Mentoring – Enhancing Diversity Strategically and Sustainably for Real Business Results

April 21, 2010

Mentoring for Diversity

In today's world, best-in-class organizations understand that racial, cultural, and gender diversity in the workplace is no longer a nice-to-have, but a necessity in order to remain competitive and deliver sustainable bottom line results. A diverse and inclusive organization is able to recognize and fully deploy a wide range of knowledge and skills, reach out to an increasingly diverse clientele, and motivate all talented employees from all backgrounds to perform their best. For companies who want to increase market share, slice turnover costs, enhance productivity, or globalize, it's not a question of whether to promote diversity but how to do it in the best way possible.

But all too often, corporate diversity initiatives are ineffective. And when they are, it's usually "diversity" as an ideal that gets blamed. It's quick and easy for top management to conclude that promoting diversity isn't profitable. It's much harder to admit that the problem lies not with diversity itself, but with the way it's being promoted in the workplace and why.

According to a study conducted by the Washington Post, the diversity training offered at most firms were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management. The number of black female managers fell by 10 percent, and the number of black men in top positions fell by 12 percent. Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians. The research showed that mandatory programs -often undertaken to avoid discrimination lawsuits – were ineffective for promoting diversity. Conversely, when diversity training is voluntary and strategic, it was associated with increased diversity in management roles.

Apart from the limited success of mandatory programs, could there be yet another reason why many diversity initiatives fail? The answer lies in the way in which organizations define diversity. Is measuring diversity as simple as a numbers game? Can an organization with 50% men and 50% women in top management positions, or an equal proportion of each race or ethnicity, truly boast diversity? In reality, the kind of diversity that enhances organizational culture and heightens the bottom line cannot simply be defined by the number of positions attained in high places. In today's organizations, true "diversity" requires that individuals of various genders and cultural backgrounds are included not only in leadership positions at the top of the talent pipeline - but also that employees at all levels and of all backgrounds have a supportive, dynamic network within these organizations to facilitate their way to those positions.

Among the wide array of potential diversity initiatives, formal mentoring programs for diversity and inclusion are highly effective for helping women and minority employees to build that crucial network of individuals who can help them improve their knowledge and skills and progress in their careers. What specific benefits does mentoring for diversity bring to an organization?

Mentoring focuses not on diversity as an end in itself, but diversity as a means, as the strategy behind a stronger bottom line. While initiatives such as mandatory diversity training and race/gender quotas for recruitment can deliver the statistics that paint a picture of diversity, formal mentoring programs create bi-directional relationships and networks that actually generate sustainable diversity over the long term. By definition, mentoring establishes voluntary partnerships that enable individuals to share their knowledge and experiences with one another. This produces diversity that is internally motivated and perpetuated, not mandated or stigmatized, within the organization. Such diversity is part of a solid strategy for enhancing the bottom line.

Mentoring enables managers to leverage talent they may not even know they have. According to Frank Dobin, an organizational psychologist at Harvard who was quoted in the Washington Post, women and minorities find it tough to get ahead because most people, including managers, tend to form social groups with similar people -- and many managers are simply unaware of the talent in their own organizations. Mentoring programs that require or explicitly encourage managers to connect with subordinates in different departments can alert managers to talented employees with different social and ethnic backgrounds, and help younger employees figure out what they need to do to get ahead. Organizations that understand their own talent are well-equipped to look within their organization to fill necessary positions – cutting hiring and onboarding costs by simply redeploying instead.

Mentoring empowers employees to navigate their career paths in a way that best fits the culture of their organization. Different organizational cultures require different strategies for career development. Without sufficient experience working in the organization and navigating its politics, culture and hierarchy, employees may have trouble defining realistic professional goals and working to achieve them. Mentoring facilitates the sharing of valuable experiences and insights within the organization that guide the mentee toward educated career navigation. If the mentor-mentee relationship is cross-cultural, for example, a mentor from the “majority” culture can guide the mentee from the “minority” culture on how to best navigate a majority-dominated system. Conversely, if the mentee is paired with an individual from the same cultural/gender-specific group, then the mentee has access to an idea role model with lessons on how to overcome any particular obstacles associated with the experience he or she is likely to get. Both avenues propel retention.

Case Study Example

A large US insurance company decided to develop a diversity mentoring program targeted toward minority employees (both racial/cultural minorities and women). The purpose was to offer these employees an opportunity to learn from and network with successful leaders in the organization. The company identified and trained mentors from various levels of the organization – not just senior management.

A particular challenge that minority employees often faced involved the ongoing education requirements instated by the company, which many of them had neither the time nor the money to complete. Through the mentoring partnerships, employees gained a better understanding of the company’s culture and why those requirements existed, and also received advice and assistance on the best ways to obtain the necessary requirements to advance their careers. Most notably, upon conclusion of the program, the mentees reported that the most crucial benefit they gained from the program was the opportunity to build networks with individuals outside their own departments and job functions. Ultimately, the mentoring program enabled various leaders across the company to notice key players in their talent pool – beneficial for both the minority mentees and company strategy as a whole.

Cutting-Edge Mentoring Solutions for an Effective Diversity Initiative

Insala’s mentoring solutions enable organizations to launch and deliver effective and sustainable mentoring programs for diversity and inclusion. Insala provides a wide array of mentoring solutions including program implementation, program evaluation, mentoring readiness consulting, mentor training, mentoring technology, and more. In particular, our consultants work to help organizations identify key business objectives and metrics, leverage core competencies, and develop mentoring programs that align with overall talent and business goals. Our interactive mentoring software features advanced matching and pairing tools, robust reporting capabilities, the ability to manage multiple programs from a single portal, mentor-mentee communication tools, and more - enhancing both administrative efficiency and the participant experience.

To learn more about our mentoring solutions or request a demo of our online mentoring software, please visit, or email us at

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