ASIL Women in International Law Mentoring Program (WMP) and preliminary research results on the benefits of mentoring in international law

This blog post was co-authored by Cheah Wui Ling and Emily Linnea Mahoney

Though things have changed for the better, the world of international law remains dominated by men. This is particularly so at the middle to upper levels of the profession and is not exclusive to international law. As demonstrated by the just released Financial Times report, just 16.2 percent of those holding banks manager director level positions in London are women (“London: Sexism and the City”, 16 January 2015). The issue is subject to heated discussions such as those centered on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”, and has attracted practical responses such as Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In Circles”. Our blog post aims to draw attention to the Women in International Law Mentoring Program (WMP), an initiative aimed at overcoming the gender imbalance in the international legal profession.

In 2013 the American Society of International Law launched the WMP which is the first of its kind in international law. Early career female lawyers and female law students are assigned to a group of mentees, also known as a “pod”. A senior woman lawyer is put in charge of a “pod” as mentor. The pods meet with their mentors at least seven times over the course of a year. As the mentees take charge of designing most of these mentoring sessions, they also take responsibility for their own mentoring experience.

We participated in the WMP’s inaugural program as mentees, and benefited significantly both in terms of our personal development and career advancement. As a result of our experiences, we were inspired to implement a research project based on the experiences of the mentors and mentees involved in the 2013 inaugural WMP. Research has shown how mentoring arrangements help early career professionals advance in their fields. However, existing research focus on mentoring programs in specific organizations or non-law disciplines. Comprehensive research on the benefits of mentorship in international law has yet to be undertaken. In implementing our project, we wanted to help WMP identify the benefits of the program and how it could be further improved. We also wanted to investigate whether mentoring objectives were achieved, whether the expectations of mentors and mentees were met, and whether our findings challenged or reinforced the assumptions underlying mentoring.

Our research was based on an analysis of empirical data obtained through surveys and follow-up qualitative interviews conducted with mentors and mentees. Our preliminary analysis shows that mentors and mentees have generally had a positive and enriching experience in the WMP.

Most mentees joined the program to meet and interact with a mentor. However, many mentees said that they benefited not only from their mentors but also from their fellow mentees in the same WMP pod. For example, many received CV feedback and interview tips from their mentors as well as their fellow mentees. Apart from receiving important career guidance from their more established mentors, mentees said they were also able to learn from their peers’ job-hunting and early career experiences. Many found such collaborative learning reassuring, and this helped to create a sense of commonality and shared experience within the pod. A number of mentees also benefited from WMP connections beyond their pods as some pods met with others within their geographical area and had social events at bars or restaurants. Many who met at these events continued their conversations after the program’s formal completion. Several of the mentees we interviewed explained that they received job interviews or positions as a direct result of participating in the program.


Many of the mentors we interviewed stated how their WMP involvement brought them personal satisfaction and development. Apart from the joy that came with giving back, some mentors explained that the conversations they had with their mentees gave them an opportunity to reflect on their own career paths and life choices. Other mentors explained that they learned from their mentees about the new challenges faced today by those seeking to enter the increasingly competitive field of international law.
Our research project has thrown up two areas that we hope to continue exploring, and we are eager to hear thoughts from this blog’s readers:

One of the recurring themes we identified from our data is the importance participants assigned to networking. Networking is anecdotally seen as key to moving up in one’s career. One mentee stated in her interview that her 1L law professor had admonished them, “If you do not network, you will not work.” Many, but not all, mentees identified networking and/or developing a community as a key reason for joining the WMP. Yet a majority also expressed their distaste of and/or lack of confidence in networking. How then did joining the WMP relate to networking? What did networking mean to mentors and mentees? What does this tell us about mentoring programs or the international law profession more generally?

The WMP was ostensibly established to address gender barriers faced by women in the international law profession. Interestingly, mentors and mentees expressed a diversity of opinions about whether such a barrier actually existed. Several believed that gender discrimination was indeed a barrier to getting a first job and career progression, while others believed the field was just very competitive. Others noted that the field was male-dominated, but did not think this was due to gender discrimination. Some mentors suggested that if international law was male-dominated, then having male mentors could help more than having women mentors. We aim to interrogate and tease apart these results with the aim of furthering debates on gender representation in international law.

For more information on the ASIL WMP and how to apply, please see: http://www.asil.org/asil-women-international-law-mentoring-program

If you have any thoughts on our research, we would be most happy to hear from you! You can reach us through our emails: Cheah Wui Ling (lawcwl@nus.edu.sg) or Emily Linnea Mahoney (emilylinnea@gmail.com).

Cheah Wui Ling and Emily Linnea Mahoney.

Advertisements