When middle managers and senior leaders tell Yalonda Brown they are involved in leadership programmes and succession planning, she will commend them before asking: “But who’s not being developed?”
She says: “I love having those conversations because it triggers their thinking about who’s asking to be developed and who hasn’t been given the opportunity. I believe that any leader in today’s world not considering these many factors is not getting the full depth and breadth of what their team members have to offer.”
While mentoring has more than proved its worth, it tends not to be high on the list as part of organisations’ DE&I strategies. Also, mentors often choose mentees that look like and have similar experiences to them.
That is why aligning mentorship with DE&I efforts is key to the work of the software company Engage Mentoring. Brown, who is its President of Diversity Initiatives, explains: “We work with organisations to help them grow inclusive cultures by leveraging our technology.
“There’s so much focus on how access to meaningful relationships can drive diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, ensuring that mentoring relationships occur. Our programmes offer a robust platform for one-on-one and group mentoring. Employers we work with enable their employees to opt-in for individual development and sharing within groups.”
At Engage Mentoring, we structure programmes that combine 1:1 mentoring with quarterly group forums that give participants a safe space to learn and grow and to keep them engaged throughout their time in the programme.
Participants can select one of three diversity-focused forums – Developing Leaders, Project Lead for Women and Pride Leadership Forum. The experience lasts 12 months, and participants can choose a different mentor and topic every three months.
“We offer a values proposition that helps address systemic iniquities in the workplace by broadening their perspective, so they are not just considering race or gender, says Brown. “It allows our participants to tie in their lived and shared experiences.
“Top reasons why internal mentoring programmes fail have to do with poor training or not having the capacity to administer them. Sometimes unconscious biases come into play. It’s one person’s job to figure out whom to match with whom and who gets the opportunity. Because the employees participating in our programmes select their mentors, the matching is based on topics that resonate with them.”
There are 50 topics to choose from, including improving confidence and organisational skills and how to behave as a new manager. Unusually, the list includes subjects that wouldn’t normally be featured in a performance management discussion, such as single parenting.
Mentees are also mentors
To ensure that the mentoring matches are effective and productive, Engage Mentoring has built guidelines into its software platform for the three sessions, with an agenda for participants to follow. Also, all participants serve as mentors and mentees irrespective of their roles or seniority within their organisations.
“The fact that the matching is based on topics means that no matter where the person is in their life or career trajectory, they can choose at least one area in which they feel confident and proficient and effectively pour into someone else,” Brown reveals.
“After each session, both the mentor and mentee get a survey. So we can see what the value has been and get feedback immediately. It’s meaningful to see relationships formed based on shared interests, but it also allows for cross-cultural mentoring.
“One participant shared with us in his survey that he had been promoted since being part of our programme and was looking forward to a second promotion because of the skills he’s developed.”
Engage Mentoring has launched structured mentoring programmes specifically for HR professionals and those responsible for DE&I in their companies. They include a monthly exchange and group mentoring with peers and provide an opportunity to discuss best practices and issues that are relevant and unique to them.
Brown cites the example of how a transgender mentee had chosen a chief diversity officer at one of Engage Mentoring’s partner companies because she had used her pronouns in her profile. “That signalled to the mentee that the space was safe,” she reveals. “It was such a meaningful experience, and their relationship continued beyond the time formalised in the programme.”
Measuring success for DE&I
Asked how her company measures success from a DE&I perspective, Brown says that finding out what success looks like for the client was the starting point. She adds: “We collect optional demographics regarding gender, ethnicity and LGBTQ status on the platform. So, we can track the programme’s success from the mentees’ point of view and through a DE&I lens.
“We also establish a baseline understanding of retention and promotability for diverse populations. Data supports that, for mentored and non-mentored employees, there’s a direct impact on retention and promotability, especially for women and people of colour.”
Brown is keen to stress that mentoring works by helping employees to be seen and heard and to feel that they belong. However, she points out: “Diversity in itself is not a silver bullet – it doesn’t solve all mentoring challenges.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion all work together to accomplish and achieve belonging and, when done well, it gives organisations a competitive advantage. It helps increase productivity, reduce sick days and helps employees’ ability to show up authentically, and mentoring is a key driver of that.
“We have a scalable and robust product offering and want to continue helping organisations and make it easy for them to have a structured mentoring solution.”