Diversity & Inclusion Writer
Employees often want to get involved with Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) work, but are not sure where to start. The good news is that there is a powerful opportunity to make a real impact. If someone has any level of experience or influence, one of the most effective ways to produce equitable outcomes is through mentorship.
Equity is all about recognizing that everyone has had different opportunities and barriers in their lives, and then doing the work to provide people with what they need to be successful. That means that in order to make systems more equitable through mentorship, we must invest our time and resources in helping those that need it most, which are oftentimes people whose identities have been underserved or undervalued in the workplace. For example, a 2019 survey from Leanin.org and SurveyMonkey revealed that women are 24 percent less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders, and 62 percent of women of color say the lack of an influential mentor holds them back.
Mentorship can take many forms and can produce many different outcomes, all of which should have an equity lens applied.
The first step to achieving a goal is having a goal. Mentoring someone on their career path can help them envision where they want to go and what they want to accomplish, as well as help them think through the strategies and tactics that will lead them there. For many underrepresented identities, there is an unfortunate shortage of people who look like them in the roles they might aspire to. For example, there are only three black CEOs and 24 women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies. That can make it difficult for people who hold those identities to see themselves in those positions. Mentorship can help to illuminate what is possible and how to get there.
Many of the most fulfilling and lucrative roles require education or expertise. While the potential to thrive in these roles is vast, the opportunities to obtain that training and experience is limited and often tied to privilege. In fact a 2018 study by Center for American Progress highlighted a significant race gap in college enrollment rates, graduation rates, type of school and degrees earned.
Technical mentorship coupled with other learning tools—such as books, online courses or bootcamps—can help to prepare someone for a new opportunity. If someone wants to be a software developer, for example, a technical mentor could review their code and answer questions about architecture. Providing technical mentorship is a great way to help someone work towards their goals, while also helping the mentor build up their leadership skills.
Possibly the most powerful way to drive equitable outcomes is through sponsorship. Glassdoor explains that “sponsors take a direct role in the advancement of their protégés,” and goes on to state that, as such, “sponsorship can have a tremendous impact on the organization, especially when it comes to cultivating diversity, retaining talent and training leaders.” Sponsorship often starts through a mentoring relationship, getting to know the skills and aspirations of a mentee. Then, when the mentor believes in the person’s potential, they can use their position and influence to open doors, make recommendations, and advocate for opportunities.
All of these forms of mentorship can occur through a formal, ongoing relationship or can be more informal and one-off, such as meeting someone for a coffee conversation or giving ad-hoc guidance.
DEI work is something that cannot be carried out by a few people or a single organization within a company—it requires everyone in order to be truly effective. This is particularly true of mentorship, as great mentors are needed in every discipline. By taking the time to leverage one’s experience and role to help others who are coming up behind them, and prioritizing that time and effort to serve those that have been least served, leaders can make a significant impact in making their organizations more equitable. This, in turn, will result in a more diverse, successful and happy workforce.
About Genesys Works
Genesys Works provides pathways to career success for high school students in underserved communities through skills training, meaningful work experiences, and impactful relationships. Our program consists of 8 weeks of technical and professional skills training, a paid year-long corporate internship, college and career coaching, and alumni support to and through college. Our goal is to move more students out of poverty and into professional careers, creating a more productive and diverse workforce in the process. Since its founding in 2002, Genesys Works has grown to serve nearly 4,000 students annually in Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington’s National Capital Region. To learn more, visit genesysworks.org.