I believe that the emerging practice of matching female mentors with male mentees is a positive trend. It allows programs to accomplish their fundamental goal of providing youth with non-parental relationships who can serve as additional supports towards positive growth. In a recent study (Kanchewa, Schwartz, & Rhodes, under review), we drew on secondary data from the two largerandom assignment evaluations of school-based mentoring programs to explore the influence of participating in same- versus cross-gender mentoring relationships on relationship processes and youth outcomes. Across two samples, our findings provided no consistent evidence for either same-gender advantage or cross-gender disadvantage. In particular, few systematic associations between gender match and relationship processes, including match quality, duration and meeting frequency, as well as youth outcomes when the effects of mentoring between the two match types were compared to each other. Though there is a need for replication, our findings suggest the potential utility of deploying female volunteers to work with male mentees.
Despite the positive aspects of this trend, there are times when gender matching may be important and influential within the mentoring relationship. It is important to honor parents and youths’ preferences when there is an explicit request for such a match as expectations related to these preferences, and thus satisfaction with the matching process, have the potential to influence the course of the mentoring relationship. For instance, for youth and parents who enter the process with the notion that a mentoring relationship may provide an adult male role model missing within the youth’s existing social network, being matched with a female mentor may feel counterproductive. In addition, gender matching may provide youth opportunities to explore gender-specific experiences and challenges with a supportive adult who may be better able to relate to such experiences including issues related to positive self-image, emotional expression and regulation. Likewise, it is possible that gender matching may vary in importance for youth depending on age, or that the impact of matching may emerge over time. In consideration of these factors, dismissing gender altogether as a piece of the matching process may limit program’s abilities to individualize mentoring for particular youth. Educating and supporting all mentors about the needs of subgroups of youth, particularly around diversity, may give rise to relationships that are equally satisfying and effective across all types of matches.
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