Hughes Award: Kathy Kram




Kathy Kram’s Hughes Award speech “Turning Points in Mentoring at Work: The Co-Evolution of Theory, Practice and Life Experience”, was certainly one of the highlights of this year’s Scholarly Program. After a heartfelt introduction from Tim Hall, Kathy reflected on her ‘journey’ in the field, which began in 1980 with the support and encouragement of scholars such as Richard Beckhard, David Kolb, Chris Argyris, Irv Rubin and Ed Schein. Identifying four key turning points, she guided us from her early years in the field, through the expansion and re-conceptualization of mentoring scholarship, to her current work on mentoring as ecological systems. She also pointed to other themes which have been a consistent feature of all her work and particularly the value of self-reflection and collaboration.

Focusing first on her early interest in mentoring, she described having been greatly influenced by the work of Dan Levinson, Tim Hall and Clay Alderfer and their respective work on adult development theory, career theory and embedded intergroup relations theory. She then turned to her later work on individual and organizational obstacles to effective mentoring relationships and spoke in particular of how she had been influenced by the work of Belle Rose Ragins, Stacy Blake-Beard, David Thomas and Mark Leach. We also learned how this period had given rise to alternative perspectives on mentoring, moving away from the ‘traditional senior-junior dyad’ to consider peer mentoring and coaching, mentoring circles and job design. She described the continuing importance of theoretical diversity and particularly the impact of protean career theory, relational cultural theory, constructive developmental theory, emotional intelligence and coaching on our understanding of mentoring relationships and outcomes. Drawing on her own experience of an effective peer coaching group with Deborah Ancona, Jean Bartunek, Deborah Kolb and Lotte Bailyn, women senior faculty in administrative roles in the Boston area, she then described the centrality of collegiality and friendship in her own professional development.

Addressing the next ‘turning point’, she described the re-conceptualization of mentoring at work, and its role in extending our understanding of developmental networks and specifically multiple dyadic and networked relationships across organizational boundaries. Connecting her work with Jane Dutton and Emily Heaphy’s work on ‘high quality connections’, she also gave us a fascinating insight into her work on ‘Peer Coaching’ with Tim Hall and Polly Parker, and her study of scholar-practitioners with Ilene Wasserman. Introducing her current work on ecological systems perspectives on mentoring as the fourth ‘turning point’, Kathy reemphasized the centrality of individual and contextual factors. Yet she also challenged us to extend our understanding of mentorship even further by asking questions about the impact of perceived organizational support and leadership development and the reproduction/transformation of societal inequalities to name but a few. Her key message here was that while our understanding of mentoring continues to grow, there is still much to do.

With typical warmth and generosity, Kathy brought her Everett Cherrington Hughes’ speech to a close by acknowledging the importance of her family, Kathy, Peter and Jason, her parents, Elly and Harvey, her research assistant, Katie Bailey, her Organizational Behavior colleagues at Boston University, and the role they have each played in her professional and personal development. Her many doctoral students also received special mention. Needless to say, she received a resounding applause which was followed by many questions and even more applause – clear testimony that this award is richly deserved.


  Julia Richardson

  Careers Division Program Chair, 2011


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