By Ed Johnson Co-Founder & CEO of PushFar
Diversity and inclusion continue to be important topics of focus for organisations and, rightly so, show no signs of slowing in 2021. We work with organisations in certain industries who now feel they have sorted the diverse workforce piece of the puzzle but have the challenge of ensuring inclusivity is firmly embedded within an organisation. Other business leaders know that they need to tackle both pieces of the puzzle. Wherever an organisation stands, we are seeing that the most challenging part seems to be the inclusivity and ensuring that this inclusive culture is embedded. Through fear of getting it wrong, we have seen some employees shying away from any involvement which is concerning enough. The reality is that there is a balance between providing opportunities, creating safe environments and, vitally, education. I believe that mentoring plays a considerable role here.
What is Mentoring?
Before we delve into why mentoring can help, it is first important that we have a clear understanding of what mentoring really is. In its simplest form, mentoring is the act of one individual sharing their knowledge, skills, and experience with another individual, to help them to progress. Mentoring often happens under the guise of management, leadership, coaching, and even the informal conversations between colleagues. If one person is sharing knowledge with another and it helps them, that is mentoring. Now, mentoring can be applied in a more structured approach to a wide range of focuses for organisational and business success. Commonly, we see mentoring programmes setup for talent pipelines and leadership development. Those individuals identified as future leaders will often be given access to mentoring from existing senior leaders. Yet those who are not identified as suitable candidates for leadership roles are often overlooked but could just as vitally benefit from being mentored, as well as, in most cases, be suitable candidates to mentor others and share their own experiences and knowledge too. Ultimately, mentoring can and should be available to everyone. It benefits both the mentor and the mentee, as well as having a wealth of benefits to an organisation too.
So now we’ve a clear understanding of mentoring, we can look at applying it to a wide range of objectives for an organisation. In this instance, we can explore how mentoring can be applied to inclusivity.
How Can Mentoring Help?
When we look at mentoring as part of an organisation’s diversity and inclusion strategy, we’ll often find it being used within such employee resource groups or inclusion groups. So, an organisation providing employees with an LGBTQ+ network or BAME network may well already be running mentoring programmes within those groups. Here you will often find senior leaders who role model within these inclusion groups helping to provide others with career progression and development. This, in itself, can be extremely valuable in ensuring talented individuals from all walks of life, backgrounds and minorities are equally represented, given opportunities to develop and have clear senior role models they can identify with. And if your organisation already has these inclusion groups but isn’t offering mentoring within them, then this is a good starting point.
Reverse Mentoring for Education
Now, if your employee resource and inclusion groups already have internal mentoring, it is time to look further afield at expanding your mentoring offering. Where inclusion and mentoring can effectively align is through the concept of reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring is the act of an individual who is typically more junior or less experienced, but has more experience in a certain area, sharing that knowledge with someone more senior.
The perfect example here could be a recent graduate and openly gay employee who is mentoring a senior leader on challenges that he and other colleagues may face when working internationally in countries where their sexuality is illegal. This, in itself, may well be a topic that the senior leader didn’t even consider but by being mentored by this junior employee, both the senior leader is educating themselves and learning, but also giving the junior employee the opportunity to educate, interact with and feel heard by senior leaders too. Put simply, it is a win-win situation!
Why isn’t Mentoring Happening More?
The primary reason why organisations are not leveraging the power of mentoring to provide the vital action link from strategy to objective, is that mentoring traditionally was resource heavy. The concept of trying to pair up a mentor and mentee, track their progress and report on it would often involve an excel spreadsheet or three, email chains and lots of back-and-forth. Fortunately, with technologies like PushFar’s mentoring software, this can be far more easily achieved and we are seeing more and more organisations leveraging mentoring’s powers. Organisations, leaders and learning departments can focus on the successful outcomes of mentoring, rather than the resource required to setup programmes in the first place. So, if your organisation is looking at improving inclusion, it’s time to consider your mentoring programmes.