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How to create a diversity mentoring program

Creating a diversity mentoring program involves listening to diverse employees, including them in planning, acting on their feedback, and expanding efforts. It fosters trust, promotes understanding of complex topics, and provides visibility for diverse employees with senior leadership, enhancing engagement and career opportunities.

Lora Zotter

Lora Zotter

diversity mentoring

Nationwide protests advocating for racial justice in the United States may have happened some time ago, but diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to rightfully be top of mind for many organizations.

Events since 2020 have been a much-needed eye-opener for many corporations, with many taking steps to move DEI into a central role of their corporate culture and strategy. Diversity in the workplace is already a key component, with clear benefits. Mentoring is part of that – and at a deeper level, diversity mentoring.

The benefits of mentoring

Organizations that want to attract, engage, and retain diverse talent make this happen through mentoring as a key piece of their talent development strategy. The benefits of mentoring are huge:

  • It helps employees feel more valued by their employers
  • It builds supportive networks with coworkers
  • It develops critical skills that help advance their careers

And that’s just the first phase of output.

All of those can lead to job growth opportunities, more engagement at work, and longer tenures with the organization.

A survey of mentees and mentors by MentorcliQ found impressive results:

  • 90% of participants said mentoring helped them develop a positive relationship with another individual in their company
  • 89% said mentoring allowed them to contribute to the success of their company
  • 89% said that they felt like their company valued their development because they offered a mentoring program

The importance of diversity mentoring

Taking this a step further, many companies that want to retain and engage diverse talent in the workplace have implemented diversity mentoring programs as a way to provide visibility with senior leadership for diverse employees.

One type of these programs is reverse mentoring, which are different from other types of mentoring programs in that senior leaders participate in the programs as mentees being mentored by junior employees – in the case of reverse diverse mentoring, junior employees from diverse backgrounds are the mentors with executive mentees.

This type of program helps mentees and executives increase skill and knowledge in sometimes challenging content areas, while also bolstering engagement and career opportunities for mentors.

According to Camille Lloyd of Gallup, “Black employees in the U.S. are significantly less likely than White employees to report seeing leaders of their own race in their organization, and that appears to matter in creating a healthy corporate culture.”

Addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion through a mentoring program has become a way for many companies to engage employees in a thoughtful way that doesn’t involve stale training sessions that will soon be forgotten.

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Examples of diversity mentoring

A great example of a strong diversity mentoring program is the Nielsen marketing research company which, as part of a larger diversity and inclusion strategy, implemented mentoring as an innovative and thoughtful way to weave DEI into all aspects of career development.

Fueled by employee resource groups, its MyMentor program matches mentors and mentees of all backgrounds across different functions, lines of business, and job grades for increased social connectedness, developmental learning, and culture building.

In the program, individual and career development emerged as key discussion topics and the program has received rave reviews from people at all levels of the company as well as amongst participants. In the program, Nielsen learned about the challenges their associates faced and how to overcome them, as well as what areas of professional development were most important.

Since its initial success, Nielsen expanded their programs to support targeted growth throughout the organization.

How to create a diversity mentoring program

Every mentoring program is different, but a few key best practices should be followed to ensure success. First, standardize the process with the following:

Determine length of program

Based on what we’ve seen, a six-month timeline is beneficial for both mentors and mentees. This duration strikes the right balance between being long enough to work on goals related to more complex topic areas such as implicit bias, while also being cognizant of demands on senior leaders’ time.

Establish relationship structure

One of the defining characteristics of these mentoring programs is a one-to-one (1:1) match between mentees (senior leaders) and mentors (junior employees).

Participants often discuss complex and sensitive topics, which requires a high level of trust and comfort best accomplished in a one-to-one format.

Use match logic

Mentoring programs use a combination of rules based on participant profile, stated preferences, and the results of a personality survey for match scores. A few areas we’ve found are important for matching including: identity & experience, expertise and job-specific skills.

We’ve also found it’s essential that the mentor and mentee do not have a direct-report relationship. Plus, if the company is distributed across time zones, ensure that there’s enough overlap in the work schedules of both mentor and mentee.

Don’t forget the human

While other factors might impact the type of matching process used, we’ve found Admin Matching works best for these programs. Program administrators, who are able to see all of the data and make the best decisions, can select participants based on their match score, and then match mentoring partners across different aspects of identity and experience.

Diversity mentoring action items

Once you’ve put down the groundwork, it’s time for action. To implement a powerful and effective top-down mentoring program that will help retain and engage diverse talent, follow these four tips:

1. Listen

Listen to your diverse employee populations. Ask them what they need, understand the obstacles they face, and work to uncover what will help them advance and grow with your organization.

2. Include

Include your diverse employees in the program planning process, get their input on key factors of your mentoring program design, and ask them to be ambassadors for the program to help spread the word.

3. Act

Act on the feedback you hear from the employees, create a program that reflects their needs, and look for opportunities for growth within your mentoring program to help you create and sustain a mentoring culture.

4. Expand

This is only a first step. Use feedback from your mentoring program to understand where additional opportunities may be necessary. Include supporting sponsorship opportunities, paid anti-racism / racial justice education, and encouraging community building through employee resource groups for starters.

Research shows that diverse workforces outperform less diverse organizations by 35% in profitability. Diversity mentoring programs are instrumental in helping achieve diversity, equity and inclusion goals; in fact, it may be the springboard you need.

Lora Zotter is the VP of Employee Experience at MentorcliQ, a mentoring software solution that helps organizations launch, support, and grow high-impact employee mentoring programs. As VP of Employee Experience, she makes sure MentorcliQ is an amazing place to work by leading talent attraction, onboarding, and retention initiatives.

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