You are hereIncreasing Workforce Diversity Underscores the Need for Mentoring
Increasing Workforce Diversity Underscores the Need for Mentoring
Corporate demographics are more diverse today than they were 20 years ago, leaving organizations to grapple with how to enable relationships among employees who don't have a shared history or culture. According to Dr. Stacy Blake-Beard, Associate Professor of Management at Simmons College and a member of MentorNet's Advisory Board, "In spite of the increased number of people of color entering the workforce, we still see a glass ceiling that keeps the diversity seen at lower and middle levels out of the top levels. Mentoring has been posed as a catalyst to shift the dynamics of power that keep women and people of color from attaining executive-level positions."
Why Looking at Race in Relation to Mentoring Is Important
Until recently, race simply wasn't mentioned or considered as a relevant factor in mentoring studies. According to Blake-Beard, recent studies have utilized more racially diverse samples, "illustrating a positive trend—race is on the radar screen." Why is this important? As Blake-Beard explained at a recent MentorNet workshop at SACNAS, ignoring race inappropriately "assumes that the experiences of one group adequately and accurately captures the experiences of other groups."
By studying race, Blake-Beard says, we learn:
- Who has access to mentoring: the perception is that people of color—and women—face greater challenges when seeking mentoring relationships
- Who acts as mentor: white males are the prevalent group serving in this role
- What the mentor provides: career support and psychosocial support
Barriers to Successful Cross-Race/Cross-Gender Mentoring
Traditionally, mentoring is based on trust, a willingness of partners to authentically engage one another. Enabling this type of trust becomes more challenging as mentoring partners cross racial lines. David Thomas, who conducted seminal work on mentoring and race, "acknowledges the challenges of building effective mentoring relationships across dimensions of race."
According to Blake-Beard, there are several challenges, in addition to trust, to cross-race and cross-gender relationships:
- Tokenism—people of color or women are "one of a few," placing them in a spotlight where it is difficult to make mistakes and to learn because people are watching you and scrutinizing your relationship
- Developmental dilemma—particularly of issue in cross-gender relationships, it refers to how can you get close enough to share learning, vulnerabilities, mistakes, but not so close that people "wonder what's going on"
- Protective hesitation—for fear of being called racist or sexist, mentors don't share information regarding a protégés' actions that may be inappropriate in the workplace, and instead tell protégés that they're doing fine
Why Mentoring Across Dimensions of Diversity Is Important
Mentoring provides "real world" information, encouragement, advice, and access to networks that are otherwise often unavailable to women and people of color. Protégés often report increased promotions, higher salaries, and greater career satisfaction as well as company loyalty. As Blake-Beard puts it, mentoring "increases the visibility of the invisible man (and woman)."
A mentor relationship can contribute significantly to the development of a protégé's confidence, competence, and credibility—the "three Cs" drawn from Thomas' research. Whether it's opening doors to challenging assignments that build professional competence, sending a message to the organization that the protégé is a high performer, or offering crucial career advice and counsel to keep the protégé on track, a mentor can have a dramatic impact. Even more, a mentor can be a powerful sponsor later in a protégé's career and protect her by confronting unfair criticism—particularly if it has gender or racial undertones.
The best part of mentoring across dimensions of diversity is that everyone benefits. As Blake-Beard explained in the SACNAS workshop,
- Protégés gain insight and guidance from more experienced colleagues and receive a big-picture view of their chosen field and career
- Mentors gain access to alternative perspectives and experiences and are perceived as developers of talent
- Organizations retain their organizational cultures and values and are positioned for successful succession planning
MentorNet addresses several key areas of concern related to mentoring and race:
- Access—we have 1,400 mentors currently matched and more than 600 mentors ready and waiting
- Availability—our mentors are excellent role models who actively listen and counsel their protégés, often building lifelong friendships
- Trust—our mentors build trust with their protégés because they're willing to share time, their experiences, and their insights, highlighting strengths as well as areas for growth
- Insight—protégés get an insider's look at their chosen field, the highs, the lows, and what it takes to succeed
A focused evaluation study conducted in 2004 provided insights into the experiences of women of color participating in MentorNet's programs.
Blake-Beard, S.D. (2001). Mentoring Relationships Through the Lens of Race and Gender. Boston, MA: CGO, Simmons School of Management.
Catalyst, (2001). Women of color executives: Their voices, their journeys. New York, NY: Catalyst
Thomas, D.A. (2001). The truth about mentoring minorities: Race matters. Harvard Business Review, April.