Dismantling Racism: How Mentors can create change through Allyship

As our society navigates through an increasingly heightened collective consciousness about race, so many of us are wanting to know what we can do to become anti-racist.  While all action should begin with learning, it must not stop there.  Indeed, there is an important role mentors can play in thwarting racism in the workplace and promoting an inclusive and equitable work environment– the role of ally. 

In order to be an ally, one must engage in allyship – which requires action.  To wit, Ally is a verb, not a noun. To ally is to actively thwart oppression or racism as it is encountered in one’s life.  Allyship requires more than a label or lapel pin.  Rather, a person serves as an ally every day when they are willing to put their own comfort aside for the sake of promoting racial equality.  

illustration of woman sitting at desk with laptop
A black man and a white man sitting at a table in an office cafeteria.

Find an allyship partner.

An integral part of allyship is surrounding yourself with people who are also on the allyship journey. This work can be isolating and challenging, so having a partner or list of people you can call on is essential. Just as mentoring is reciprocal, so is any partnership focused on becoming a better ally. You will need to lean on each other and seek each other out for advice perhaps more than in a typical mentoring relationship. In this case, a partner may be someone who is on a similar journey who can provide peer accountability and a sounding board. One of you may have more experience with allyship, but that does not mean that the other person won’t need additional support. 

Significance of Race.

If you are white, it is important that when you select an allyship advisor, you choose someone who is also white.  Why?  Unlike more traditional mentorships where relationships across difference are not only valuable but encouraged, in this case, the work to be done in thwarting racism is best first done with someone of the same race as you.  When processing racism, oppression, power, privilege, and fragility it can be taxing for participants in the conversations. Being an ally means that you will do what is within your power to ensure that you are not putting additional emotional labor on people of color.   

Our Series on Allyship.

In this series we will discuss three themes of allyship as it relates to mentoring: Getting Educated, Create Space, and Walk the Talk. In Getting Educated we will discuss the foundations of allyship, resources, and reflection questions that you and your mentoring partner can work through together. In the next post, Create Space, we will elaborate on two very critical pieces that take immense amounts of courage: welcoming feedback from BIPOC peers and fellow allies regarding you behavior and learning how to amplify marginalized voices in the workplace. Lastly, we will conclude our allyship through mentoring discussion with a summary of how it may look to be an Everyday Ally. This work is hard, and never ending. Mentoring pairs will need strategies to keep moving forward and engaged with this difficult material. Along the way you may feel burnt out or find yourself checking out of conversations. This is completely normal, and we will discuss how you and your mentoring partner can develop a plan to get back on track.     

Action Steps.

Take the time to identify a partner, establish ground rules, what you hope to learn, and some goals you and your partner will work towards. After creating your foundation, stay tuned for our next post on “Getting Educated” where we will discuss what type of material to review, the importance of reflection, and how you can do this work with a mentoring partner.

Grow Good Social Capital Through The 4 C’s of Mentoring

It has been 20 years since Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, the groundbreaking book that described  the phenomenon of disconnectedness that Putnam believes indicated the collapse of community in America.  Since then, all signs point to an increase in disconnectedness.  

In American workplaces, this is particularly acute.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2000, 3.3% of all workers worked remotely. Today, that number is up to 5.2% — this is a jump from 3.7 million workers to 6.5 million workers.  This trend looks as if it will continue : 90% of remote workers say they intend to work remotely for the rest of their careers.  

With all the advantages of remote work in flexibility, the disadvantage is a workforce that might not ever interact in person.  21% of remote workers say that the biggest struggle of working remotely is loneliness, while another 21% said that it was collaborating and communicating.  This is what Putnam described as the loss of social capital.  

Yet these trends do not mean that workplaces must throw up their hands and assume that an engaged workforce and an inclusive organizational culture are futile efforts. Rather, it is more important than ever to create a work environment that builds social capital.

Social capital is most simply defined as the benefits of sociability.  It is the productive outcome that arises from connectedness. It comes from meaningful relationships in the workplace where employees feel invested, think about each other, and engage in reciprocal acts of mutual benefit—it creates a sense of belonging.  

Mentoring is often overlooked as a means to build social capital; though, by its very nature, mentoring  is a reciprocal relationship where mentor and mentee collaborate towards a common goal that will build the mentees’ skills, knowledge, and abilities.    

When an organization invests in mentoring, it nurtures four characteristics that grow social capital: conversation, connection, community, and culture. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these characteristics and how mentoring fosters growth in each.

1 – Conversation 

Good mentoring begets good conversation, which is marked by the presence of dialogue.  Unlike the transactional conversations that more typically occur in workplace relationships, dialogue is a rich interaction in which both parties are fully present and learning. There is deep listening, a collaboration on problem-solving, and a mutual investment in achieving a goal. Good conversations contain an element of trust and learning.Here’s how to create better conversation in your mentoring relationships:

  • Set the intention to build trust. Don’t expect that mentoring conversations will be meaningful right off the bat. It requires sustained focus and intention, and creating a safe space for mentee and mentor to open up.
  • Take ownership of the learning. The advice to “own” the learning may seem counterintuitive. Ownership does not mean that one person has 100% of the obligation to  drive good conversation.  Rather, it means that both mentor and mentee have 100% of the obligation to drive good conversation. Once both parties recognize that they co-own the responsibility, conversation will go deeper and be reflective of collaborative dialogue.

2 – Connection

We know that one of the most important factors that determines whether someone is engaged at work is whether they have a meaningful relationship in the workplace.  One of the byproducts of good mentoring is enhanced engagement through connection with another individual, often someone with whom a relationship might not have been formed more organically. Through these connections, mentor and mentee gain broader perspective within an organization. 

One mentor I interviewed—a very senior level executive—told me that his mentoring relationship helped him see how some of the rules and procedures within his mentee’s department could be improved—and he was then able to effect some changes.   We often hear from mentees that they learn about additional possible career opportunities and make valuable connections through their mentors’ networks.    

Here are three things you can do to create more meaningful connections in your mentoring relationships:

  • Embrace differences.   In any relationship, there are differences between  each person that make a difference in how they view the world.  Lean into those differences.  Instead of judging the difference, exercise curiosity about why your mentoring partner’s perspective might be different from your own.  
  • Share your learning.   When you learn something in the pursuit of your goals, discuss that learning in your mentoring meetings.  If you learn something from your mentoring partner, talk about what you have learned, and the impact it has made.  
  • Welcome feedback.  In healthy mentoring relationships, mentoring partners set an expectation for continuous feedback.  Mentors should offer feedback to their mentees about the progress they are making in achieving their goals. It is as important, however, for mentor and mentee to seek and offer feedback on how the mentoring relationship is going.  Regularly set aside time to talk about what is working in the mentoring relationship and what needs to be improved upon.

3 – Community   

Social capital derives from a sense of belonging.  Mentors and mentees don’t just feel more connected to each other, they feel more connected to their organizations.  Research shows that mentorship increases results in better organizational citizenship— creating a better sense of community.   When organizations invest in mentoring training, they are creating a cohort of mentors and mentees which further enhances a sense of belonging.  

This is particularly palpable in large global organizations, or organizations with a remote or distributed workforce.  Because effective mentoring requires relationship-building and because it can be conducted using video technology, it is also a way to boost engagement and create a sense of belonging and accountability.  

Here are a few ways organizations can build community around mentoring.

  • Set expectations.Mentoring is a skill that requires practice.  Teach your leaders what constitutes good mentoring, and set the expectation that they develop their own mentoring competency.  
  • Establish a mentoring cohort.  Create opportunities for mentees and mentors to meet as a cohort.  Consider holding periodic roundtables for mentors to meet to share best practices, and for mentees to support one another. 
  • Create accountability.  Ask mentoring pairs to share their goals and their progress.  Measure satisfaction with mentoring relationships and the impact of mentoring on the organization. 

4 – Culture   

A mentoring culture is a network of good conversations, multiple connections, and community around learning. Mentoring is embedded in the fabric of the organization, and employees at all levels understand that development is a priority and a value.  

Here are some steps you can take to build a mentoring culture:

  • Connect mentoring to your organization’s core values. Understanding “why” something is important is a prerequisite for successful implementation.  Articulate and share how investing in the development of mentoring relationships is connected to the core values of your organization.
  • Communicate the importance of mentoring. Share the expectation that mentoring will occur.  Make sure your most senior leaders are participating in and sponsoring your mentoring initiative.  Encourage them to share their own mentoring stories when they communicate with their teams.
  • Measure progress.    Effective mentoring is an investment of time and resources.  It is critical to understand why you are making that investment and to measure progress against your purpose; these can include, for example, improvements in attraction and recruitment of top talent, improving diversity at top levels in the organization, increased engagement scores, or lower attrition rates.  Take baseline measurements before starting your mentoring initiatives and measure improvements along the way.

Social capital remains an essential ingredient of healthy workplaces, despite remote work increasing in prevalence.  Social capital is not at risk of being eroded in its entirety; however, it is a continual pulse-point issue. Leveraging mentoring to nurture the 4Cs—conversation, connection, community, and culture—can create an increased sense of belonging in employees, thus building social capital. 

About the author: Lisa Fain is the CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence and a global speaker on the intersection of mentoring and inclusion.  Lisa is also an executive coach and a former management-side employment attorney.  Her passion for diversity and inclusion work fuels her strong conviction that leveraging differences creates a better workplace and drives better business results. She is the author of the book Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring.

Better Mentoring, in three lists.

My new book,  “Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring” with Center for Mentoring Excellence founder Dr. Lois Zachary,  was recently released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers.  You may be wondering what the phrase “better mentoring means.” Wonder no more. I am about to define it for you and offer some tips and tidbits to so you can achieve better mentoring.

Since people best retain content in threes, here are 3 lists of 3 things to remember about Better Mentoring.

small pot with sprouting plant growing from it

LIST 1:  Better Mentoring is….

  1. A reciprocal partnership
    Like any other partnership, (think medical practice, law firm, marriage), both mentor and mentee give something to the relationship, and both benefit.  Yes, mentees, mentors benefit too.  We hear over and over from mentors that they gain new perspectives, better leadership skills, and a powerful sense of contribution, among other things.
  2. Developmental
    Mentoring should focus on the mentee’s development, not just the mentee’s performance. Supervisors, colleagues, and advisors can help a mentee in learning how to perform best in their current role.  Mentors should focus on helping mentees grow into and beyond the mentee role.  To do this, mentor and mentee must set goals that focus on improving the skills, knowledge, and competency of the mentee.
  3. An effective strategy for inclusion
    Better Mentoring bridges difference.  Through my work leading Diversity & Inclusion, I came to believe that leadership buy-in and educational programming are important, but nothing moved the needle more on inclusion than encouraging and fostering meaningful relationships across difference.  Something transformational occurs when organizations create a structure for workplace relationships where people who may not ordinarily come together build trust and learn from one another.

LIST 2: Better Mentoring requires…

  1. A relationship
    I often hear things like “I consider Oprah my mentor,”  or “Nelson Mandela was a mentor to me.”  This can be true only if you actually know and interact with Oprah or Nelson Mandela.   These and other celebrities can be considered role models, teachers, even guides, but not mentors.  Mentoring requires an actual relationship with mutuality of purpose, reciprocity and focus on the mentee’s development.
  2. An investment of time
    Though I work mostly with organizations that have structured mentoring programs,  effective mentoring relationships need not stem from a structured program.  Informal mentorship do yield powerful results.  However, even informal mentoring relationships require an investment of time.  Mentor and mentee must prepare, reflect, and follow up on meetings and commitments.
  3. Intentionality
    Mentoring should be purpose-driven from the get-go.  What are the goals and outcomes you want to achieve?  Without intentionality, it is difficult to gauge progress, measure results, or to steer a mentoring relationship back on course.

LIST 3:  Better Mentoring is not…

  1. A download of a mentor’s knowledge
    A mentor’s job is to facilitate the mentee’s learning.  This can best be accomplished when a mentor shares their experiences, however, mentoring is not effective when a mentor simply downloads their knowledge to the mentee. Rather, mentors must listen closely to their mentee’s needs, provide a sounding board and a safe space for the mentee to ask questions, take risks and explore possibilities.
  2. Transactional
    I am often asked for a checklist that people should complete in order to make mentoring effective.  While there are predictable phases of mentoring, and certain conversations that are important to have, there is no checklist for effective mentoring.  Why?  Because mentoring is relational, not transactional.
  3. One size fits all
    No two mentoring relationships are the same.  Each journey is highly personalized and co-created by mentor and mentees.  What’s more, the form of mentoring itself may vary.  Better mentoring takes many forms:  1-on-1 mentoring pairs, mentoring circles, peer mentoring, mutual mentoring, etc.  All can be effective as long as they follow the tips in these lists.

There you have it.  Three lists of three tips and tidbits that can guide you towards better mentoring.

Someday is Here

Co-authored with Lisa Z. Fain.

As horrific as these first weeks of the global pandemic have been and as alarming and worrisome as the months to come will be, shelter-in-place presents an unexpected opportunity. Most people have multiple items on their to-do list, things that they’ve postponed and re-postponed for “someday.”  The most common thing people save for “someday” is their own development.

illustration of woman sitting at desk with laptop

“Someday” is here, right now. We are called to pay attention. We need to make the most of this time. Time has an odd way of melting away and we can’t control it but can take action so we do not squander it.

We are reminded about the importance of connection in this time. We are in a global crisis because of our interconnectedness, and yet, it is the crisis itself that requires us to physically distance ourselves from one another. It is connectedness itself that will get us through. 

We know that isolation and loneliness itself can be harmful to our health. One recent study even suggested that loneliness can shorten a person’s life by 15 years, the same amount as obesity or smoking. 

In addition to the loneliness that comes from being physically distant, people are concerned about their own financial health. There have been millions of layoffs and furloughs. People are questioning their future and worrying about how to feel financially, professionally and intellectually stable. This uncertainty begets worry, which causes us to lose perspective and often, to withdraw. And so, though it is crucial to physically distance ourselves, it is social connection – not social distancing – that we need.

As mentoring experts we speak with confidence when we say mentoring is needed now more than ever. Mentoring is about connection. It is about creating meaningful relationships in work and personal relationships where mentoring partners focus on growth and development. Mentoring drives authentic conversation and promotes meaningful, supportive and sustainable relationships.

There are, of course, other benefits as well.  Mentors say that through mentoring they gain knowledge about what is happening in other parts of their organization. Their perspectives are often challenged and then expanded as mentors get exposed to new ideas. They increase their own leadership competencies and find that they their individual interpersonal skills are enhanced. There are satisfaction and feel-good elements as well: satisfaction from seeing mentees develop and grow and good feelings from sharing their experience, expertise and wisdom.

For mentees, mentoring provides a welcome safety net, often reducing their stress levels. The pace of new learning increases for mentees. They gain self-confidence as their mentors create opportunities for them to test out new ideas and encourage them to try new things. Mentees feel supported as they explore career options, gain organizational knowledge and receive candid feedback.

Given these benefits, there is every reason to keep the learning and development platform moving forward. Our time in isolation provides opportunity to work on personal and professional development, self-improvement, increase capability and experience self-renewal. Rather than wait until someday, we must keep moving forward.

What better time to focus on growth and development? Many people now have time and tools like Zoom, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and Skype that make it easy to engage in virtual mentoring from home. 

We know that virtual mentoring works, and it is effective. The skepticism that surrounded its efficacy just a decade ago has all but disappeared. Users, too, have become more sophisticated and adept over time. Since the emergence of Covid-19, the urgency and ability to work and learn from home has increased exponentially.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Mentoring is a reciprocal learning relationship between two or more individuals, typically a mentor and mentee. It focuses on achievement of mutually defined development goals and outcomes.
  2. Effective mentoring functions as a partnership. How it is conducted is determined by the individuals involved. You get to write your own rules about accountability, confidentiality, boundaries, and the like.
  3. Good conversation is especially important in any mentoring relationship, but more so in virtual mentoring.
  4. Although technology has the advantage of simulating real-time interaction, it also has its challenges, not the least of which are technology glitches. Having a “Plan B” helps. If the only means for you to connect is your phone, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  Use your phone connection and move forward.
  5. All mentoring depends on establishing and maintaining meaningful points of connection. This means taking the time to build relationship and trust before the actual work of mentoring begins.
  6. Mentoring requires time, and now that you have it be sure you block off a realistic amount of time—and then protect that time. Keep in mind that it takes time to get to know someone.

Remember Benjamin Franklin’s words,  “Lost time is never found again.”  Someday has only just begun.

Now is prime time for mentoring.  You could be lending your time and talent to support someone else. What knowledge and experience do you have that might support and strengthen someone else right now? Or, you could be working on your own growth and development. What knowledge and experience might take you to the next level? What are some of those things that you never had time to do that would nurture you, help you grow?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it is time to get work and find a mentoring partner.

  1. Decide what you want to learn.
  2. Acknowledge the reality of the present time. Many people are hurting or experiencing overwhelm.  Take the time to discuss how each of you is really.
  3. Invest time and effort to set the climate for learning – setting, space, lighting, connection.
  4. Set a regular contact schedule but be flexible. Whether it is kids, dogs or UPS deliveries, there are bound to be more distractions than normal.
  5. Check in on your relationship and evaluate your progress frequently to make sure the learning is meaningful.

Dr. Lois J. Zachary and Lisa Fain are co-authors of the recently released book Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Mentorship and the importance of Story.

Mentorship and the Importance of Story. By: Sarah Haggard

I’ve always been a storyteller. Stories entertain. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They remind us of our humanness, and leave us feeling raw and inspired all at once. They are the keepers of ancient wisdom, our legacy, and cultures all around the world. Stories hold tremendous power. We’ve all walked out of a movie hiding tears of sorrow at a story well told. Binged a Netflix series or finished a good book, and mourned it’s end. Our souls deeply moved, called into action.

So what does storytelling have to do with mentorship?

The origin of the word mentor comes from one of the great stories ever told, Odysseys. Mentor was Odysseys “wise and trusted advisor.” Today, mentors are in more demand than ever. We all want a sage advisor to turn to when the going gets tough. The challenge is, wisdom isn’t gained in the classroom nor in the boardroom; the places we most often look to for mentorship. Wisdom is gained from lived experiences, which are best told through stories.

Our age and years’ experience isn’t the sole indicator of wisdom either.

Some of us have lived a few lives over by the time we reach our twenties. While others are lucky enough to life a life of ease, privilege and stability. The truth is we’re only expert in our own life experiences, knowledge comes and goes. I lost my Mom at age 27. I mentor women in their 40s, 50s and 60s dealing with the loss of a parent because I understand grief, having lived through it. Developing the ability to narrate our life experiences using story is key to being able to mentor, or be a “wise and trusted advisor” for others.

So what can you do to become a wise and trusted advisor for someone else? The first step is to know your story. Here are five ways you can get started today.

1. Make a lifeline chart, plotting out the high and low moments in your life.

2. Make a list of common themes that emerge from that timeline.

3. Write your story, highlighting those key themes, in less than 1,000 words.

4. Practice telling your story.

5. Sign up to become a mentor, sharing your story and passion for mentoring others from your lived experiences.

In a world where mentors are in more demand than supply, getting to know your story is the greatest gift you can give someone else. It is also where you’ll find your greatest passion and purpose.

Sarah Haggard is the CEO and Founder of Tribute, a modern mentorship app for the workplace that connects employees together for mentorship through shared life experiences and stories. When not working, Sarah enjoys reading, writing, mentoring college students and spending time on her houseboat with friends and family in Seattle, WA.

Mainstream Mentoring: From Bain & Co. to National Geographic, Companies Create Connections

illustration for American City Business Journals by Andrea Levy

Bizwomen Mentoring Monday is February 25th. Support and learn from businesswomen in your community while creating meaningful career connections.

Caitlin Mullen, Bizwomen contributor’s article highlights the ins and outs of “From Bain & Company to National Geographic Society, companies make mentoring connections”. Read the full article here.

Our own Lisa Fain took part and was quoted as saying….

The reasons companies create mentoring programs vary — to improve diversity, to build a bench of potential leaders, and to retain staffers. Though most won’t divulge what they spend on their programs, all agree on their importance. The thousands of employees who participate engage with accomplished colleagues, and many accelerate their career progress through the connections they create. Being able to keep and motivate employees is crucial and “the structured mentoring relationship is really a vehicle to do that.”

3 Ways to Identify Cultural Differences on a Global Team

By: Art Markman June 15, 2018 (Harvard Business Review)

In almost any business these days, you are guaranteed to interact with people whose cultural background is quite different from your own. In a global organization, you may have colleagues that come from a different country. You may partner with organizations whose employees come from another part of the country. There may also be cultural differences between you and some of the customers and clients you serve.

Dealing With Impostor Syndrome When You’re Treated as an Impostor

By The New York Times Kristin Wong June 12, 2018

Impostor syndrome is not a unique feeling, but some researchers believe it hits minority groups harder.

Last May, I walked into a room of impeccably dressed journalists at a media event in Los Angeles. I tugged on my pilly cardigan and patted down my frizzy bangs.

When a waiter presented a tray of sliced cucumbers and prosciutto and asked, “Crudité?” I resisted the temptation to shove three of them into my mouth and instead smiled and replied, “No, thank you.” I was focused on the task at hand: pretending not to be a fraud among this crowd of professionals.

Ironically, I was at the event to interview someone about impostor syndrome.

The psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term in 1978, describing it as “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In other words, it’s that sinking sense that you are a fraud in your industry, role or position, regardless of your credibility, authority or accomplishments.

This is not a unique feeling, and it hits many of us at some point in our lives. But some researchers believe it hits minority groups harder, as a lack of representation can make minorities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety when coupled with impostorism, according to Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Read the full article here.

CEOs Need Mentors Too

By: Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl (Harvard Business Review April 2015 Issue)

In 2010, when David Nish was promoted from CFO to CEO at Standard Life, he knew the scale of the challenge his company faced. The 185-year-old giant had just embarked on a sweeping transformation from an insurer to a long-term savings and investment company. Nish also knew that as the person leading the change, he would be tested by decisions and management situations he hadn’t encountered in the past. Certain that he could benefit from the perspective of someone who had been down similar roads before, Nish turned to a somewhat unusual adviser: Niall FitzGerald, a former chairman of Unilever.

The mentoring relationship they subsequently established is illustrative of those we have studied in our research—a two-year inquiry into an emerging way in which new CEOs in large organizations gain access to seasoned counsel and feedback. We found dozens of executives who were accelerating their learning by engaging the services of high-profile veteran leaders from outside their companies. To learn more about this growing but as yet undocumented phenomenon, we interviewed 15 chairman mentors and 25 protégés—CEOs, CEO designates, and CFOs. (Chairman Mentors International facilitated access to many of the study participants.)

On the basis of what we heard, we are convinced that more CEOs should connect with mentors rather than assume that theirs is a burden to be shouldered alone. But we also discovered aspects of such arrangements that make them trickier than the mentoring that takes place at lower organizational levels. At the CEO level, special considerations must go into making a match between mentor and mentee, structuring their sessions to deliver the intended benefits, and prioritizing the process so that it isn’t crowded out by other demands. By sharing what we’ve learned about these issues, we hope to pave the way for more use of this highly efficient learning model.

Read the full article here.