Mentoring a regional scheme for women academics in SET, launched 2004

Brief description

The North West Universities Mentoring Scheme for women in SET (MENWU) aims to provide women with the confidence to take on more prominent/influential roles within their HEI’s management structure, where they can have an impact on policies and procedures. In turn, it is hoped that this will lead to changes of attitude and culture. Mentees are mentored by someone external to their own HEI. The number of mentoring partnerships is expected to be between 40 and 50. The mentoring relationship will last around eighteen months with meetings once every six to eight weeks. Contact: Dr Marion Birch -  The North West Universities Mentoring Scheme (MENWU)


This inter-university scheme developed from Bolton Institute’s pilot mentoring project funded by an Athena development grant in 1999. Bolton had so few senior women SET academics that the pilot had to use external mentors, academics and senior industrialists. The evaluation of the pilot concluded that this was one of the significant factors contributing to its success and has been built into the current scheme. In 2002 Bolton organised a conference to disseminate the findings and achievements of the pilot, following which it received many positive expressions of interest. With the support of the Institute’s Vice Principal these were converted into a proposal to the North West Universities Association management team. They endorsed the idea. A business plan was drawn up, with costs per mentee, and funding has been committed by the HEIs to set the scheme up and run it for two years.

Scheme management

The scheme is managed by a small team at Bolton, which is responsible for eg the documentation, codes of conduct and for the matching mentors and mentees. The team is assisted by co-ordinators, one from each participating HEI:

The University of Bolton University of Central Lancashire Lancaster University The University of Liverpool Liverpool John Moores University The University of Manchester University of Salford

Key features

Regional collaboration brings a number of benefits:

  • greater economies of scale
  • access to a larger pool of potential mentors
  • wider freedom of choice and greater reassurance on confidentiality for mentees
  • a broad new regional SET network with the development opportunities it brings
  • the sharing of good practice and expertise is guaranteed

Many features of the pilot are being incorporated, for example the pilot showed the importance of mentor mentee matching. Subject area was not the most important criterion, it was more important to match the primary job function eg research or management. Other factors to be taken into consideration, where possible, are:

  • location
  • relative ages of mentors and mentees and family responsibilities
  • likelihood/ experience of career breaks and part-time working

The pilot also showed the importance of training. Mentors are offered a one-day workshop designed to:

  • enable participants to explore the purposes, role and responsibilities of mentoring
  • anticipate and prevent the pitfalls of mentoring
  • develop awareness / sensitivity to the social and emotional climate that is conducive to good mentoring
  • establish and maintain high quality and effective mentor mentee relationships

Initial mentee briefing meetings include discussion of mentees’ expectations, what they hope to achieve by participating, how to prepare for meetings with their mentor and a learning exercise in reflection. All mentors and mentees are required to sign a contract of confidentiality before the mentoring process begins.

Impact and benefits Participants in the 1999/00 pilot derived significant benefits. For mentees:

  • improved research, personal and career development plans
  • career enhancement
  • increased self-confidence, motivation, assertiveness and determination
  • critical self-appraisal and career planning
  • enhanced networking opportunities
  • reduced feelings of isolation in male dominated environments

For mentors, participation brought about:

  • expanded networking opportunities
  • support from other mentors
  • renewed self-confidence
  • enhancement of interpersonal skills
  • satisfaction from assisting in the career development of mentees
  • new perspectives

Bolton Institute also benefited, through:

  • the development of staff enabling them to contribute fully to their organisation
  • the increased motivation of their staff
  • the creation of networking opportunities for collaborative research proposals
  • providing evidence of commitment to equal opportunities
  • having senior academic women act as role models for female students (which, in turn, had a significant influence on the latter’s subsequent career choice).


The evaluation of the scheme will include

  • focus groups of both mentors and mentees at the end of the mentoring process.
  • Completion of skills audits by mentees at the beginning and end of the mentoring relationship
  • Questionnaires to all mentees and mentors

In the longer term statistics will be collected and compared with control groups, e.g.

  • number of applications for promotion and successes
  • number of selections for interviews
  • number of women in various grades
  • number of women members of committees

The future

The intention is to broaden the target group year by year to include non-SET female academic staff, all female staff and male academics

Athena Report 1 Mentoring women in SET provides information on the 1999/00 pilot