Business leaders discuss the building blocks of inclusive mentorship

The speakers discussed the nuances involved in building a truly inclusive mentorship programme

DiversityQ’s Rethinking Inclusive Mentorship event, sponsored by Graduate Recruitment Bureau, offered delegates insightful advice on how to build an inclusive mentorship programme as part of a wider diversity and inclusion business strategy.

Jenna Kelly, Bonhill Group’s Senior Conference Producer, opened the event and discussed how mentorship has been proven as one of the most effective DEI strategies around. The event’s host, Ramat Tejani, Founder & Chief Encouragement Officer at The Inspiration Box added that while she’s seen much value in mentorship both as a mentor and mentee, it’s not a “fix-all solution” in the diversity and inclusion space.

The event’s panel discussion entitled ‘Mentorship as a Strategy for DEI-Related Challenges’ was moderated by Rosie Ifould, Head of Customer Engagement, Frank Recruitment Group. The speakers were Dan Hawes, Co-Founder & Marketing Director, Graduate Recruitment Bureau, Joel Blake, Founder & CEO, The GFA Exchange and Nicole Ooi, Product Management Intern. President’s Choice Financial.

Empathy and mission-setting

Ifould said that since the pandemic began, she’s seen a growing interest in mentorship as a form of workplace inclusion. Ooi said that while mentorship is an effective DEI strategy, it’s not an all-in-one solution for a more diverse and inclusive workplace but should be used in conjunction with other methods.

She added that in her experience as a mentee, a combination of formal and informal mentorship is useful as “you need someone to ask your stupid questions to” which can boost inclusion.

She also said that mentors needed to be empathetic as mentees could be new to a particular industry and nervous about asking questions. She added that both parties needed to keep an “end goal and long-term vision in mind” from the outset of the mentorship relationship as there will be inevitable “roadblocks” along the journey, where keeping mission-minded will ensure progression.

Hawes said during the pandemic his business received a lot of enquiries from graduates who were struggling to find work. He then outlined how his business sets up online mentoring sessions for free between graduates and senior business leaders, where mentees can select mentors from a certain sector who give a brief overview of their experience and what they can offer.

Building a ‘two-way’ relationship

Ifould said how in mentorship there is often an over-focus on the experience of mentees over the mentors.

Blake agreed and said that effective mentorship is about having a “two-way relationship” that involves learning and exchange on both sides. He also said that one of the pitfalls of mentorships can be when people are matched based on shared characteristics, such as being from the same ethnic or gender group on the assumption that “they will understand your experience.”

He explained that mentorships should instead be created based on matching softer skills such as empathy, openness, and a “willingness to learn” as even if people look the same, everyone is diverse and carry their own thoughts, feelings, and biases.

Blake also said it was essential to get buy-in from leadership on mentorship programmes where there has to be “embedded support” or else it will be seen as a tick-box exercise and motivation will wane.

He said helping C-suite leaders understand the impact of mentoring via “developing entrepreneurial training and skills” was important too. He also said the creation of “safe spaces” for mentorship is key as it should be a co-creation process, whether that safe space is physical or psychological depends on the mentor and mentee, he added.

Then came a case study session entitled ‘Behind the Scenes of Inclusive Mentorship’ moderated by Tejani, the speakers were George Bullock, Associate Director – Market Operations, Macquarie Group, and Clarissa de La Gardette, EMEA Information Security Officer, Macquarie Group.

The power of interpersonal learning

Bullock discussed his firm’s reverse mentorship programme which was created to “deeply educate senior leaders on LGBT+ issues and challenges within and beyond the workplace.”

He added that he believed deep and effective learning came from two-way relationships such as mentorships over taking courses or reading books on inclusion matters. He also said that embedding psychological safety was important, where mentees were given a “baseline knowledge” on LGBT+ history, challenges and statistics so they felt confident entering the mentorship relationship.

Gardette said that for her firm’s reverse mentorship programme, the focus was to allow male colleagues to understand “the challenges faced by women in the tech industry.” She added that having “one-to-one conversations in a safe and private environment” was a key component.

She said a positive by-product of the mentorship programme was that junior female employees got more visibility and gained greater access to senior leadership. She said their greatest challenges from the pilot programme were getting junior staff to embody the mentorship role and behave as mentors to their senior male colleagues. They realised that more training was needed to build confidence in the women, which they do now.

To find out about more events like this one, view this year’s events calendar for our Women in IT Summit & Awards Series here.
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