Inclusive mentoring programmes

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Written by Laura Francis on 29 June 2020

As the calls against racism grow louder and span the globe, each of us must take time to reflect on what we can do to make a tangible difference. We can go to a protest. We can chant that Black Lives Matter.

We can educate our children about racism and talk to them about why some people are treated poorly based solely on the color of their skin—and why this is not okay. We can support minority-owned businesses. We can push for and expect more from our elected leaders and how our societies are run.

But what about at work? How do we push for social justice within the confines of our jobs? An article in HuffPost by Monica Torres describes five diversity workplace lies we may hear but need to stop believing. One that stood out to me: “The belief that promoting racial diversity ends once you hire someone or take a workshop.”

You can’t just check the box and say you’re done. Hiring or promoting a diverse employee is a good first step, but it is just that - a first step. As Torres’ article points out, the sad truth is that black employees are not being retained at rates on par with others.

Once the box has been checked that a black candidate was hired, too many employers ignore them and do not provide them with access for advancement opportunities.

You can’t just check the box and say you’re done

One simple way you can address this is through inclusive mentoring programmes that empower employees to connect with colleagues and focus on professional development that will help them land that next promotion. (Check out this article about pushing for equality through mentoring.)

Research on mentoring shows that:

  • 90% of mentees and mentors said the mentoring programme helped them develop a positive relationship with another individual in the company.
  • 89% said that they feel like their company values their development because they offer a mentoring programme.

Those feelings of goodwill can translate into retaining talented employees, which can then lead to greater opportunities for promotion amongst those employees.

Those same employees can also share their stories with others about the positive experiences they’ve had at the company, which can lead to more talented people wanting to work there. Building this type of genuine, inclusive culture can reap rewards for individuals and companies alike.

To start an inclusive mentoring programme:

  1. Ask your employees what they want. Do they want to be involved in mentoring relationships that focus on their career development? Do they want to engage in open dialogue amongst their colleagues about racial and social justice issues? Do they have skills they want to learn via mentoring? Focus on what they want and then find ways to make it happen.
  2. Ask for support from your employee resource groups. Many companies have employee resource groups that can be a voice and conduit for different cohorts, such as young black leaders, women in leadership, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and more. Include people from diverse backgrounds, business areas, job levels, etc. If you find that your employees are more similar than different, you have already uncovered one of the issues you need to address.
  3. Ask your leadership and executive teams to become involved. Nothing is more powerful than walking the talk. It’s great that more businesses and leaders are saying that Black Lives Matter, but until they actually take tangible action to address the problems, it can be construed as simple lip service. Having your top leaders participate in the mentoring programme will lend weight to it and show that the organisation is committed to this development opportunity.
  4. Let authentic voices lead. Collaborate with people who make up your core audience for your inclusive mentoring programme. Let them lead the charge. Support them in whatever ways that you can, but give them the spotlight to ensure that their authentic voice and needs are being heard. Be an ally and an advocate.

You can create deeper meaning with your mentoring programme through actions that show you listen, you care, and your want to do something about the problems that you see. Let’s make meaningful change together.


About the author

Laura Francis is Chief Knowledge Officer for River, a mentoring software company based in Denver, Colorado.


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