Black, woman-identifying entrepreneurs have been facing challenges for decades. In the 1930s, Black women in the North endured significant job loss, with employment rates higher than those of white professionals and in some cases higher than those of Black men, as well.
As a result, they became “survivalist entrepreneurs,” as they lacked access to capital and were pigeon-holed into specific industries.
While we’re certainly no longer in the Great Depression, Black and Brown women alike encounter challenges when starting businesses. For example, Black and Brown women haven’t received the same access to capital, despite the fact Black women are starting businesses faster than any racial group.
But certain types of support can dramatically help in this effort. In particular, having a mentor can mean the difference between staying at a stale job or finding fulfillment with the right company. Or maybe these mentors raise the bar even higher by giving the right tools for mentees to pave their own path and start their own company.
So, if mentorship emboldens women, they must all have mentors, right?
Our findings reveal that most women (85%) have had a mentor. However, to better understand how working women experience mentorship, we surveyed over 1,000 professionals working full time.
Read on to learn whether mentees have mentor preferences, why some women don’t receive mentorship, and whether having a mentor leads to more money and overall job satisfaction.
Women and Mentorship
For starters, women believed having a mentor is critical to their careers — more so than men. However, men reported having 5.1 mentors throughout their careers, on average, compared to women who only had 3.8.
Women were also less likely to receive mentorship from someone of the same gender. Nearly 28% of women received career guidance from men, but only 17.3% of men reported having a woman mentor. Of the mentors that women had, 72.2% were women.
Women Seek Mentors Who Look Like Them
Workplace experiences are unique to each employee, but Black women are historically known to be given the shorter end of the stick, as we see with the wage gap. Do they seek other women of the same race to mentor them, perhaps to help validate their professional experiences?
Our findings showed that women are disproportionately mentored by other women of the same race. Sixty-four percent of the women who mentored Black women were other Black women.
The trend continues for Hispanic women — 50% of their mentors were other Hispanic women. However, white women were the most likely to have a same-race pair, with 91.8% of white women mentoring other white women.
Although same-race mentoring relationships were popular among women of all races, the majority reported not having a racial preference when we asked our participants about their preferences.
However, white (62.0%) and Black (47.9%) women were more likely to say they prefer someone of the same race. Asian (29.2%) women were the least likely to have a same-race preference, followed by Hispanic women (30.8%).
With the wage gap disproportionately affecting women of color, our mindsets have to change. Our system has to change. Women have to support women. The powerful stories of powerful women need to be passed on and celebrated.
Stories like that of women like Maggie L. Walker, the first African American woman to found a bank in the U.S — St. Luke’s Penny Savings, which gave loans to black business owners and residents at fair rates, then recycled the interest earned to keep building the community of Richmond, VA, in the early 1900s.
Why Go Without a Mentor?
Mentorship is lauded. Still, our findings showed that 15% of women had not had a mentor in their career. A mentor search may be doable for most, but the No. 1 reason women go without a mentor is that they’re unsure how to find one.
Others reported going sans mentorship because they don’t think they need one (28.7%), don’t look up to anyone professionally (23.1%), or have been unable to find anyone to mentor them (7.7%).
Few women expressed being rejected by mentors (0.7%) and not finding consistent guidance (2.8%). Landing the right mentor is a process with room for trial and error; women won’t immediately land on the perfect match.
However, don’t give up. Instead, evaluate your goals and how you’re asking for mentorship: Are you setting actionable goals, being direct enough in the ask, and throwing a wide net? It’s a good idea to have more than one mentor, so evaluate, pivot, and keep going.
Impact of Mentorship on Paychecks
To determine if it’s worth the effort to find a mentor, we compared the average salary of women with mentors to those without professional guidance. It turns out that securing a mentor has a profound effect on women’s annual salaries.
Black women experienced a 37.4% increase in average salary with mentorship, followed by Hispanic women whose salaries increased by 26.3%. Asian women were the least likely to notice a financial impact with mentorship, but they earned more than all other women, even when they went without a mentor.
Other Advantages of Mentorship
A larger paycheck is a significant enough reason to seek mentorship, but the benefits continued to emerge. More than 50% of women with mentors said they are very or extremely satisfied with their current jobs.
Only 24.3% of women without mentors expressed a similar degree of satisfaction with work. Those who went without mentors were also most likely to express job dissatisfaction.
Perhaps this is the case because having a seasoned mentor allows for more networking, which opens the door to career moves that are the right match.
Employees often walk away from a company due to dissatisfying salaries and a lack of growth opportunities. A mentor could help women negotiate their salaries ahead of time and make clear the desire to grow within an industry — before they settle for a career that doesn’t meet their needs.
How Mentorship Offers Support
Mentorship does help women make more money and experience overall satisfaction in their careers, but mentors support women in other crucial ways.
The majority of women in our study said their mentors are very or extremely helpful overall. However, only 47.3% of Hispanic women felt this way, suggesting a unique need that mentorship is not fulfilling.
Although mentors helped all women feel confident, advised on career goals, and connected them to job opportunities at a similar rate, a significant racial difference emerged from promotions and salaries.
White women were twice as likely to receive help with receiving a promotion (28.8%). Asian women (10.7%) were least likely to receive support with a promotion, followed by biracial women (11.3%), Hispanic women (14.5%), and Black women (14.9%). However, following white women (29.2%), Black women (18.2%) were the most likely to receive help with getting a raise.
Overall, mentors were least beneficial in helping all women negotiate their salaries. Because that is an area that often leads to job dissatisfaction, we encourage women to share that desire with potential mentors upfront to lessen the chance of not having your needs met.
When Women Don’t Have Mentors
While there are areas where women with mentors felt they could use more help, it turns out that not having a mentor is no better, especially when it comes to networking.
Over 52% of women without mentors expressed needing additional help with connecting to other professionals. About 50% also reported needing assistance with finding new job opportunities, increasing their confidence, and developing skills relevant to their careers — all areas that women with mentors expressed receiving guidance.
Open Doors for Working Women
Women have a recognizable impact on business, and as young professionals emerge, they desire guidance from seasoned professionals. Our findings show that most women in the workforce have had a mentor and that mentorship has allowed women to broaden their networks, gain more confidence, and increase their pay.
As the number of women in the workforce continues its steady climb, favorable opportunities become available. Black Girl Ventures is on a mission to help Black/Brown woman-identifying founders with access to community, capital, and capacity building.
We know women are opening more doors in business. Still, Black and Brown women face unique challenges when accessing social and financial capital to grow their businesses — we’re filling that gap. Visit BlackGirlVentures.org to learn how we’re accelerating Black and Brown woman-identifying entrepreneurs in a major city near you.
Methodology and Limitations
This survey included 1,214 respondents currently working as full-time professionals in the United States. The primary focus of the study was on women. To that end, we include responses from 197 Asian or Asian American, 181 Black or African American, 186 Hispanic, 142 mixed race, and 243 white women.
For comparison purposes, a smaller study (using the same questionnaire) was given to men: 51 Asian or Asian American, 41 Black or African American, 50 Hispanic, seven mixed race, and 116 white men. Due to lower samples of non-white males, male responses were grouped across races.
Women in the study had a median age of 30, with a median income of $45,000 per year. Men had a median age of 33, with a median income of $55,000 per year.
The survey was administered from Oct. 21, 2020, to Oct. 26, 2020, using prescreened respondents from Prolific Research (56% of respondents) and Amazon Mechanical Turk (44% of respondents).
Fair Use Statement
More women are becoming entrepreneurs, and having a mentor makes all the difference when facing unique work challenges. Help the women in your network understand the benefits of having a mentor by sharing our findings. Please link back to our study so that readers may view this project in full and review the methodology and limitations.