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

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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Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.

The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.

Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.

“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.

With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.

Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.

Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)

The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.

“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”

For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.

For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.

Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.

Too much demand

Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.

The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.

“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.

Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.

For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.

For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.

Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.

Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.

McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.

“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”

Fare first, then destination

Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.

Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.

He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.

He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.

“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.


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