Mentorship isn’t taught in a classroom setting, it’s nurtured through relationships and connections in and outside of the workplace.
Think about the mentors in your life. These key individuals didn’t go to school or study to become a mentor to you. A more likely scenario: you approached them due to some shared attribute or experience, whether that was a school of thought, appearance or personality trait. The relationship may have been serendipitous and organic, but you worked hard to cultivate it.
Mentorship is hard work – both from the perspective of the one seeking out a mentor and the mentor themselves. The relationship must be a two-way street and involve navigation from both parties. Because of these factors, mentors are not easy to come by.
There isn’t one specific group of people, job title or even gender or age that lends itself most easily to mentorship. For underrepresented groups, such as Black and Latinx, mentorship is critical for both interpersonal and professional relationships, but there aren’t enough resources to easily help them make these connections, making it even more difficult.
So for someone who is looking to make the leap into mentorship, what should be the first step? Let’s dive into why mentorship is best formulated through organic conversations in groups and why this type of mentorship can fuel diversity, equity and inclusion efforts both inside and outside of the workplace.
How to Bring Mentorship to the Masses
Picture a midsize organization. There’s likely a healthy-sized executive team with two to three levels of senior managers and directors underneath them. These individuals are the driving forces behind the majority of decisions at the organization, and are also likely to be the first sought out for developing a relationship that may lead to becoming a mentor.
This small group of people don’t have the bandwidth or resources to thoughtfully engage with the employee base on an individual scale. While leaders want to share their knowledge and help the next group of leaders, it is virtually impossible to have one-to-one relationships with everyone in the company.
That’s where group mentorship can thrive.
By moving a relationship from one-to-one to one-to-many, internal mentorship can be brought to the masses. Now, an executive can connect with several like-minded individuals at once, allowing both the mentor and mentee to engage in a thoughtful dialogue – with both feeling satisfied that they were able to make and cultivate the connection. Better yet, a group of leaders can be “matched” with a group of employees, creating a panel-style way of conversation between the two groups and opening up even more opportunities for connection across the organization.
Further, group mentorship allows the voices that may not be the loudest have more opportunities to connect. The intention behind identifying a mentor and making that first step is not something that comes easily to everyone. Group mentorship brings people together who may not be as confident to make the first step on their own, and also provides an opportunity for connection that may not otherwise present itself in an organization. Identifying with someone who looks like you is one thing, but that similarity must translate to an action. Group mentorship provides that translation.
Bringing the Translation to Life with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Within an organization, developing a group mentorship program can not only allow different sets of employees to connect, it also creates value for the organization at large that benefits beyond the initial mentorship. Group mentorship increases employee engagement, therefore increasing employee productivity and ultimately the company’s bottom line. It creates a sense of community and belonging that can translate to an increase in the company’s retention rate or a decrease in its attrition rate, which historically costs employers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Not having a sense of belonging equates to no ties to the employer. But if there is a group of employees that are connected outside of their departmental needs, then they have their “tribe” and have a more solidified connection with the organization, whether that is in an official capacity like an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or in an unofficial capacity. This is where internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts can bridge the gap for mentorship to flourish in the workplace.
Diversity, equity and inclusion have historically fallen under the realm of Risk and Compliance – essentially a checkbox for organizations to confirm that they aren’t discriminating towards any groups of people as they had a team of people promoting diversity within the organization. This meant that there were one to two employees hired to manage diversity and inclusion within an organization. Even in organizations of over ten thousand employees, DEI was made up of small teams. An impossible task for an army of one to manage.
In our current climate, with the need for social justice, DEI is being flipped on its head. Organizations have recognized that DEI is bigger than a one-to-two person team, with efforts moving towards collaboration, communication and innovation. But this must come with understanding the types of people that make up an organization. Group mentorship can work hand in hand with ERGs, allowing teams to further understand the needs of the employee base by the conversations that are happening during organic conversations between employees during group mentorship.
Group mentorship can also help to bridge the network and information gap that comes with underrepresented groups not necessarily having the same access to information that others do, even before they start at a new company.
For example, when a recruiter conducts a presentation on their company to help drive interest in applying for a job, there is an unsaid understanding of how to apply for the job and what to include within the application. That recruiter who tells everyone to apply has already undermined the goals of an underrepresented individual who hasn’t had the same access to information. Thus, the gap manifests itself. With DEI and group mentorship initiatives working across the organization, they can help to bridge that information gap when hiring new talent from underrepresented communities. This can include developing a new type of application, letting applicants know the types of questions they would be asked during an interview and ensuring that all information is provided during the application process.
Better yet, group mentorship can help to drive conversations with new talent pools that can bring new perspectives to a company, while the mentors can share more information on what it’s like to work for a tech company, for a social network, for a startup, even before the new hire’s first day.
Why Group Mentorship is the True Connector for DEI Success
Mentorship was once thought as a cumbersome, tedious process within an organization, with one-to-one matching that could result in a lack of compatibility when matching a single employee to another based on a few similarities. Group mentorship allows organizations to more easily connect like-minded individuals and leaders that share commonalities about where they grew up, what interests they have, where they see themselves in the future, and more. In turn, mentors get to hone their leadership skills while providing innumerable value to the next generation of leaders.
Mentorship starts and ends with human interaction. These interactions are key to help in navigating the road to success through engaging, group-centric and active mentorship. It also can simultaneously give companies a more direct pathway to exceptional, diverse talent and a pipeline for the future. However, in our increasingly virtual world, human interaction is not mutually exclusive, and mentorship opportunities can be cultivated both online and in the workplace.
Thousands of years ago, people flocked to the town square for human connection. Fast forward to ten years ago, Twitter created that same sense of community by encouraging conversations with people who may not connect with each other otherwise. Now, the future of conversations and connections lie within the opportunity that group mentorship and diversity, equity and inclusion presents to organizations and the community at large.