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INvolve’s Managing Director, Justin Firth, discusses what Mentors can do to take their efforts to the next level.

We all know the value of a good mentor.

A mentor is an invaluable source of inspiration and motivation with a wealth of professional expertise to share. They are experienced and trustworthy advisors, provide guidance, feedback and support to their mentee and are invested in their mentee’s career success.

A good mentor can provide mentees with the tools that enable them to, for instance, be promoted at five times the rate than those without mentors, and mentors themselves, are six times more likely to be promoted as a result of learnings they gain throughout the mentoring journey. Organizations in general also benefit from mentoring programs, as seen through the Fortune 500 companies that did invest in mentoring programs reporting on better profits during the 2020 pandemic and economic downturn.

The impact of a strong mentor both on a mentee and a business has been well established.

But what are some behaviors which might be impeding progress?

What biases should mentors be looking out for in order to maximise their positive impact?

In this piece we cover some of the ways mentors can ensure their efforts are relevant, specific and add value to the career development of mentees.

Embrace difference.

A key reason diverse mentees often miss out on mentoring partnerships is because of the assumption that mentoring is only successful when a senior mentor directly shares their mentees lived experiences. It is easy for Mentors to get caught in the trap of helping ‘someone like them’ with a similar professional background and set of career goals. In some situations, shared experiences can be beneficial, and some mentees may prefer having a mentor who has a keen awareness and experience surrounding some of the specific challenges they may face. However, there can be a lot of power and shared benefits for Mentors in embracing difference and supporting a mentee who, on the face of it, may be entirely different to themselves – whether personally, or in terms of industry and career background

Strong mentoring has the power to provide employees with different and new insights to bolster career development by directly challenging assumptions or the perceived ‘right way’ to succeed by offering alternate views. While traditionally those who consistently toe the line were more likely to see career success, in today’s fast-changing work environment those who bring in fresh ideas, innovations and new approaches into the workplace are increasingly likely to get recognition.

Consider this – if you had to choose a personal Board consisting of people you know to help you make the best decisions possible, the key to your success would be having a variety of opinions, experiences and insights to call upon. In the same way, a mentor can provide an opportunity for a voice outside of a mentees usual circle of contacts; providing a source of new insights and knowledge.

The inclination to support those who feel familiar is a very human inclination, and is rooted within bias. Everyone has biases and everyone must do the work to ensure these are mitigated. Affinity bias for example, describes how we all subconsciously gravitate towards others who we feel share our interests, beliefs and background. Mentors therefore, may feel that they are able to best guide someone who they can identify with, though, mentors must acknowledge that mentoring is rooted in providing guidance tools and acting as a sounding board – things that can be given to any enthusiastic and committed mentee.

Checking biases and ensuring that we’re not turning down mentees due to difference also helps organizations and society at large foster inclusion by focusing on equity. By understanding that diverse mentees don’t often have the same level of access, tools and ability to network compared to their cis, straight white counterparts, mentors will be helping to level the playing field for talent and are ensuring that every high-potential, talented individual within a business has the opportunity to succeed. Not to mention how understanding mentees’ different lived experiences can also help increase a Mentors’ own understanding and effectiveness as a manager and leader through reverse mentoring.

INvolve’s Mentoring Program, for example, is a great way for senior leaders in business to democratize their expertise and share their insights with LGBTQ+, women and ethnically diverse mentees who are invested in building their own careers. As a cross-industry and cross-global program focused on diverse talent development, mentors also stand to gain from taking part, both in the form of new perspectives and new ways of working.

Don’t be a savior, be a mentor.

Mentoring is a form of active advocacy and, while it is of course mutually beneficial, the key objective is to support and guide the career development of others. However in sending the elevator back down, a good mentor will need to know the difference between advocacy and saviorism – a fine line that we cover in more depth here.

To ensure that guidance is specific and relevant, mentors must listen. It sounds easy, but the tendency to parachute in and provide advice as the expert, may mean that the guidance a mentor shares is irrelevant to their mentee. Rather than assuming where perceived challenges are or what the mentees goals must be, working alongside mentees and providing them with the space to lead and establish areas that they want to focus on is critical to success.

Not only does this set mentoring partnerships up for success, but also avoids the situation that diverse talent often end up in – that of becoming the target for being “saved”. Diverse talent know what they want and it’s not a case of giving a voice to those who are historically marginalized or steamrolling them, it’s providing them with the space they deserve to vocalize their needs. A good mentor, knows when their career advice is needed and when it is just adding to the noise.

Mentors are invaluable figures within global organizations that help both a business and its high potential talent thrive. It’s also a great responsibility and mentors must be aware of their own biases and assumptions in order to be a strong advocate for those they seek to support.