Mentoring is important and widely recognised as beneficial to all employees. It can help with employee engagement for both the mentor and the individual being mentored (‘mentee’). It is proven in a number of studies to increase employee retention and is a cost-effective way to encourage knowledge sharing and growth too. However, there is one area in which mentoring could have an additional impact and benefit – diversity and inclusion. And within diversity and inclusion, it could particularly help LGBTQ+ employees.
While D&i (diversity and inclusion) is a hot topic – and rightly so – there are some less visible groups, by the very nature of the fact that anyone could fall into these groups. LGBTQ+ is one such group where visibility is a challenge and where I have personal experience. As a gay man myself, I didn’t come out at work for several months after starting my first role. I was entirely comfortable with my sexuality as far as friends and family where concerned. So why then did I shy away from revealing my sexuality at work? You might think it is because my sexuality was simply not relevant. And yes, to a certain extent you are right. It did not affect my ability to setup and manage digital marketing campaigns. It did, however, play a big part in the social elements and aspects of work. I remember colleagues asking about whether I had a girlfriend, if I was dating, etc. and always assuming I was straight. I wasn’t. It did impact how I felt about the office environment and ultimately my opinion of the workplace. The truth was, there were three other gay men in my company but with no visibility of them, I felt alone. When I did finally, at a slightly drunken office drinks party, pluck up the courage to come out I was not entirely sure about why I had made a fuss of it in the first place. I didn’t expect anyone to really have a problem with it and I was right. Everyone was fine and supportive, and I suddenly felt a lot more at ease at work.
The truth is though, for those first few months in that role, I was not as comfortable, engaged and ultimately productive as I might otherwise have been, had I known that I was not alone. There are few ways in which companies are already helping to improve D&i visibility – diversity networking drinks, support for pride, diversity focus groups and HR support. However, one key area in which D&i could be drastically improved is through mentoring – particularly, where the visibility groups are less obvious. By implementing mentoring programmes aimed at tackling these groups it can help employees to feel there are others in the same position, who are equally welcomed and thriving in the workplace. Having likeminded individuals who one can relate to is extremely important and mentoring is the perfect way to tackle and achieve this, head on. But what can these mentoring programmes really offer and how can they be implemented?
Inclusiveness, Empowerment and Relatability
By setting up mentoring programmes based around diversity and inclusion groups, organisations can offer employees a real and authentic way to relate to fellow colleagues. This ability to relate instantly forms a sense of security, belonging and happiness. Think about it. If you believe you are the only one in your organisation who is the way you are – whether that be LGBTQ+, an ethnic minority, disabled or otherwise underrepresented – you are likely to feel less empowered, less valued and as if you don’t belong. However, the moment you feel that there are others in the same position as you, it can be incredibly empowering and motivating. So, first and foremost, diversity mentoring programmes can help employees to feel relatable.
Tackling Specific Career Challenges
It might not be something your employer thinks about but there could be barriers and limitations that come with your sexuality. As someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, there are unfortunately certain countries still discriminate and can even imprison you for being who you are. Here’s an example – Your organisation may ask you to make a trip to the middle-east for work. If you identify as LGBTQ+ this could put you in danger and/or make you feel extremely uncomfortable. With a diversity mentoring programme, you will instantly have others in a similar position to you who you can discuss these specific career challenges with. Someone else who might have been in a similar position to you in the past, or who can help you to navigate through these challenges.
How to Start an LGBTQ+ Mentoring Programme
There are several reasons why your organisation should look to offer mentoring to everyone. There are additional reasons why your organisation should look to setup mentoring programmes around your D&i agenda too. However, setting a programme up might seem like a very resource-heavy and challenging thing to do. The truth is, that it really does not have to be. The first thing to do is to find someone within your diversity groups who can be task lead. Ask them to gather together initial support from five to ten different employees, willing to mentor and be mentored. Then, put together some promotional content about the new mentoring programme. It could be on your internal intranet, through a company-wide email, in the form of posters in the office kitchens and communal areas – however you usually spread news within your organisation. At this point, you can start to match mentors and mentees, share guidelines with them on how they can mentor (if you don’t already have company-wide mentoring programmes with existing guidelines then this article here might help) and watch your organisation embracing these diversity schemes.
As your mentoring programmes grow, you might be concerned about how you can effectively match mentors and mentees, track progress and allow mentoring to flourish. And rightly so. Mentoring has traditionally been a very manual and resource-heavy task. Fortunately, there are now technologies which can automate and help HR directors to manage and run effective mentoring schemes both for D&i groups and company-wide mentoring strategy as well. So, if you aren’t yet offering mentoring programmes, why not?