Monday, February 1, 2021
It’s National Mentoring Month. How’s your mentorship game?
Today, a robust mentorship program is more than a nice-to-have. Statistics show that mentees are promoted five times more often than non-mentored employees. What’s more, mentors themselves see a return on investment, becoming six times more likely to move up within the ranks. Investing in an efficient and well-functioning program is a strong business decision with reciprocal benefits.
Amidst 2020’s pandemic, racial reckoning and rapidly transforming workplace, many facets of worklife are evolving. Mentorship programs, and your priorities as a mentor, are no exception.
Whether you’re a veteran mentor or are just starting a mentoring relationship, these five tips can enhance your skills—while simultaneously driving positive change in your own career.
1. Accept the hybrid model
A PwC survey of nearly 700 CEOs found that 78% of respondents believe remote collaboration is here to stay. In other words, aspects of virtual mentorships from this year may be forever ingrained in programs moving forward.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Kevin Davis, Founder and Executive Director of First Workings, a nonprofit that connects high-achieving Gen-Zers with mentors in some of New York City's most prestigious firms, says that some of the changes prompted by the shift to virtual are ones we should be happy to keep.
“We were able to expand our program offerings because of the flexibility video conferencing provides to our corporate partners, and our students’ comfort with the virtual learning environment,” Davis says. “Rather than being limited by individuals’ schedules and complicated logistics that go into planning in-person programming, mentees had the opportunity to develop professional rapport with C-Suite executives on a one-on-one basis through Zoom.”
Because it was easier to access experts from other geographic locations, mentorship providers were also able to participate in panels and workplace readiness offerings to address issues like salary negotiation and financial literacy.
“Don’t resist this new mentorship model,” says Davis. “Embrace it and celebrate how much stronger your investment and impact will be as a result.”
2. Welcome “reverse mentorship”
Strong mentorship is a two-way street. While mentors provide important guidance and experience, young mentees can bring value to the table, too. From mentees’ feedback, you can learn how to improve your leadership and communication. As relative newcomers to the company, mentees often have unique perspectives that can disrupt groupthink, exposing you to new ideas that can better the company as a whole.
As the first female CEO in 117 years to lead the nation’s first mentoring program, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, Alicia Guevara is a strong advocate for reverse mentorship. Through 65 corporate partners like American Express and Pfizer, her organization brings 1,000 teens annually to corporate offices for coaching that supports career exploration.
Guevara asserts that, as a mentor, it’s your duty to nurture mentees’ unique strengths, celebrate their community and point of view and learn from them.
“There is a false power dynamic in mentorship that needs to be disrupted,” she says. “What we can learn from younger colleagues is limitless if we shift our mindset, recognize we are not saviors rescuing the mentee and open ourselves up to learning from the next generation.”
3. Build skills for a post-pandemic workplace
The pandemic is radically altering the skills needed to thrive in the workplace. A recent survey of company leaders found that 80% plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part-time, and 47% will allow employees to work from home full-time. It is imperative that mentorship programs prepare the next generation of executives (and the company as a whole) for success in a virtual workplace.
As a mentor, you should identify the skills your business needs most and be strategic about building those competencies in your mentee. Gabriele Delmonaco, Executive Director of youth development nonprofit A Chance In Life, says there is a sense of urgency to develop skills pertinent to a dynamic work environment. Skills like remote proficiency, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and lateral thinking to solve problems will reign supreme.
But don’t hover. Mentees need space to think creatively and make their own way using the abilities you help improve. “Give them a chance to take what they have learned and succeed on their own merits,” Delmonaco says. “Both your mentee and your company will be better for it.”
4. Prioritize Black and Brown talent
Ethically responding to a tumultuous 2020 requires thoughtful mentorship of Black and Brown talent. Mentoring programs that boosted minority representation at the management level from 9% to 24% demonstrate just how effective it is to prioritize Black and Brown mentees.
Dr. Art Langer is the founder of Workforce Opportunity Services, a nonprofit that recruits, educates and trains diverse, high-potential workers with the goal of long-term employment. He built his organization on the idea that diverse talent is a strong solution to the issue of persistent vacancies within large corporations. In the WOS framework, mentors are called Client Service Managers, who train, manage and coach their diverse mentees through the entire employment process. They also offer additional support in areas like personal development and financial challenges.
“There is no doubt that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are top-of-mind for corporations, and mentorship is vital to the fabric of a diverse workforce,” Dr. Langer says. “Hiring minority talent is important, but retaining these employees who will undoubtedly strengthen their company is far more likely when they are shepherded by a mentor.”
5. Elevate your focus on social capital
Perhaps one of the most critical things you can do as a mentor is to help develop your mentee’s social capital. This will help ensure that their career continues to progress in an increasingly competitive job market.
Matt Lustig, Chairman of Investment Banking at Lazard, mentored a young woman through First Workings. What was originally envisioned as a traditional internship evolved into a one-on-one mentorship with a focus on providing advice on career pathways and college choices. An added benefit for mentee Shannon Brooks? Connections and networking opportunities.
Throughout the program, Brooks learned about the world of finance and investment. She received guidance and insight from Lustig as she thought about pursuing her education in business at University of Pennsylvania, her first choice.
In getting to know his mentee, Lustig recognized her exceptional personality, drive and talent. “Our mentorship relationship and the connection we established at Lazard will pay dividends as she continues to progress in her career,” Lustig says. “I hope she stays in touch.”
For Brooks, the social capital gained through her virtual mentorship is already proving to be advantageous. Lustig, who knew she’d make an important contribution if she could get a stellar education, added an enthusiastic endorsement to her college application materials. Brooks was accepted and will head to Philadelphia in a few months.
As the norms for work continue to shift, mentorship is only growing in value for the mentee, the mentor, and the company. Education scarring, resulting from the pandemic’s learning disruptions, is coming to a talent pipeline near you—making strong mentorship programs even more critical. If you’ve never thought about being part of a mentorship program, National Mentoring Month is a great time to consider it.
The skills you’ve developed thus far in your career could be of tremendous benefit to a younger worker finding their feet in an unsteady world. Mentorship is a fantastic way to pay it forward—and there’s a return on investment for you, too. As a mentor, you’re sure to learn something new along the journey and enhance your own growth as a professional.
Mentorship matters, not just during National Mentoring Month but throughout the lifespan of an individual’s career. Today’s mentee is tomorrow’s leader, so let’s help them shape a strong future.