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Mentoring Matters for STEMM Diversity

by Barbara Ruland

Diversity matters. Diverse viewpoints and diverse backgrounds are important to successfully solving complex challenges. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “The quality, vigor, and innovation of the U.S. science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) enterprise depend on increasing the diversity of individuals, research teams, and leadership in STEMM fields.”

But the report, “The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM,” issued at the end of a 22-month study says, “Talent is equally distributed across all sociocultural groups; access and opportunity are not. This is particularly true in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) professions1 that are expected to grow as a percent of the total workforce in the coming decades. The underrepresentation of marginalized groups in STEMM contexts is pervasive.”

Three SIOP members, Christiane Spitzmueller, professor of Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston, Tammy Allen, distinguished university professor of Psychology at University of South Florida, and Lillian T. Eby, professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Georgia made significant research and theoretical contributions to the report. Dr. Allen and Dr. Spitzmueller served on the Committee on Effective Mentoring in STEMM. Dr. Eby presented at one of the committee workshops. Find a prepress version of the report online here.

The report argues that effective mentoring is a “significant component of the complex solutions required” to comprehensively address the underrepresentation of major segments of the population in STEMM fields.

Inclusive STEMM mentorship practices can provide important benefits to society at large, as well as to individuals and institutions. The report offers guidance on creating effective mentoring frameworks, behaviors, measures, and assessment techniques, among other related topics.

The Committee on Effective Mentoring in STEMM also published a collection of resources, information and tools in an online guide, currently in version 1.0: The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM.

SIOP members working in both the research and practice arenas will find valuable insight in the report. “For academics, the report outlines what mentors/advisors can and should do to provide optimal mentoring to I-O psych graduate students, and particularly to graduate students from historically underrepresented backgrounds,” Dr. Spitzmueller said.

“There is a solid science of mentoring and good training programs we can draw from in educating faculty to improve the advising/mentorship they are providing to students.” Addressing potential resistance to creating more formal mentorship programs, Spitzmueller asserts that unsuccessful mentoring relationships “end up being much larger time sinks than participating in mentoring training in developing culturally sensitive mentoring and advising practices.

Spitzmueller believes STEMM mentorship for underrepresented populations is also important in the wider context of work. “Most organizations continue to struggle to recruit the diverse workforce they need to be successful in the 21st century,“ she said. “Mentoring in STEMM, and particularly intentional, systematic mentoring practices can result in employers having access to a broader, more diverse STEMM workforce.”

Although workplace mentoring was outside the scope of the report, some of the recommendations are likely to apply there, as well. "’Naturally emerging’ mentoring still is more likely to benefit white males than underrepresented students,” she said and suggested that more effort to provide effective mentoring to broad swaths of the workforce can contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The 306-page committee consensus study report, chaired by Angela Byars-Winston and NASEM Program Director Maria Lund Dahlberg, provides a comprehensive examination of mentorship, beginning with a definition. It explores concepts around identity and how dimensions of identity affect academic and career development, and the experience of STEMM mentoring relationships. The report also examines mentorship structures, the development and assessment of effective mentorship, and the role of institutional culture in mentorship. Findings and recommendations for faculty, academic administrators, and funding agencies conclude the report and highlight how effective mentorship is an institutional responsibility that can be supported through integration of mentorship criteria in performance appraisal and promotion and tenure criteria.  

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