The value of mentoring in advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace

We know that many companies want to improve diversity in their workplace. We know, too, that many strategies don’t work. But there’s one that has been proven to make a difference: mentoring.

A man's arm wearing a business jacket, reaching out to what looks like a younger man's hand, which is reaching up.

Many businesses know the strategic and ethical importance of diversity in the workplace, but simply don’t know where to begin. Research shows that traditional approaches, including one-off initiatives such as “diversity and inclusion” training, tend not to produce results. There is increasing evidence that one of the best ways to address diversity and inclusion issues across every industry is mentoring.

Aimee Bridgford, Relationship Manager in the Talent team at Be. Lab, explains:

“Tactics such as diversity training can be something that organisations simply ‘tick off’, but when they are accompanied by mentor relationships real change happens. The practice of mentorship is an ongoing relationship with people with different life experiences. At the heart of accessibility is connecting with others as human beings. Real human connection goes much deeper than any training programme can, and it truly makes a difference.”

What is mentoring?

In short, mentoring is a way to equip people with the skills and confidence they need to build their career. The way the process normally works is through a structured, supportive relationship between an experienced worker and a junior colleague. This helps them develop professionally through skill building, encouragement and sharing experience and knowledge. It is well documented that this relationship is mutually beneficial, with both mentor and mentee gaining from the exchange of skills, experience and perspective.

Reverse mentoring – which is typically where a senior person learns from a junior colleague – is also becoming more common. Often used to engage millennials, it's a way of giving younger people a voice in the workplace. In this case, the senior person benefits from a different perspective and the junior person benefits from recognition. It is also recognised as an effective way to drive cultural change and promote diversity.

Mentoring, whichever way round it is done, is actual diversity and inclusion – in action.

Mentoring often takes place within an organisation, so the mentee is working with a senior colleague. It can also take place externally, like the mentoring programme that Be. Lab provides. In this case, the mentee would be assigned a mentor from outside their organisation.

The benefits of workplace mentoring

Research shows that mentoring results in actual inclusion, with quantifiable results – improving the diversity of a company’s talent pipeline and making their leadership significantly more diverse. One study found that formal mentoring programmes boosted minority and female representation in management on average by 9 to 24%.

In the US, the National Human Services Assembly commissioned research on the best ways to improve workplace diversity. As detailed in their report/toolkit, Retaining and Developing High Potential Talent, mentoring was in the top three, along with onboarding and succession planning.

Mentoring is a win-win activity. The mentee benefits from building their skills, career progression and the recognition and fulfilment of their potential. The mentor benefits from personal and professional growth, and from improving their knowledge of diversity in a meaningful way.

And there are, of course, many benefits for the employer. Mentoring is a way to achieve general HR goals such as improved motivation, engagement and performance, employee retention and a strong leadership pipeline. It also helps achieve specific business goals: improving diversity and innovation, so bringing a competitive advantage to the company.

Could you be a mentor?

Mentoring is a key part of Be. Lab's Talent Shop programme, connecting job seekers and interns with a mentor to give them one-on-one support and encouragement. Leading businesses such as EY, Hayes and Westpac have partnered with Be. Lab to provide mentoring.

One EY employee and Be. Lab mentor, Hannah Booth, says: “Being a mentor allows you to tap into insight that you may not even be aware you have. Your perspective on the world is unique to you, and being a mentor gives you the opportunity to help someone see a situation in a new light.”

We are always on the lookout for passionate, dedicated volunteers to act as mentors for the candidates in our talent pool. Contact us to find out more about being a Talent Shop Mentor.


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