January is National Mentoring Month (#NationalMentoringMonth) and a reminder that mentorship plays an instrumental role in professional and personal development and in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
The knowledge, access and feedback exchanged in a mentor-mentee relationship builds skills, empathy and support and creates opportunities for career advancement. By introducing underrepresented employees to people and groups they may not traditionally interact with, mentoring helps to combat bias and inject diverse perspectives and experiences that increase creativity, problem-solving and performance.
A study by Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search and leadership consulting firm, found that mentorship programs play a vital role in retaining diverse talent. And while there are obvious benefits for mentees, the study also revealed that minorities and women found that being mentors was an important aspect of their career growth. Furthermore, the Harvard Business Review reported that mentoring programs increased minority and female representation in management by 9-24%.
Dr. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, who first identified the concept of psychological safety – a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes – says “few interventions support DEI and the dismantling of systemic inequalities as well as mentorship.” Having mentors remove workplace barriers builds the safe environment necessary for employees to feel a sense of belonging within an organization.
4 types of mentoring programs that can strengthen DEI efforts include:
- Career Mentoring taps high performers to mentor junior employees in setting goals, tackling challenges and making good choices along their career journey. By identifying underrepresented employees as mentees, career mentoring can provide stretch assignments and cross-functional access and exposure to increase opportunities for promotion.
- The Buddy Program pairs seasoned employees with new hires upon onboarding to help them quickly settle into their roles and become acclimated to the workplace culture. By helping new employees navigate the organization and build a network, buddy programs can increase new hire retention and productivity.
- Reverse Mentoring broadens senior leaders’ perspectives by pairing them with junior employees, who share knowledge about emerging trends and technologies, as well as candid input on inclusion within departments and fresh insights on employee experiences.
- A Mentoring Circle brings together individuals from all levels of an organization to build rapport, understanding and empathy. Participants can share experiences on topics such as inclusivity in the workplace, ways to network across the organization, navigating work/life balance as a new parent and employee wellness tips. Employee Resource Groups are a good example of this format by providing a safe mentoring space for employees to candidly discuss the challenges they face, based on shared backgrounds, experiences, interests, etc.
Mentorship is a powerful tool to build individual potential, diverse talent and a more inclusive workplace culture. Mentors provide mentees with support and guidance to develop valuable skills, build an internal network and foster a sense of belonging that is essential to individual and organizational success.
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