Employees Who Are Mentored Pay It Forward, Study Finds

Don Tennant

If you’re in a senior position in your organization and you’ve accepted the noble task of mentoring a deserving up-and-comer, you might find it gratifying to know that your efforts have planted a seed that will likely bear fruit well beyond what you’re able to observe in your mentee.

According to a report released by Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the work place, high-potential employees who received developmental support from others are more likely to now be developing the next generation of leaders. The research outlined in the report, “High-Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward,” found that these employees tend to provide others with the same help that they received along the way.

Here are some of the highlights of Catalyst’s findings:

  • When it comes to paying it forward, being developed matters: A higher percentage of high potentials who had received developmental support in the past two years were more likely to be offering similar support to a protégé. Fifty-nine percent of those who received developmental support were now, in turn, developing others, compared to 47 percent of those who hadn’t received this type of support.
  • The type of development received matters: If high potentials had received sponsorship, they were more likely to be paying it forward. If any of the top three people with whom high potentials frequently discussed career matters provided them with sponsorship, high potentials, in turn, were more likely to pay it forward to others. Sixty-six percent of high potentials who were sponsored were developing others, compared to 42 percent who hadn’t been sponsored.
  • Level matters: High potentials who hold higher-level positions were more likely to be developing others. For example, 64 percent of high potentials at the senior executive/CEO level were developing others, compared to only 30 percent of high potentials at the individual contributor level.
  • Being proactive about career advancement matters: High potentials who have most proactively used career advancement strategies in recent years to get ahead were more likely to develop others than those who had been less proactive. For example, 63 percent of those who actively used career advancement strategies that focus both within and outside their organizations are now developing future leaders, compared to 42 percent of high potentials who are relatively inactive with regard to their own career advancement strategies.
  • Women are more likely to develop others when compared to men. Among high potentials who reported they had someone developing them over the course of their careers, women were more likely than men to now be paying it forward and offering similar support to someone else. Sixty-five percent of women who had been developed were paying it forward, compared to 56 percent of men.
  • Women and men are providing the same types of support to their protégés. When Catalyst asked high potentials how they have been most helpful to their protégés, we found that there were no significant differences in what women and men provided their protégés. Sixty-seven percent of both women and men gave their protégés career or job advice.
  • Consistent with research that shows that people gravitate toward others like themselves—the “like likes like” phenomenon—Catalyst found that women are more likely than men to be developing women. Seventy-three percent of women who were developing others were developing female talent, compared to only 30 percent of men who were developing female talent.


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