. That tailwind simply wasn’t there starting in 2008, though nail polish turned out to be consumers’ small indulgence of choice in that period. This time around, consumers may be eager to show off a part of their face that was hidden behind a mask for so long during the pandemic.

In an otherwise bleak environment for companies selling discretionary goods, those in the business of selling cosmetics look well poised to come out of the holiday season looking freshened up.

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