Socrel Mentoring Scheme for Women

We are very excited about the Socrel Mentoring Scheme and warmly invite women to participate. The Mentoring Scheme has been set up in response to research into women’s experiences of academic life (Guest, Sharma and Song, 2013). For women in particular, maintaining a balance between caring responsibilities and work can be difficult, especially when career trajectories become fractured after having a baby. One way to support women with these challenges is peer mentoring.

Please contact Dawn Llewellyn and Sonya Sharma, Socrel's co-convenors and the coordinators for the Socrel Mentoring Scheme, for more information.

The Mentoring Scheme has been formed not only to support women in the academy, but also as a response to research into women’s experiences of academic life and career progression in the disciplines of Theology and Religious Studies. The report Gender and Career Progression in Theology and Religious Studies conducted by academics at Durham and Kingston Universities in the UK (Guest, Sharma and Song 2013) found that many women are attracted to a career in higher education because of its autonomy, collaboration and intellectual rewards, but universities have been slow to institutionalize gender equality. More so, and now more than ever, obtaining employment and career advancement within academia in the UK is highly competitive and maintaining a balance between academic and caring responsibilities and other commitments can be difficult (Guest, Sharma and Song 2013). One recommendation that aims to support women, who are confronting these challenges and which has shown to demonstrate results, is mentoring. The Socrel Mentoring Scheme aims to promote gender equality, good practice and women’s career progression.

What is mentoring?
Mentoring is typically understood as “a process that supports personal and professional development and a relationship in which objectivity, credibility, honesty, trustworthiness and confidentiality are all critical” (Hawkes 2010: 4). As described by the Society for Women in Philosophy, “mentoring is a key mechanism by which women can gain valuable skills, advice, perspective, and experience that will help them to realise their potential and develop their academic careers” (2014). Evidence shows that men have benefited from ‘informal’ mentoring in male-dominated fields for a long time (Kanter 1977 in Hawkes 2010), while women have reported difficulty in finding mentors in this way and in these environments (Sambunjak et al. 2006). A central element of mentoring is that mentors and mentees are both willing partners, which enables a comfortable and effective relationship to develop (Sambunjak et al. 2009). As learned from helpful discussion with other women’s organizations, mentoring is a relationship that strikes a balance between the formal and informal – a formal agreement made between two people, which allows flexibility to negotiate their relationship and to navigate goals and outcomes.

How will I benefit from becoming a mentee or mentor?
There are a number of overlapping advantages:

Advantages to mentees:

  • Receive support and counsel to navigate institutional systems and promotion
  • Guidance on personal and professional goals
  • Growth in confidence and accomplishment

Advantages to mentors:

  • Provide women a space to discuss the difficulties they confront
  • Assist and shape the professional and personal development of women
  • Reflect upon and enhance own professional practice

Advantages to academic disciplines:

  • Decrease the isolation of women in disciplines that continue to be in many places disproportionately male
  • Encourage more women to continue in academia
  • Enhance the opportunities and progression of women in various subject areas
  • Promotion of good practice across disciplines related to issues of equality and diversity

Who can take part?
The Scheme is open to women who are generally studying and researching religion, and from their first-year PhD onwards to Reader level. Socrel welcomes women who are early career scholars and PhD graduates attempting to secure an academic post. It is open to those who are employed on research and/or teaching contracts, including zero and hourly paid. We invite women from universities in the UK and Ireland. And women who are at more senior levels, as navigating progression and promotion can be challenging (Guest, Sharma and Song 2013). Mentors and mentees should be members of the British Sociological Association and Socrel or Socrel-only members.

Becoming part of the Scheme:
Becoming part of the Mentoring Scheme begins with a confidential application process. This is for both mentors and mentees. Mentees will be matched with a more senior mentor, for example, an early career scholar with a Senior Lecturer. In some ways it will depend on who is available, but the Mentoring Coordinator will do their best to facilitate an appropriate match. In order to make the best match possible, the application form will ask mentees to state their academic research interests and current situation. Mentors will be asked similar questions. Matches will most likely be made in line with scholarly interests and geographic location. After submitting an application form, the Mentoring Coordinator will do their best to make a match within one month, upon which the Mentor and Mentee will be notified by email.

What happens after I’ve been assigned a mentor/mentee?
Once a mentor and mentee have been assigned they will make a Mentoring Agreement, which is decided between them. We ask all mentor and mentees to sign a Mentoring Agreement Form. This is normally for one year.

What is included in a Mentoring Agreement? 

The Mentoring Agreement typically outlines some of the goals that the mentee would like to work on and that the mentor will support, along with how communication will take place. This can include for example the number and length of meetings and if they will be face-to-face by Skype or in person. Clear goals and expectations are also important; as is the time frame in which one hopes these will be achieved. Some of the goals that mentoring agreements can address and include are:

  • Advice on applying for jobs (e.g. application process to interviews)
  • Assistance in identifying areas for development and improvement
  • Support on returning to work after a career break
  • Guidance on publications and funding bids
  • Tips for presenting and networking at conferences
  • Putting together a CV and cover letter

Some tips on the mentoring relationship

After reviewing several academic articles written about mentoring Sambunjak and colleagues found that “mentoring is a complex relationship based on mutual interests, both professional and personal,” and one in which “mentees should take an active role in its formation and development” (2009: 72) They discovered that “good mentors should be sincere in their dealings with mentees, be able to listen actively and understand mentees needs, and have a well-established position within the academic community…Mentoring was found to develop mentees’ academic growth and/or personal growth” (2009: 72). Potential issues that can negatively affect the mentoring relationship are: lack of time grouped with one’s workload; incompatibility and a lack of interest and commitment by both (Hawkes 2010). Aspects that contribute to a positive experience of mentoring are: well-defined and communicated goals and expectations; realistic ideas about the outcomes of mentoring and it is voluntary (Hawkes 2010).

*The Socrel Mentoring Scheme is not in a position to advise on potential cases of harassment or bullying. We suggest that you consult the support systems in place in your institution. The information at this link may be of help in the first instance: bullying and harassment at work.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if it is working out and I’d like to continue?

The relationship is voluntary for both mentors and mentees and they can withdraw from the Scheme at any time with no negative consequences. Should you find that it is not working out, please speak to each other and/or the Mentoring Coordinator if you wish to discontinue or to be assigned a new mentor/mentee. If for some reason you wish to discontinue, this will not prevent you from participating in the Scheme again. A mentee or mentor can re-apply. It may also be the case that mentees return to the Scheme after some time in order to address new goals. Likewise, mentors and mentees can revise and extend their agreement, if it is mutual, and they want to continue. Please let the Mentoring Coordinator know if you would like to do this.

Progress and evaluation
In order to enhance the success of the Scheme and to continue to promote good practice in relation to issues of equality and diversity, the Mentoring Coordinator will be in contact with you six months after you have begun to informally ask how things are progressing. At the end of the one-year agreement, we request the completion of a feedback/evaluation form by both mentors and mentees.

Guest, M., Sharma, S. and Song, R. (2013) Gender and career progression in theology and religious studies. Durham, UK: Durham University.

Hawkes, S. (2010) Supporting women’s mentoring in higher education: A literature review. London, UK: King’s College London.

Sambunjak, D., Straus, S.E. and Marusic, A. (2009) A systematic review of qualitative research on the meaning and characteristics of mentoring in academic medicine. Journal of General Internal Medicine 25(1): 72–78.

Sambunjak, D., Straus, S.E. and Marusic, A. (2006) Mentoring in academic medicine: a systematic review. JAMA 296(9): 1103–1115.

Society for Women in Philosophy (2014) The BPA/SWIP-UK Mentoring Scheme for Women in Philosophy.

Application documents:

Mentee Application Form

Mentor Application Form

Mentoring Agreement Form

Guidance Document for Socrel Mentoring

Useful links: