FEMALE mentors appear to be better role models, but male mentors may be better at leading the way to the top of the corporate ladder. That’s the conclusion of a Pennsylvania State University study that involved 200 “mentees” — all graduate students between the ages of 20 to 57.

Specifically, researchers surveyed 115 men and 85 women who rated 139 male and 61 female mentors from many industries on a variety of factors.

In essence, women excel at offering personal support, friendship, acceptance, counselling and role modelling. With women guiding you, it’s often more about commitment and chemistry with the emphasis on personal growth and development, rather than about promotions.

By nature, female mentors also tend to be warmer and more approachable, as well as more willing to share pieces of themselves. Naturally, female mentors are better at offering advice on bridging the divide that often exists between men and women in the workplace. After all, they’ve been in the trenches and know how to play the game.

With female mentors, there is also no danger of sexual harassment or sexual undercurrents in the relationship. Granted, as Joan Jeruchim and Pat Shapiro, co-authors of Women, Mentors, And Success, note, female mentors often “lack the power to link their protégés to important people or to sponsor them for key committees or projects”.

Nevertheless, you can generally count on more bonding, nurturing and confidence-building with a female mentor.

The male advantage? In terms of career development, which involves functions such as sponsorship, protection, providing challenging assignments, exposure and visibility, both male and female protégés in the Penn State study said they received greater assistance from male mentors. Study authors Dr John S. Sosik and Dr Veronica M. Godshalk agree that much of this might be associated with stereotypes of men and women in the corporate world.

“Both men and women perceive men as possessing more and different forms of power than women,” Dr Godshalk confirms. “Within traditional male-dominated organisations, both male and female protégés may shy away from female mentors when seeking career development functions leading to promotions.”

In their study, male mentors emerged especially effective at helping female protégés. “Among other things, male mentors can help female protégés overcome discriminating barriers in place at traditional organisations,” says Dr Sosik. They may also be better positioned to make critical introductions for you.

In many surveys, however, a mentor’s gender is not an issue. More important is that the chemistry works and that you and your mentor work well together toward achieving the same goals.