Using mentoring as a key to diversity and inclusion in the workplace

By Jan Murray
Mentoring is key to diversity and inclusion

Last updated

Have you ever wondered why, no matter what training or policies you put in place, the diversity of your workforce has failed to improve?

Perhaps you're already considering using mentoring to help create diversity and inclusion within your organisation. Well, you're not alone...

And, as it turns out, you're on the right track.

Mentoring schemes increased the presence of minority groups in management positions from 9% to 24%.
Cornell University

Why is Mentoring Often Better than Training?

All too frequently, and for many reasons, traditional workplace diversity training fails to achieve intended outcomes.

It turns out that:

  • People can learn to answer bias questions correctly during training, but they often forget soon after.

  • Diversity training usually doesn't have a lasting positive effect and can sometimes even make biases worse.

Luckily, mentoring gives you a solution to your problem that will not only help build diversity, but also aid in employee retention and may help to reduce training costs.

Mentoring significantly enhanced promotion and retention rates for minorities and women
Cornell University

Mentoring as an Effective Strategy for Diversity and Inclusion

Cornell University research has shown that mentoring is one of the few effective approaches for enhancing the representation of diverse employees within a workforce.

The study discovered that:

  • Mentoring improves diversity in management - Mentoring schemes increased the presence of minority groups in management positions from 9% to 24%.

  • Mentoring is better than many other methods - In contrast other diversity efforts showed a range of -2% to 18%.

  • Mentoring improved promotion & retention of diverse emoloyees - Mentoring significantly enhanced promotion and retention rates for minorities and women, increasing from 15% to 38% compared to those who weren't mentored.

Additionally, mentoring offers avenues for fostering connections and support within the organisation.

So What's Different With Mentoring for Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity mentoring enables an organisation to identify commonalities among a varied workforce. It also fosters unity by viewing these differences as learning opportunities.

David Clutterbuck, the Co-founder of the European Mentoring & Coaching Council, has stated that diversity mentoring fosters comprehension across various tiers of the workplace.

This is a two-way process:

Benefits to Mentees

He states that "Mentees become more aware of their potential; gain greater clarity about themselves and their environment; and achieve greater self-motivation and support to achieve their dreams.

Mentors Become More Open Minded

David states that "As the mentors gain a better understanding and appreciation of people, who are different from themselves, they modify and widen their view of talent."

He says that a more open-minded approach comes from the fact that mentors become more aware of the diverse perspectives and experiences that people from different backgrounds bring to the workplace. This often leads mentors to realise how they, along with others, may inadvertently set up obstacles that hinder the progress of talented individuals who are different.

Open Communication is a Key

In diversity mentoring, as in all types of mentoring, open communication is crucial. All parties must feel at ease sharing their thoughts and worries. The relationship should be one where both individuals feel they can question each other's assumptions, behaviours, and actions without passing judgement, although this can sometimes be challenging.

What Factors Help in Making a Diversity Mentoring Relationship Work?

The US Minority Corporate Counsel Association, in a 2003 study, identified several key traits shared by successful diverse mentoring relationships. These include:

  • Being clear about needs and expectations;

  • Initiating the relationship by focusing on work-related issues to build confidence;

  • Making an effort to learn about each other;

  • Identifying shared interests and values;

  • Demonstrating empathy;

  • Avoiding stereotypes and challenging unverified assumptions;

  • Willingness to step out of comfort zones to strengthen the relationship.

Navigating Sensitivities in Diversity and Inclusion Mentoring

Discussing diversity and inclusion in mentoring can be a delicate matter. An MCCA study revealed that conversations about race and gender were frequently sidestepped when one participant was white, even in well-established mentoring relationships. This avoidance can actually lead to discomfort for both parties, as it creates a sense that they must ignore their differences. Therefore, when developing such a mentoring programme, it's crucial to think about how to alleviate any unease surrounding these discussions and to foster a candid and open dialogue.

  • Establish a mutual understanding between the mentor and mentee regarding the role that 'difference' will play in their relationship.

  • Agree that both the mentor and mentee will question each other about the perceived impact of any 'difference' in their relationship, when relevant.

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Mentoring (Case Study)

The East London NHS Foundation Trust's (ELFT) developed a comprehensive mentoring programme with the help of PLD Mentoring. The aim of the programme was to support ELFT's commitment to the full potential development of their staff.

ELFT chose PLD as their mentoring platform provider, to offer both mentoring and coaching pathways. This allowed ELFT to open a trust-wide mentoring programme while also providing access to qualified coaches.

"Everyone has been so supportive and responsive to our needs. Great customer service and very efficient launch and continuous alterations as and when needed."

Offering Diversity & Inclusion through Reverse Mentoring

After successfully implementing mentoring and coaching programmes, ELFT added a reverse mentoring programme specifically to support their ‘Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion' initiatives. The system provided for their needs through:

  • Customisation and Flexibility: The platform can be fully customised to meet the organisation's needs, allowing for a variety of programmes such as mentoring, coaching, and reverse mentoring.

  • User-Friendly and Interactive: The platform is user-friendly and offers many features, including useful reporting dashboards and educational resources, which help in navigating through the mentoring/coaching sessions.

This case study demonstrates how a well-designed mentoring programme can effectively support diversity and inclusion initiatives within an organisation as part of a mentoring and coaching offering.

Guidelines for Establishing a Diversity Mentoring Scheme

Ensure Inclusivity in the Programme

A diversity mentoring scheme should be designed to be inclusive, offering chances for all staff members to get involved, especially those who are under-represented. As David Clutterbuck (from the European Mentoring & Coaching Council) points out, the goal of diversity mentoring is to facilitate both personal and organisational transformation. This is achieved by acknowledging that differences are not just present but are essential for fostering learning, growth, and development.

Putting Mentor & Mentee Training in Place

Mentoring schemes should incorporate training elements, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the standard mentoring training should be broadened to encompass awareness of cultural, racial, and gender issues.

The training for mentors should make sure everyone knows what to expect. Some people might think the mentoring will definitely lead to a job promotion, which may not be the case. Training helps everyone understand what the mentoring will and won't do.

People taking part in this kind of mentoring might find it hard at the start. But if the programme has the right help and advice, these difficulties can be sorted out. Then the mentoring can be really good for everyone involved.

Keep it Optional

Make the mentoring scheme something people can choose to do. When it's optional, those who join are more likely to be really interested and involved. If you force people to take part in a diversity programme, it can sometimes make biases worse.

Foster Strong Mentor-Mentee Bonds

Fostering these bonds and enabling mentors to understand their mentees on a personal level can enhance the success of diverse mentoring. This approach also establishes a framework for employee development, inclusion and diversity, and empowerment within the organisation's staff.

A thoughtfully crafted diversity and inclusion mentoring programme can yield exceptional outcomes for both the organisation and the individuals involved.

If you would like to find out more about running a diversity and inclusion mentoring program get in touch, or simply take our quick 3 minute quiz to see if a mentoring program is right for your company.

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