12 Jan 2022

Improve diversity and inclusion with mentoring

Mentoring is often considered as a vital and integral part to the success of diversity and inclusion employee resource groups, initiatives and focuses. In some respects, it’s obvious that it would be. By providing employees with mentors who they can relate to, identify with and act as effective role models, you’re immediately furthering both the diversity and also the inclusion, within an organisation. However, often we see mentoring as a ‘token’ gesture but not ultimately ensuring that it truly does improve diversity and inclusion. Today, we wanted to explore how you can improve diversity and inclusion in your organisation, with the power of mentoring.

What is mentoring and how can it impact diversity and inclusion?

Mentoring, in its purest form, is simply the act of one individual sharing their knowledge, skills and experience with another individual, to help them to develop and grow. You’ll notice here that we don’t reference age, hierarchical structure, or seniority. That’s because, at the end of the day, anyone with experience, knowledge and insights can be a mentor and when we look at mentoring that focuses on diversity and inclusion, there are a number of ways this can manifest itself. Both with traditional mentoring where we do indeed see those more senior individuals mentoring junior individuals, but also with alternative mentoring such as reverse mentoring.

We surveyed our mentors and mentees at PushFar – the world’s largest open mentoring platform – and, unsurprisingly, 82% of those surveyed said that they felt mentoring was extremely valuable to tackling diversity and inclusion challenges head-on. After surveying proactively engaged mentors and mentees, we began to talk to individuals in inclusion groups (sometimes referred to as ERGs or ‘Employee Resource Groups’) to find out why they felt this. Time and time again, we found that individuals felt motivated to succeed and supported when they saw senior leaders and those in the organisation who they could relate to, identify with and who understood potential challenges they may face.

How can you leverage the power of mentoring?

Ultimately, we know that by providing everyone with access to mentoring, it can help them to develop, grow and reach their full career potential. Yet, one of the biggest hurdles for a lot of organisations remains that mentoring programs are frequently limited to certain employees, with matching carried out by program managers and this, in itself, can cause problems. We hear about unconscious bias in the workplace and know that this can affect mentor matching. Which is why a lot of organisations are now turning to self-selection matching. In fact, we surveyed PushFar’s clients and now 92% of them are using PushFar’s mentoring platform to give individuals control over who they are requesting to mentor them. Whilst our mentoring platform offers organisations both self-selection and admin-led mentor matching, an overwhelming percentage see huge benefit in giving over control. It takes out any element of unconscious bias and gives individuals the opportunity to request the individual they feel comfortable being mentored by.

Mentoring for diversity and inclusion initiatives can go further than traditional mentoring though. As we’ve already mentioned, reverse mentoring can be extremely powerful for educating senior leaders, managers and employees about challenges certain groups and individuals may face, whether that be based on ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, gender, age or disability.

What is reverse mentoring and how can it help diversity and inclusion?

Reverse mentoring has, in recent years, become a popular approach to mentoring. Yet when we look at reverse mentoring, the definition of it is not that different from traditional mentoring. The biggest difference is that reverse mentoring is where those who typically wouldn’t have considered themselves to be experienced enough to be a mentor, in fact, are.

Mentoring is the act of one individual sharing their knowledge, skills and experience to help others to progress. This is the same with reverse mentoring, however, in reverse mentoring the individual carrying out the mentoring (the mentor) is usually younger or has less ‘career’ experienced, but does have more experience in certain other areas, such as in technology or diversity and inclusion groups. The reverse mentor often mentors someone more senior in the business, to share challenges they’re facing, educating them and helping them to develop in a wider array of areas and focal points.

With reverse mentoring on the diversity inclusion lens, it’s about encouraging your employees to learn from and be mentored by those within your employee resource groups and those individuals who are happy sharing potential challenges that face them. One example could be a member of your LGBTQ+ employee network sharing experience of being asked to remotely work from an international office where there are strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws. This is something most managers or senior leaders, unless identifying as LGBTQ+ themselves, would not consider but having an employee mentoring them, could help to ultimately create a more inclusive culture.

Next steps for diversity and inclusion focused mentoring

If your primary objective is to create a more inclusive culture, then the first step is to ensure your mentoring programmes are open to all individuals within the business and that everyone has the opportunity to be involved. We often see those who are more outgoing, driven and keen to learn being picked for mentoring programmes, whilst those who are often overlooked are in fact the ones who you should be ensuring are able to access mentoring.

Granting ‘permission’ here often comes from sending an invitation out to every individual and if your organisation has employee resource groups (ERGs) or inclusion groups, then it can be a good idea to request sponsorship or support from the heads of these groups, to launch or promote your mentoring programmes.

Once you’ve ensured everyone has access to mentoring and that the programme is being fairly promoted to everyone, it is time to review the mentor matching category areas, to allow those individuals in inclusion groups to indicate where they can mentor others and ultimately educate people. Consider all the inclusion groups in your organisaton. For most organisations these will include Gender, Multicultural, Multigenerational, LGBTQ+ and Disability groups. Within these groups, there may be some additional categories where mentoring could take place (e.g. Returning from Maternity leave). Adding these categories in can quickly and easily allow individuals at all levels to either indicate where they can mentor or where they are looking to be educated and mentored.

If you’ve added these mentoring categories in place, it is then time to ensure those individuals registering are considering the value they can add as reverse mentors. We have a paper on reverse mentoring, which outlines what this is, guidelines and how individuals can get involved. To begin with, we would recommend manually facilitating a couple of reverse mentoring matches and having conversations with individuals in senior positions about whether they would like to consider reverse mentoring.

These conversations can feel sensitive and delicate, so approaching them with consideration and clear intent is vital. Where you have already engaged with individuals in your inclusion groups, you can ask these individuals whether they are interested in participating in reverse mentoring programmes and would consider mentoring senior staff members. Sounding out each inclusion group or individuals within inclusion groups by simply asking them what they would like senior leaders to improve upon or evolve within an organisation is the easiest way to start these conversations. If there is any education piece raised here, you can address this by suggesting reverse mentoring.

If this question raises concerns around underrepresentation, then you can begin to look at role model mentoring, where those more senior leaders within inclusion groups can mentor more junior staff members. Ensuring senior professionals within your organisation are engaged with mentoring can be important for ensuring those more junior employees feel they have role models they can seek out to mentor them.

Where there are a significant number of employees in each Employee Resource Group or inclusion group, you can encourage the chairperson of these groups to start their own mentoring programmes through PushFar. However, we recognise that in a number of organisations, there simply isn’t a significant enough uptake in these and inclusion has to be embedded within existing and organisation-wide mentoring.

Read more on PushFar's website.

If you're a CIH member and would like to started with PushFar, you need to be logged in to MyCIH*before visiting our mentoring page where you can register to use the mentoring programme. You can then take a few minutes to update your profile before you explore and get familiar with the programme!

*Members who have not created a MyCIH profile will need to do so with the email address on their profile. It is only once this is done that you will be able to access the platform and your correct profile.