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Mentorship Programs – The Critical Piece To Drive Successful Enterprise Diversity Initiatives

By Madhukar Govindaraju, Founder and CEO

Diversity in the workplace is the need-of-the-hour!

Numerous researches prove the credibility of diversity in the workplace having a proven competitive advantage.

Statistics show that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by almost 35%! Diversity in the workplace also becomes an asset because it increases the capacity for innovation and creativity and also helps in building more empathetic, strong teams. Homogenous environments rarely offer such advantages, and organizations realize that by supporting diversity, they gain benefits that go beyond the obvious optics.

Given the shift in the workforce dynamics, the C-suite and HR teams are working furiously to bring diversity into the enterprise as it becomes a business necessity. While we see several initiatives, organizations still struggle to implement productive diversity initiatives. Not aligning the goals with organizational objectives and the mismatch between diversity policies and organization design are some of the major hurdles that impede good diversity initiatives.

Along with that is the fact that 41% of managers are too busy to implement diversity initiatives.

Diversity has also become essential as it helps us build authentic organizations. To create such an organization, it becomes critical to create a workplace that is nurturing, irrespective of an employee?s gender, religion, race, and other such variables. This is where mentoring helps.

When mentoring helps diversity

Diversity initiatives in organizations often stick to educating people about the challenges that women, seniors, and minorities face in the workplace. But these initiatives don?t actually work on changing the behavior of individuals that are needed to make these initiatives successful.

For example, a male employee attending a diversity training might leave the training feeling more sensitive towards the plight and the issues of his female counterparts or the minorities in the organization. But if he does not interact with those that are different to him and learn to empathize with them, he loses the opportunity to bring about meaningful change in his behavior.

Mentorship programs help to further the cause of diversity within the organization. With the right guidance from the right resources, the mentee gains the knowledge, skills, and insights needed to gain a clearer understanding of the organization. However, to make it work, having the right processes in place is essential.

How can you make it work?

It’s a pair-game − Get it right

Pairing the right mentor with the right mentee is critical for the success of any mentorship program. However, we often relegate this pairing to personal selection. While it is natural for individuals to connect with or seek out people who are similar to themselves, mentor-mentee relationships best work when professional pairing supersedes self’selection.

Instead of guesswork, organizations could gain far more if they use personality assessment tests to help users identify their potential areas of development. And, based on those assessments, connect them with the appropriate network of mentors to begin their diversity learning journey.

No two people are the same − Understand the challenges

The best mentoring relationships are ones that are based on trust. And, a great part of trust comes when you are comfortable with your mentor. Somehow, skills overtake this aspect of comfort when a mentor is being assigned to an individual.

For example, women tend to seek out women mentors. While what a mentor looks like has no bearing on the skills the person has, women usually like to seek out female mentors because they believe that these mentors have walked a similar path they are on. Relatability and empathy from the mentor for the situation make their advice more valuable and relevant.

Mentoring helps women, in this case, build their social capital, which is the relationship network, that helps them grow. Since men tend to have more senior−level men in their network, they automatically build the social capital advantage. By making mentoring a part of diversity initiatives and allowing them to choose the mentor (keeping the comfort and understanding aspect in mind) makes for strong mentoring relationships. This ultimately helps women reach their professional and personal goals that they need in order to climb up the corporate ladder and eventually shatter the glass ceiling.

A goal without a plan is just a wish − Define your goals

For any program to be a success, having well−defined and measurable goals is imperative.

It is no different with mentoring programs. Mentoring can boost diversity if it is a formal, structured program. Alexandra Kalev, co−author of the report “Why Diversity Programs Fail”, “states that most diversity programs tend to bite the dust because diversity training is mandatory. People feel ‘forced’ to do it. Because it creates a sense of external control, it automatically creates resistance. And then people view it as ‘one more training that they must tick off’.

But with mentoring, it becomes easier to achieve successful change because it engages the people and ties them to the goal of diversity. Kalev writes, “Mentoring makes managers a part of the change by helping them know the workers of certain minority groups which they usually have stereotypes and biases against? During this relationship,

the mentors themselves become engaged, committed and invested in the success of their mentees. This helps them reduce their biases and learn about the representative of the minority group and makes them become champions of diversity.”

All of the DiversityInc?s Top 50 diverse companies have well−defined, formal, and structured mentoring programs. A formal and well−defined mentoring program that has defined processes, specific goals, analytical reports, trusted network of mentors, and continuous and ongoing support is more likely to be successful.

Be future-proof − Build your diversity pipeline

How can you build your diversity pipeline if your mentoring relationships are focused on just peer mentoring? It is a fact that many organizations do not have enough mentors and minorities in leadership roles to enable same-gender or same−culture mentoring programs. Organizations need to make a strategic shift on how they think about their purpose, specifically when it comes to diversity. We cannot let mentoring programs become affinity programs within organizations, as then, how will you bring women and minorities into leadership positions?

Having tie−ups with the right mentors who are of the same culture or gender or demographic background is essential as these are the people who have the power to bring about internalized change. Giving people access to the right mentors who will help them chart their growth story is crucial to navigate the diversity challenge.

The goal of mentoring is about creating transformational relationships between a mentor and mentee. The purpose of this relationship is to elevate the individual’s intellect to help them understand why they need to bring about change.

And given that diversity is a transformative initiative, it only makes sense to use mentoring as a tool. This ensures that you are not doing mere lip−service to your diversity initiatives. Authentic change becomes a natural consequence of your efforts.

Check out NumlyEngage™ Enterprise – High−Potential Leadership Development Platform. NumlyEngage™ Enterprise is targeted at Women Leaders, Millennial, and Generation&minusZ professionals and it aims to build a caring and inclusive feedback culture. It drives trust within teams resulting in better engagement, retention, and productivity.

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