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As more companies are striving to be recognized as organizations that excel in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), leadership teams that oftentimes include very few women and persons of color are all too common.  In fact, a detailed study that was conducted 20 years ago still often applies.  David Thomas found that most companies in corporate America failed to achieve racial balance within their executive teams.

“Some had revolving doors for talented minorities, recruiting the best and brightest only to see them leave, frustrated and even angered by the barriers they encountered.  Other companies were able to retain high-potential professionals of color only to have them become mired in middle management.  Still others had minorities in their executive ranks, but only in racialized positions, such as those dealing with community relations, equal employment opportunity, or ethnic markets.”

More importantly, Thomas ucovered the fact that “whites and people of color follow distinct patterns of advancement. Specifically, promising white professionals tend to enter a fast track early in their careers, whereas high-potential persons of color take off much later, typically after they have reached middle management. I’ve also found that the people of color who advance the furthest all share one characteristic—a strong network of mentors and corporate sponsors who nurture their professional development” (“Race Matters”; Harvard Business Review, April, 2001).

That’s right – the key to a strong, yet diverse, senior leadership team is mentoring.  But, it’s not that simple.  Effective mentoring requires more than “assigning someone to advise and train a newer and/or less experienced employee”.  Rather, effectively mentoring persons throughout an organization — especially a diverse group of persons – requires establishing a “mentoring culture”.

A mentoring culture is when an organization successfully fosters the principles of learning, knowledge sharing, and personal development. It goes above and beyond the running of select mentoring programs, and instead is a foundational value of a company as a whole. (Prince, A. Guider, 2021).  Specifically, a mentoring culture requires:

Getting the C-Suite Onboard.  Although you hear this all the time, it’s because it really is one of the most effective ways to impact company culture.  Behaviors filter down from the top, and so if the leaders in your organization are advocating for mentoring, it won’t be long until people start to take notice.  Understand who the key stakeholders are in your company and come up with some strategic ways of appealing to them.

Breaking down silos.  Mentoring commonly exists in silos within organizations, limited to Learning & Development functions, or specific departments who have set up their own initiative.  One way to counteract this is to create guidelines for how mentoring is done within your business, so when a team or group starts a program, all of the information is consistent.  And, having senior leaders on board will naturally promote mentoring across the enterprise.

Making mentoring accessible.  It’s important that mentoring is accessible to the entire workforce.  If you have to get referred to the program through a convoluted process, it’s never going to be something that’s embedded in your company culture.  Ensure there is a go-to place to find out more about mentoring and easily participate so that it becomes a seamless process.

Embracing inclusivity.  The increase in working from home has taught a lot of companies the benefits of having a flexible workplace. Through the implementation of video chat, instant messaging, and virtual social or educational meetings, we’ve seen the value of having different avenues of communication for employees.  Mentoring needs to be integrated into DE&I efforts.  And, as mentioned above, mentoring is critical to assist in building a more diverse leadership team (Prince, A. Guider, 2021).

Selecting and Preparing Effective Mentors.  The final key to establishing a successful mentoring culture is to ensure that people with the proper capabilities are chosen to serve as mentors, and that each of them are fully prepared (trained) to effectively mentor a fellow employee.  But what “capabilities” are necessary for someone to become a successful mentor?  Although a variety of characteristics could be valuable, two of E.A.S.I-Consult’s Four Leadership Pillars are essential.  These are:

  1. Strategic Agility
  2. Ability to Develop Talent (other employees)

As detailed in previous articles ( https://easiconsult.com/2021/09/11/hiring-leaders-in-uncertain-times-a-systematic-approach/ ), these essential capabilities for exceptional leadership are also foundational for becoming a successful mentor.  Therefore, E.A.S.I-Consult offers a modified version of the long-successful EASI-Quotient™ leadership assessment process to identify employees who would be most likely – and prepared – to quickly become exceptional mentors.  And, all versions of the EASI-Quotient™ incorporate the Burke Learning Agility Inventory® (Burke LAI).  Research has shown that people with a greater degree of learning agility are better able to be successful in new or ambiguous situations, such as beginning to mentor a colleague.

Building an organization that truly values  — and demonstrates — diversity, equity, and inclusion takes time and much effort.  But, one key has been clearly researched and proven.  Effective mentoring is a critical component.  By following the 5 steps detailed above, and selecting and preparing/ training employees with the “right set of capabilities to serve as mentors”, an organization can become a true “champion of diversity”.

Celebrate Mentoring Success  Finally, celebrating success is one of the best ways to continue to grow a mentoring culture. As mentioned earlier, a mentoring culture is one that encourages and supports continuous learning. When you celebrate success, you reinforce goals and positive habits; you inspire other employees, and encourage them to support each other.

About the Author

E.A.S.I.-Consult is a leader in researching and identifying leadership capabilities in an effort to help organizations reach their full potential.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult® provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult®, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com, or call 800.922.EASI.