Crummer Doctoral Student Discovers all Mentorship Relationships are Not Created Equal

Dr. Paula Hopkins’ EDBA dissertation examined the role of mentorship on job advancement among executive women, in particular African-American women.

A General Manager/Senior Market Director with over 30 years of executive experience, Dr. Paula Hopkins ’93 ’97MBA ’18DBA has successfully navigated her way to the top of her field.

However, as an African-American woman in the corporate workplace, she quickly recognizes as is the case for many others that are at the top of their field, she’s where she is because she had mentors that cared enough to support, develop and sponsor her. Certainly, her progress came with many challenges, but she always made sure she was resilient, authentic, and invested in many years in higher education while delivering results.

“What happens with many African-American women is that we are told to work harder, be smarter, and you will get promoted. However, when that does not happen, you quickly realize that having a mentor, someone that cares about your development, provides critical feedback and create opportunities for job advancements is really what matters,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Her experience with mentors was valuable; however, they never really looked like her.

EDBA dissertation

Dr. Hopkins says 90 percent of her mentors have been white men and none have been African-American women, and as she would later find out, 31% of all African-American executive women report they had no mentors at all.

Those things matter when you have questions like is it ok to bring my whole self to work or how do you navigate the subtle nuisances that happen when you are the only person of color in the room.

“It’s so important having someone that is a trusted advisor or mentor to talk about that stuff with and give you direct, unfiltered feedback,” said Dr. Hopkins.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Rollins (’93) and master’s degree from the Crummer Graduate School of Business (‘97MBA), Dr. Hopkins turned to Crummer for her doctorate to fulfill her life-long personal dream, enhance her skills and expand her existing knowledge through both theoretical and analytical perspectives. The most exciting aspect of the program was that the EDBA program allowed her to focus on research that can be applied directly to current business issues.

“When I started thinking about my dissertation topics I asked, what would be my legacy? How might I contribute to research and practice in corporate America? Moreover, what will I tell the women following my career path?  I decided my research study would be about mentoring, race, gender, and would allow me to add to the limited studies regarding African-American executive women,” said Dr. Hopkins.

In the end, my dissertation was about ‘lived experiences’; and the research study examined the impact and influence of the different types of mentoring (formal and informal) among executive women. The study also included an investigation into whether African-American executive women experience less access to informal mentoring than white executive women.

The current study aimed to expose a deeper understanding of the experiences of mentoring in corporate America for all executive women, in general, and African-American executive women, in particular.

A mentor herself of many future business leaders, Dr. Hopkins’ questions then turned to the importance of having an informal mentor versus a formal mentor.

An informal mentor is a mentor you may meet at work that shares the same interests as you, and the mentoring relationship develops naturally between two individuals, it is more casual, as well.

A formal mentor is someone that the company may put you with or assign you to learn from, it’s usually an organized mentoring program, where mentors and mentees are matched by the employer.

“Sometimes it’s ‘we are going to put you with a mentor,’ but you know you would never really talk to that person if that person was not your assigned mentor,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Her survey questionnaire included almost 400 executive women respondents her results confirmed a lot of her beliefs, including the idea that informal mentor has a much stronger, longer-lasting relationship than a formal mentor.

“I was excited solidifying the fact that informal mentorship is stronger than formal mentorship. Looking at some of the questions I asked on informal mentorship, it was clear that it also had longer lasting benefits,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Her personal experience with informal mentorship is that it is much stronger as well.

“Despite my academic credentials and vast work experience, I still lean on my mentors. If the informal mentorship is real and trusting, it will last.  All of my mentors are informal mentors, and they’ve been my mentors for over 10 – 20 years. The data around that was great,” said Dr. Hopkins.

The second part of her hypothesis looked into whether African-American executive women experience less access to informal mentorships than white executive women.

Results of the study revealed that all mentorship relationships are not created equal, “only 61.7% of African-American women executives compared to 70.3% of white executive women had access to informal mentoring,” Dr. Hopkins wrote in her dissertation.

Additional analyses on a subgroup of respondents, those 21-39 years of age employed at their organization for five years or less (called the pipeline), was also performed. That study reiterated the impact of mentoring on job advancement among executive women.

Dr. Hopkins said that even though the gap in informal mentorship between white women and African-American women was nearly 10%, she can say it is directly supported, not statistically supported, that white women experience better access to informal mentorship than African-American women.

“I’m happy the gap wasn’t as big,” said Dr. Hopkins, who was proud to contribute to the studies of African-American women in corporate America.

As a high-level executive, Dr. Hopkins says her research can be applied immediately in the workforce. Companies can use it as a roadmap to support not only mentoring but developing and increasing diversity in the workforce for the most senior position.

“We need to get formal about informal mentoring,” said Dr. Hopkins.

She says companies can create programs and practices to help informal mentoring relationships occur naturally.

“I think organizations can immediately use it to recruit, retain, and get into the reasons why people leave or don’t feel included in their companies,” said Dr. Hopkins.

With the growing number of diverse employees entering the workforce, there is an expanded requirement for senior mentors of women and ethnic minorities to inspire these workers. Her goal is to see more cultural representation in the corporate world, hopefully closing the near 10% gap that African-American women experience compared to white women when trying to find informal mentors.

Figuring out how to advance, recruit, motivate, and retain women who are today’s and tomorrow’s leaders is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing as well. She says it will help businesses and give greater importance to strong role models around the globe.

In order for this to happen, it requires a commitment on behalf of senior management to not only hire diverse employees, but to engage, train, mentor, and sponsor them to take on future leadership roles, according to Dr. Hopkins.

“When you feel like someone really cares about you, you stay in that organization, just like in a relationship,” said Dr. Paula Hopkins.

In the words of her favorite poet, Maya Angelou, Dr. Hopkins always tries to remember: “people may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”