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Inclusive Mentoring: Providing Support for All Employees

Mentoring continues to grow in popularity. Employees and leaders alike want the benefits that mentoring provides. However, some mentoring programs may overlook employees from diverse backgrounds. Luckily, organizations can create programs that work for all employees. In honor of National Mentoring Month, this post lists steps leaders can take to create inclusive mentoring programs that benefit all employees.

The Benefits of Mentoring

While most organizations have mentoring programs, a few have yet to adopt the practice. However, even organizations with longstanding mentoring programs often have difficulties recruiting mentors. So, everyone involved must understand the benefits that mentoring brings to mentees, mentors, and the entire organization.

Of the three groups, the benefits to mentees are the most well-known. According to experts, mentoring helps junior employees in a variety of ways. Mentoring provides new employees with a support system. This support makes the employees feel like a part of the team. They also state that the path to advancement is clearer. Mentored employees consistently report higher levels of job satisfaction. As a result, they are less likely than employees without mentors to leave for another employer.

Though less well-known, mentoring programs also provides mentors with several benefits. Being a mentor can help build important leadership skills. As mentors explain things to mentees, they improve their communication abilities. Also, working with newer employees helps mentors recall concepts and skills they may have forgotten. Stepping into the role of mentor also reminds mentors that being a new employee can be difficult, building empathy for the experience of others. In short, working with newer employees grooms mentors for leadership.

Finally, mentoring helps organizations. Mentoring makes the onboarding process smoother. Mentored employees have clearer understanding, early in the relationship with their new employer, of expectations, resources and “how things work around here.” Intentional onboarding promotes increases employee productivity and efficiency. Also, because supported employees are less likely to leave their jobs, organizations with mentoring programs avoid the high costs that come with recruiting and training new employees.

Overall, mentoring is a “win-win” for everyone involved.

Culture Matters: Why Inclusive Mentoring is Necessary

As this blog has often mentioned, leaders must understand culture to excel at equity, diversity, and inclusion. Employees outside of an organization’s dominant culture often struggle to find mentors. When seeking a mentee, senior employees may select employees that remind them of themselves. The unconscious bias is that people who are similar to those already in leadership roles are labeled, formally or informally, as “high potential” and then selected for mentoring because of this categorization. Because the leadership in many industries is largely comprised of white, straight, men, employees that do not share those characteristics are often left without mentors.

Women often lack mentors. A LinkedIn study found that nearly twenty percent of women had never had or sought a mentor. Of these, over half reported that they had not found a suitable mentor. Similarly, of the women who had never served as mentors, nearly two-thirds reported that they had never been asked to do so. This is a shame considering that women at various career stages need and may provide mentoring that addresses some of the unique challenges and experiences faced by women in the workplace.

Mentoring also benefits people of color in many ways. A Harvard study found that African American MBAs with mentors were more likely to be promoted than those without. Nevertheless, employees of color – particularly women of color – struggle to find quality mentors. A recent Catalyst study found that nearly two-thirds of women of color cited the lack of a mentor as a barrier to job advancement compared to just over one-third of white women.

Complicating matters is the fact that employees from diverse groups want mentors who understand the experience of navigating an organizational culture as a nondominant group member. Unlike a mentor who allows bias to influence their mentoring decisions, research shows that employees have solid reasons for wanting mentors who look like them. Like-mentors often provide crucial role models for employees outside of the dominant workplace culture as well as valuable sounding boards. A recent study found that while both straight and LBGT mentors provided LGBT employees with guidance, LGBT employees who had LGBT mentors had greater levels of job satisfaction.

Steps Toward Inclusive Mentoring

Leaders may think that building an inclusive mentoring program is an impossible task. However, by taking several simple steps, leaders can build new programs or make existing ones more inclusive.

• Cultivate Diverse Leadership

As mentioned, employees from diverse backgrounds want mentors who can understand their unique concerns. The best way to address this issue is to develop a diverse leadership team who are able to serve as mentors. If your leadership lacks diversity, reevaluate your standards for promotion. Create a plan for increasing the presence of people from diverse identities on your leadership, even being willing take bold steps to ensure that your leadership reflects the diversity you desire.

• Train Your Leaders in Inclusion

While employees from non-dominant backgrounds want mentors that look like them, this may not always be possible. Rather than excusing white, straight males from mentoring , invest in helping all leaders build the skills to respond to the concerns of employees from a variety of backgrounds. Mentoring employees from different backgrounds can help mentors develop new skills, increase perspective about how to overcome workplace challenges, build trusting relationships with colleagues, and increase their understanding of other cultures.

• Use Both Formal and Informal Mentoring

Leaders often wonder whether formal or informal mentoring programs work best. Actually, organizations need both. Companies should establish formal mentoring programs to ensure that employees from diverse backgrounds don’t slip through the cracks. However, they should also create a culture that encourages senior employees to guide new employees. Experts believe that the best mentoring experiences grow out of organic relationships. So, creating an environment where experienced staff understand that they are expected to reach out to new co-workers increases the chances that they will become quality mentors.

• Develop guidelines for mentoring relationships

Provide mentors and mentees with clear expectations about what it means to be in a mentoring relationship. Clarify the purpose and scope of the mentoring relationship. Is the intent to help the new person get up to speed on their current job duties, or to groom a high potential employee for a promotion? Be clear about how communication will be handled. Will a regular meeting schedule be established? Are there specific goals that should be outlined at the outset of the mentoring relationship to make sure that both parties are clear about the desired outcomes for the individuals and the organization? What agreements need to be made about confidentiality? All of these questions, and more, should be explored and negotiated at the beginning of a mentoring relationship to ensure that experience is satisfying and worthwhile.

Mentoring benefits mentors, mentees, and the entire organization. Inclusive mentoring programs ensure that all employees share in these benefits. To learn more about culture or other concepts that related to equity, diversity, and inclusion, please consider enrolling in The Equity Toolkit. This progressive course will give your team the tools it needs to build a workplace that works for all employees.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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