Talia King, Head of Product at Connectr, discusses what companies should be focussing on to achieve their ED&I objectives.
In 2022 most organisations are dedicated to meeting their equality, diversity and inclusivity (ED&I) objectives and HR teams are committed to supporting this. So much is spoken about the power of mentoring to employees or a new starter from an underrepresented background, but what initiatives are happening to create a diverse workforce?
In my experience the impact of current mentoring programmes to boost diversity vary widely, sometimes with a risk of doing more harm than good.
Some faults include:
- Mentor initiatives established because organisations feel it is something companies generally offer, without a clear purpose.
- Being very prescriptive as to who is matched with who, leaving mentees feeling they have had no say in who mentors them, which can impact negatively.
- Structured programmes run over set time frames, starting and finishing within a timetable of meetings. Structure is good but work support is needed at any time. Also, what about those who have missed the cohort start date – do they just miss out?
- A small mentor pool: as senior professionals avoid committing time on a regular and longer term basis.
All the above can be hugely damaging to an organisation and its people, so how can mentoring create a truly diverse workforce?
Mentoring with purpose
The key is ‘mentoring with purpose’ – to have a clear objective as to ‘why’, and how you will measure it. Effectively share this to your organisation with a proactive mentoring communications plan and be transparent about how things are currently for your organisation, what you want to achieve, what it will do for them and how mentoring is going to be offered to everyone. By making your organisation’s mentoring programme inclusive and accessible you are on your way to addressing the big strategic challenge of ED&I.
Here’s how you can raise awareness of your mentoring programme:
- Launch the initiative with a supportive email from a senior representative such as the CEO demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to change.
- Send tailored emails from HR created for different cohorts that appeal to their interests.
- Frequently update your people by using internal communication tools such as Teams/ Slack/ Google hangout.
- Cascade through people managers
- Cascade through any ERG groups or DE&I groups
Throughout your ongoing communication activity ensure to illustrate the success of individuals who have benefited from mentoring.
Mentoring that is accessible to all, levels the playing field when it comes to learning and progression – to support this at scale you either need to go down the route of mentoring software or significant internal resources.
How can technology help?
Where networks are opened up and democratised, success becomes less dependent on who you know, so people from underrepresented talent groups start to have access to the professional insight previously only available to the privileged few. Technology removes barriers such as awkward face to face requests from a new starter asking a senior colleague to mentor them. Electronic messaging (with willing mentors) brings quick, in the moment support, and no end to networking possibilities making the world of work an interactive, supportive and exciting place to be.
Technology empowers firms to roll out mentoring with purpose at scale. It no longer requires endless resources from HR to manually match people together or to keep track of the success of those relationships, mentoring software takes that burden whilst also enabling mentees the power of choice. It also does the leg work in terms of setting mentors up for success with automated bite-sized training within the system.
The ‘always on’ aspect to technology means more agile learning, rather the specific start and end time of programmes which can often lead to mentees missing out in their moment of need. It also fosters this continuous learning mindset – where as well as the more in-depth sessions together, mentees can drop their mentors a quick message and have their queries answered within that day. Likewise, when a mentor spots something of value to a mentee, they can share it and not wait for the monthly meeting.
Obtaining buy-in from your senior leadership team from the start is crucial to mentoring, being a key tool to address ED&I. To do this, create a working group or draw on your existing Employee Resource Groups, made up of people across your organisation. By hearing their voices and life experiences you can start to understand the challenges people from underrepresented backgrounds face, which may well be very different to your own.
By talking to different groups, you can start to understand their sensitivities, while broadening and deepening your understanding of social justice, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is an essential group who will shape the support framework and learning content including mentoring training for your mentoring programme. By understanding the challenges these groups face, it will be easier for you to demonstrate to leadership how mentoring will address ED&I. Encouraging this sort of openness to also be demonstrated in mentor profiles is another great way to break down barriers that support an ED&I strategy.
What are the benefits?
By establishing a mentorship working group of people from throughout the organisation you have also created your mentor programme brand ambassadors who will go on to advocate the programme and create the positive internal communications you need to get your project off the ground.
Once you have embedded the mentoring scheme into your business, be sure to keep ongoing momentum by sharing positive news statistics and feedback all thanks to the real time reporting in your tech platform!
Let’s look again at the actions needed to be taken to ensure your organisation’s mentoring programme benefits everyone:
- Create a mentoring programme that rolls on throughout the year, and people can join any time
- Use technology to enable mentoring at scale, fostering inclusivity
- Ensure your organisation’s mentoring programme has a clear purpose with shared measured objectives.
- Adopt a mentoring tech platform that offers a supported training journey for both mentors and mentees.
- Introduce a breadth of different mentors from all backgrounds, which ultimately provides mentees choice for their different needs
- Ask mentors to be accessible so when creating their profile, they talk about their lived experiences, their career journey, enabling mentees to feel a connection with them straight away.
- Educate how rewarding mentoring is and how not only is it good for mentors’ careers, but they benefit by giving back and learning something new. Mentees are five times more likely to progress and mentors six times more likely!
Mentoring is still an underutilised tool, which research shows when run ‘with purpose’ can have more positive impact on progression of under-represented talent than any other ED&I initiative. This will enable your organisation to thrive and retain a skilled & diverse workforce, with collective success stories and ultimately future-proofing your business.
Talia King’s background is rooted in psychology. She has gone on to build the Product Development Team at Connectr, to deliver HR technology that solves real business challenges.