AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | Professional diversity hinges on authentic mentorship

In partnership with digital publication Mahoning Matters, The Literary House is elevating the conversation and amplifying discourse around race, diversity and inclusion in the Mahoning Valley. Follow us weekly as we boldly tackle issues head on about the greater community. 

Why do so many organizations and/or businesses struggle to implement meaningful and strategic diversity efforts? 

The phrase “It isn’t what you know, but who you know” may offer some insight into this problem. And one solution is mentorship.

One reason that many companies cite for struggling with diversity is a lack of access to a diverse pool of talent. They simply don’t know where to go to create a more inclusive and diverse network. If most of your workforce looks the same, chances are their external networks and the talent that they attract do, too.

Mentorship is good — for everyone

The old idea of mentorship was often framed as a one-sided relationship — a seasoned professional taking a young person under their wing to teach them what they know. But, what does that mean in an applicable sense, particularly in the context of African-American mentees receiving guidance from non-African-American mentors professionally?

Nowadays, it must be understood that mentorship can be good for everyone involved, and it can also be good for business.

A study on the benefits of mentorship and diversity showed that when mentor-mentee relationships were forged with diversity in mind, the mentees often promoted the company or profession to their diverse networks. This is how you build — from within. Having advocates within the communities and networks that are outside of your workforce is the best way to open the door to increased diversity.

For local organizations, businesses, and institutions that are sincere about driving racial equity in the workplace, developing a mentorship program broadens the scope of access to information and networks for professionals of color. It also helps to create equity, as long as the efforts must come from a place of mutual respect.

Here are strategies to help foster mentorship to increase diversity in the Mahoning Valley.

Be intentional about building a meaningful relationship

Your relationship with your mentee is not merely transactional. By taking the time to find authentic connections, you can position yourself to learn new insights and opportunities that can benefit your company and/or organization.

Truly accept mentees for who they are authentically

People with diverse backgrounds bring a wealth of ideas, cultures, and working styles from all different angles. It’s important to refrain from perpetuating a one-size-fits-all culture that often encourages people to shy away from being who they are. Becoming a true ally and mentor requires acceptance and open-mindedness.

Challenge yourself

Now is the time to explore the possibilities of doing things that may initially feel uncomfortable. Do not hesitate to look for business leaders, colleagues, and consult with your mentee for guidance on the best working style that they prefer or what assistance, and resources that they need.

The value of mentoring

The benefits of a mentor in one’s career are endless. Mentorship plays a vital role in the trajectory of one’s ability to reach the highest rank in their respective industry. In fact, studies show that 71% of fortune 500 companies have a mentorship program with 25 percent of employees reporting a pay-grade increase from being enrolled in a mentorship program.

However, 31 percent of Black employees report having access to senior leadership compared to 44 percent by their white counterparts. These inherent systematic obstacles hinder Black professionals from career advancement and economic growth.

To properly address and correct the racial biases and inequality, local professional leaders would benefit from taking the time to acknowledge the historical experiences of marginalized groups and commit to supporting communities of color through mentorship.

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