We at The Mentoring Group are
eager to learn more about the issues of diversity and inclusion.
We’re trying to become as sensitive as we can be about
concerns, appropriate strategies, feelings, and fallacies related
to persons of color; females; white males; seniors; individuals
who are physically, mentally, or emotionally challenged; and others.
We’ve coined the term, “mentoring across
differences,” to address relationships in which
the two parties are different in key ways. Those differences not
only include race, culture, and gender but such key differences
as learning and communication styles, life experiences, and personal
interests. What are you doing to ensure opportunities for all
in your organization? Have you identified compelling principles
and actions that the rest of us should know and try?
Some Best Practices
We’re impressed with the insights and suggestions of David
A. Thomas in the Harvard Business Review
article, “The Truth about Mentoring Minorities: Race Matters,”
as well as one of his earlier articles. We believe his powerful
recommendations apply not only to people of color but to all
diversity populations. Here are some of his thoughts to help
you (and us) become more aware as well as more proactive in “mentoring
across differences.” (Parentheses indicate the article in
the References that follow.)
- Help mentees establish many relationships
with a broad range of people, especially in the early years
- Open the door to challenging assignments
to allow mentees to gain professional competence (2001).
- Put them in high-trust positions, which sends
a message to the rest of the organization that these people
are high performers; this helps them gain confidence and establish
their credibility (2001).
- Encourage and help mentees to find developmental relationships
with persons of other races (1990). [Note:
CCC/TMG adds the suggestions of expanding to persons
of different backgrounds and styles.]
- Keep minority mentees motivated by investing in them
as if they were high potentials and high performers. Help them
gain the three C’s: confidence, competence, and credibility
(2001). [Note: CCC/TMG prefers a rewording
on this: assume they are high potentials.]
- Recognize that same-race relationships may
provide significantly more psychosocial support
than cross-race relationships (1990). [Note:
CCC/TMG proposes that same-other-type-of-group relationships
may have this advantage, as long as mentees aren’t automatically
assigned mentors of the same group.]
- Protect mentees by confronting subordinates or peers
who level unfair criticism, especially if it has racial undertones.
Example: One mentor was told that his mentee was too laid-back,
an indication of his slacking off, playing on the stereotype
that blacks are lazy. The mentor directly challenged the detractors
by pointing out that his protégé was the leading
salesperson in the division (2001). [Note:
CCC/TMG believes this applies to any undertones.]
- Encourage mentees to have relationships with mentors that
go beyond work-related issues, broad, diverse
networks that include genuine, personal long-term relationships
- Be aware of the inherent difficulties of
mentoring across race. Significant amount of research shows
that cross-race (as well as cross-gender) relationships can
have difficulty forming, developing, and maturing. Thomas mentions
negative stereotypes, difficulty with identification and role
modeling, skepticism about intimacy, public scrutiny, peer resentment,
and “protective hesitation” (fear of misunderstandings,
confrontations, and disagreements) (2001).
- In meetings, openly endorse their good ideas,
which signals to others that they, too, should value the mentees’
ideas. These actions will both curb mentees’ fear of failure
and encourage them to take risks and speak about difficulties
- If you recognize your limits as a role model, help mentees
identify other appropriate role models (2001).
- Offer open-ended advice, using qualifying
comments (“This might not work for you, but
from my experience. . . .”) and invite discussion
of the advice rather than assume it will be taken (2001).
- Recognize that when complexities of cross-race relationships
are handled well, they can strengthen a relationship.
If mentees can handle this, they will likely have a sturdy foundation
to handle other problems (2001).
- Help mentees manage their networks, which
must be strong enough to withstand the loss of you. Networks
should be heterogeneous along three dimensions: a) functional
diversity, b) position and location variety; c) demographic
We look forward to hearing your best practices related to diversity
and inclusion. Feel free to contact us: email@example.com.
Thomas, David A. (1990) The Impact of Race on Managers’
Experiences of Developmental Relationships: An Intra-Organizational
Study. Journal of Organizational Behavior;
Thomas, David A. (2001) The Truth about Mentoring Minorities:
Race Matters. Harvard Business Review,
April 2001, 99-107.