Mentoring is an important issue for individuals who wish to progress along a career path. Numerous studies have described the interpersonal dimensions of mentoring (Kram, 1986; Levinson, 1978; Ragins & McFarlin, 1990) as well as the benefits of mentoring (Fagenson, 1989; Kram, 1983; Zey, 1984). But mentoring implies a relationship between two people. Can mentoring also be construed as a group phenomenon? This question has not been explored in the mentoring literature.
Some individuals, such as employees of small organizations, self-employed professionals, and individuals who work at home may not have access to a mentor. In addition, there is evidence that individuals who differ demographically from their supervisors experience less mentoring by those supervisors (Blau & Duncan, 1967; Dansky, 1992). Consequently, the use of mentors may not be a viable option for some individuals in the workforce who would like to progress on a management track but have limited opportunities to do so.
One alternative may be to pursue career development through professionally oriented groups such as trade associations. Opportunities offered through group participation may complement or serve as a substitute for individual mentors. This study explored the dynamics of the relationship between professional organizations and their members and tested the influence of affiliation with a professional organization on two career outcomes: salary and job title.
Traditionally, mentoring has been defined as an intentional nurturing process by an experienced elder that fosters growth and development in a protege (Kram, 1980; Levinson, 1978; Roche, 1979). Formal mentoring programs (i.e., those using assigned mentors) have been found in a wide range of businesses (cf. Kram, 1986), as well as in higher education (Merriam, 1983), nursing (Fagan & Fagan, 1983; Yoder, 1990), police departments (Fagan & Ayers, 1985) and law firms (Riley & Wrench, 1985).
The literature has differentiated between two dimensions of mentoring: instrumental functions and psychosocial functions (Kram, 1986; Noe, 1988). Instrumental functions are those aspects of the relationship that enhance skills related to career development; examples are coaching, protection, and sponsorship. Psychosocial functions, by contrast, promote a sense of competence, clarity of identity, and effectiveness of role acquisition. Examples of psychosocial functions are counseling, role modeling, and friendship. Effects of these functions on career outcomes were tested by Scandura (1991) who found that vocational (i.e., instrumental) and psychological mentoring were related to salary level and promotions.
Virtually all studies on mentoring have focused on consequences of a one-to-one mentoring relationship. Mentored employees are reported to have greater job satisfaction, greater productivity, increased professionalism, reduced turnover rates, greater organizational power, and superior managerial skills than their nonmentored colleagues (Fagenson, 1989; Zey, 1984). Whether or not professionally oriented groups can provide similar nurturing and developmental functions is the key issue in this study.
Group mentoring is a new construct. Although there are no published studies on group mentoring, Dansky (1992) found that individuals who differed from their supervisor in age or sex were more likely to report that they received psychosocial support from a group outside of their organization. This article builds on that research and proposes that group dynamics often take on mentoring qualities. Group mentoring is defined here as a group influence that emerges from the social norms and roles that are characteristic of a specific group and results in the career enhancement of an individual member. This perspective recognizes that groups may have unique goals, norms, traditions, and so forth that influence group members. The synergistic effect of collective behavior is experienced to some degree by every member of a group.
Although it is possible that individuals will experience interpersonal mentoring while participating in group activities, group-level mentoring emerges from the dynamics of the group as a whole, rather than from a relationship with one specific person. These dynamics may include processes such as polarization, conformity, communication flows, and social networks, and often have a powerful influence on subsequent individual outcomes. In fact, several studies have demonstrated theoretical relationships between social networks and career mobility (Granovetter, 1974; Kaplan, 1984; Kotter, 1988), laying the groundwork for testing the influence of groups on individual career outcomes.
The literature on social networks provides theoretical justification for developing a construct of group mentoring. Kotter (1982) describes a manager's network as a complex set of interpersonal relationships both inside and outside the organization. The ability to work well within this network is seen by Kotter as essential to effective management.
Brass (1992) explores the communication characteristics of a network further. He defines a social network as a set of nodes (representing individuals or groups) and the set of ties representing some interrelationship between the nodes. The content of the transactions between nodes in a network has been described by Tichy, Tushman, and Fombrun (1979) as: (a) exchange of goods and services, (b) exchange of information and ideas, …