The term empowerment has become a widely and loosely used word, which has led it to move away from the feminist context in which it was born (anchored in the idea of emancipation) to become a description of a personal characteristic or a commonplace buzzword in political discourse that seeks to legitimize programs or business practices.

Despite this, empowerment is recognized as a desirable and even critical objective for the well-being of women, so various social or scientific organizations have stated it in their objectives, for example, the European Institute for Gender Equality (https://eige.europa.eu) and UN-Women (https://www.unwomen.org) seeks to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women. On a smaller scale, Women In Behavior Analysis (https://www.thewiba.com) approaches the subject by mentioning that their mission is to empower, celebrate, and mentor women behavior analysts, which suggests an understanding of it as specific actions and behavioral products relevant to the context of science and higher learning.

Sardenberg (2016) recognizes two types of approaches to empowerment. One of them, the liberal, conceptualizes it as an instrument for personal development by focusing on specific traits to obtain benefits such as a better job or salary. A second position is liberating empowerment, in which power relations are the central aspect, as such, an empowered woman obtains autonomy and self-determination and is indispensable in the struggle against the social-economical system.

Following this second perspective, the notion of power becomes central to understanding empowerment. This way of conceptualizing power is shared by Ruiz (2003), who states that gendered cultural practices are a form of social control related “to power and dominance relations that bear directly on the level of access that an individual or group of individuals may have to sources of reinforcement or resource allocations” (p. 15).

In the same line of thought, but from a sociopsychological perspective, Ribes et al. (2016) stated that “power is a term that refers to the capacity of an individual, or a group of them, to be able to do or to have and, consequently, to be able to make others do or to make others have. It is a term referring to the actions that an individual (or group of individuals) performs or is able to perform concerning others” (p. 216).

Considering these perspectives, empowerment should be understood not as a trait of an individual but as an environmental circumstance in which forms of behavior of an individual are enabled through the actions of a second individual (or group of individuals) who, immersed in a particular cultural domain, can extend stimulus control functions and the transfer of such functions to the first.

In Ribes's (2001) English-written presentation of his model, this circumstance requires what he called exchange relations, in which the individual with power (whether by wealth, strength, or knowledge) carries out activities aimed at promoting and legitimizing a new set of self-imposed rules (i.e., decision making) on the part of the subject to be empowered that allow them to modify the behavior that is appropriate as well as permitted in that community. In this model, empowering implies extending functions of control related to a social context or cultural domain, thereby transforming the distinct relations of exchange and sanction between individuals. Operationalizing such an understanding is possible by identifying empirical functions present in such social circumstances by way of rule-following behavior, antecedent control, and behavior shaping through consequences consistent with metacontingency analysis (Glenn, 1988).

For example, when assistant teachers join the classroom and share some responsibilities with a more experienced senior teacher, how does the latter empower the former? Or, more precisely, how does the more senior teacher extend power to a novice teacher? Well, first, by integrating them into a relationship of interpersonal exchange between the two, in other terms, creating an interlocked behavioral contingency by assigning classroom responsibilities to them as a form of antecedent or instructional control. The product of such interlocked behaviors will be a set of rules that state deadlines, length, or work style that will have control over students' behavior, given that they had the opportunity to observe such exchange. The next step is to eventually allow the novice teacher to sanction students' behavior through positive or negative reinforcement, further legitimizing the actions or decisions.

Finally, the new teacher will be capable of self-imposing and following those rules that department heads, or student complaint departments maintain in their selected environment.

Measurement of the success of such an empowering circumstance must rely on qualitative data such as the emphatical nature of policy suggestions coming from department heads and from quantitative data such as the frequency of adequate schoolwork presented by the students. Only when the first is minor and the second high can we say that the novice teacher has been empowered through its selecting school environment.

Following this understanding of power as a type of behavioral relationship between individuals and of empowerment as a circumstance under which its empirical functions are extended from one to another, we now move toward the case of Mexican women.

Empowerment of Women in Mexico

The empowerment of Mexican women has become a nationwide social development objective. For example, the government agency called the National Women's Institute (INMUJERES, 2018) stated that it seeks to develop more effective policies to combat inequality and enable the economic and labor empowerment of women.

In higher learning, a clear gender bias can be observed when it comes to choosing a professional career. Considering bachelor's degrees, women double the number of men in fields related to teaching or education, whereas in programs related to engineering or technology, the relation is inverted, as 76% of the degrees were obtained by men (INMUJERES, 2021).

Such biases have been addressed through programs aimed at balancing some disadvantageous conditions, such as scholarships for indigenous women and single mothers or scholarship programs designed to promote women’s inclusion in underrepresented academic areas such as physics, mathematics, and engineering.

Although access to economic support for vulnerable populations can help overcome economic limitations for women, it does not promote the legitimization of the functions of control to such populations. In a general sense, it does not necessarily create a new behavioral lineage (Malott & Glenn, 2006) in which the person empowered now presents reoccurrences of the transferred power functions that involve other members of the community as new interlocking contingencies, and their new possibly recurring products are also shaped through new consequences.

Given that power can be understood as having the power to control wealth and resources, power through strength to dominate others, or power as knowledge to influence/guide (Ribes et al., 2016), and that in the context of academic higher learning, the latter has a predominant place, this article proposes academic mentoring as a strategy that may go beyond statements of intent and be an effective tool for empowering Mexican women, considering it usually implies interlocking behaviors of a higher and a lower rank person creating products that can be beneficial to both (Salzer et al., 2023).

Empowerment and Mentorship

According to Fassinger and Hensler-McGinnis (2005), mentoring can be directed towards two main results: (1) the development of psychosocial functions as skills that allow them to successfully adjust to their environment through activities such as tutoring or counseling; and (2) the advancement of their professional career in which the focus is on developing technical skills in the mentee that will improve their career performance.

Empowerment might be added to these positive results as it establishes a critical condition for it: agency. Ruiz (1995) identified that for an act to have agency, it requires: (1) that it be the result of a learning history; (2) that it be one of the behavioral possibilities; and (3) that the agent can explain the act in the context of its realization. Thus, from a behavioral perspective, to speak of agency is to speak of an act that is “embedded in a system of relationship with the current and historical contexts, and for which the agent is able to describe such relationships” (p. 170). In that sense, the ability to verbally describe the act and the reasons or context for it, requires a verbal community that shapes and reinforces such behavior. Therefore, mentoring becomes the behavioral strategy that allows extending power relations and provides a verbal community (the mentors) that shapes the verbal repertoire that enables the mentee to describe and give symbolic meaning to the experiences gained during mentoring and eventually become a mentor themselves.

Despite these potential benefits of mentoring, it is noteworthy that, at least in Mexico, this type of program has not been implemented in more female-dominated careers such as psychology. At a professional level in Mexico, psychology continues to be a “female” career (http://www.observatoriolaboral.gob.mx), and the same trend was observed at the college level at the National University (UNAM, 2023).

However, being in the majority does not prevent women from being subject to the same systems of exclusion observed in other areas, such as the lack of representation of women in science and academia. In particular, in the field of behavior analysis the possible gender bias in first-author publications has already been detected, consistently finding an underrepresentation of women (Poling et al., 1983; McSweeney & Swindell, 1998; McSweeney et al., 2000; Li et al., 2018; Kranak et al., 2020; Rotta et al., 2022).

Arroyo (2019) also analyzed the distribution of first authorship of men and women in the Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis, just as Simon et al. (2007) did for several U.S. behavioral journals, and she concluded that despite the economic and social differences between the two countries, the same trend of fewer publications written by women as first authors was observed.

Considering that Kalpazidou-Schmidt and Faber (2016) stated that the underrepresentation of female researchers is due to a lack of opportunities in networking, less access to information, or a lack of support to successfully compete for grants, projects, and promotions, which have adverse effects on the research productivity cycle, it seems important to designate first authorship as a relevant dependent variable when designing an intervention that might change the gender productivity gap.

If such state of affairs is to be addressed and possibly changed, a behaviorally oriented mentorship program must be designed and implemented. In what follows, such a program is presented in general terms as it is currently being developed and funding is still being secured.

Table 1 shows the objective proposed for the mentoring program. It is through the creation of interlocking behavior contingencies between a mentor and a mentee that a specific product might come about so that the selecting environment may receive or reject such a product. The activities and dependent variables rely on coordinated repeated interactions between participants and careful measurement of the achievement of partial and final results. Both will require a dedicated support staff and economic funding so that the main result can be achieved.

Table 1 Mentorship program: Empowerment in Mexican women behavior analysts

Given that the final product (the manuscript) requires several preparation responses, a contingency system that establishes direct and immediate reinforcement is recommended to maintain mentor and mentee behavior in the program. Such a contingency will be implemented by the use a suitable project management app that will record and display: mentor and mentee attendance to meetings, completion of the different parts of the draft, days between meetings and deadlines fulfilled. The positive and negative reinforcement functionality of such a record display is key in maintaining mentor–mentee behavior. In its first stage the target population will be women recently graduated from their doctorate programs aiming at a core objective: academic career development.

This program has, in its originality, the burden of proof and will demand a considerable toll on a small group of female researchers for which motivating operations have been in play for many years, yet the proper responses were not operationally defined. The commitment to its primary objective and the existence of definitions related to coordination, contact information protection, funding allocation, final report and dissemination activities will prevent the distortion of its meaning and a fallback on the lack of representation and inequality for the target population: Mexican female behavior analysts.

Conclusions

Mentoring, seen as a form of empowerment, presents an area of opportunity that might be extended in favor of other Mexican women scientists. For the time being, this program complies with any data-driven intervention in that it states deliberate actions that are consistent with a clear objective, has time limits, and a specific cutoff period to evaluate the effects on dependent variables. An important aspect is that it defines a mentor's responsibilities, which will provide the mentee not only direct training but also a verbal community, under which the agency can develop in conjunction with a quantifiable product: written research papers with a woman as first author.

This product has been chosen because of the unsatisfactory way things are when it comes to women's representation in behavior analysis in Mexico, and just as Mallot and Glenn (2006) have stated, it is from these types of dissatisfactions that interventions arise. If a new cultural practice (Mawhinney, 2011) is to be developed, change can come from creating new, relevant interlocking mentor–mentee behaviors whose products can be maintained by a selecting academic environment.

Finally, we agree with Odum (2000) that the work of men and women should be evaluated under the same quality criteria, regardless of gender, but it must be recognized that to do so, we must reduce factors that inhibit women's leadership and academic development. Mentoring as a circumstance in which women can be empowered, i.e., one in which power is extended, can serve in this way, and one hopes, a more egalitarian cultural practice may begin to develop.