The ‘Imperative’ of Informal Mentoring to Subvert Gender Role Incongruence Among Women in Higher Education Leadership: A Qualitative Study

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Women make up most higher education administration and faculty positions, but they are concentrated at the lowest echelon of the academy. As women attempt professional ascension, they face a double bind whereby there is incongruence between the social expectations assigned to women and the perceived attributes of an ideal leader. A review of the literature revealed a gap examining how women in higher education leadership engage in informal mentoring relationships to address gender biases. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore how women in higher education leadership use informal same-gender mentoring to supplant biases and barriers related to patriarchal role congruence expectations. The theories of relational leadership and role congruity provided the theoretical frameworks for the study. Data were collected from 16 participants through a recruitment questionnaire, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and field notes. An inductive thematic analysis of the data was conducted with the support of NVivo for keyword analysis, coding, and identification of themes. Results of the study confirmed women continue to experience a tremendous burden due to sexism and gender bias. Women also find great value in informal relationships where they serve as both mentee and mentor. These relationships give rise to opportunities for women to experience representation, share experiences, give and receive support, and empower and elevate women's voices. Recommendations include further research using an intersectional perspective and a call for leaders in the academy to use woman-informed policies and processes to advance equity and gender parity. Keywords: educational leadership, female leadership, gender bias, gender gap, higher education, informal mentoring, leadership development, peer mentoring, relational leadership, role incongruence, same-gender mentoring, and women.