We often default to negative thinking. “What’s wrong?” “How can we fix this problem?” Stop thinking in terms of deficit, and instead focus on discovery, dream, and design.
Dismantling Racism: How Mentors Can Create Change Through Allyship: Part 3, Create Space for Feedback
In mentoring, it is essential that we bridge differences between individuals to form more meaningful connections. This can be beneficial for networking, job satisfaction, upward mobility, and general well-being. As a mentor or mentee, you may be different from your mentee in race, religious affiliation, gender, sex, or any other element of your identity. White mentors can develop antiracist behaviors in their personal and professional lives by having an allyship partner on their allyship journey.
For more on how to create an allyship partner, see our last blog post. Today, we add another component to your allyship journey. Much of the work you have done up to this point has probably been internal. You have taken the time to think about your interactions and experiences from your perspective. A good ally seeks and is receptive to feedback from others about their behavior.
You aren’t growing unless you are receiving feedback. Life experiences, perspective-taking, and feedback have taught me some of the greatest (and hardest lessons). A few years ago, I attended an event on white fragility with a group of friends. Nearly all of us are White, as was most of the audience. One of my Black friends, we’ll call her Makayla, also joined. We were waiting in line for entry to the auditorium when a White man from the crowd began questioning several group members about the premise of white fragility. In initially a curious tone, he did so but started to get more aggressive with his questions. Quickly, all of his questions became targeted towards Makayla. We were all uncomfortable with his line of questioning, yet no one stepped in to assist Makayla as she fielded all of his questions.
Makayla later told me that this had upset and disappointed her (looking back, it’s pretty apparent why she felt that way). The irony that I was in line for a white fragility talk, and I felt uncomfortable stepping in to assist my friend as she talked to a persistently ignorant white man is not lost on me. What’s more, I didn’t learn about, nor did I realize, how much this had bothered her until nearly a year later. Not only had I failed to practice what I preach, but I had also failed a friend in several ways. I did not help her when she needed help, and I had not opened myself up for feedback from her. Sure, I could talk about racial injustice research, but could I walk the walk when it mattered? If it weren’t for her sharing this story, I would not have realized that I needed to become a more active ally. While I’m glad Makayla was able to share the story, I wished that I would have a.) made myself open for feedback from her sooner, and b.) realized my mistake on my own.
This story has multiple components we can use to talk about allyship for mentors. How do you know when to step up to support a person of color? How do you ensure that you are open to feedback? How do you seek feedback? How do you respond to feedback?
Feedback. Is it me, or does that word suck the life out of you? I’m a person that thrives off of receiving feedback, and I still hate the phrase, “Can I give you some feedback?” In her book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words), Tamra Chandler reminds us that we are conditioned to automatically tense when we become aware of the potential for receiving feedback. Although negative feedback may not feel good, it can indeed be a gift. When Makayla reminded me of that incident, I drove home with nothing but that event re-playing in my mind. I cringed at the memory, but I needed that feedback to grow.
Receiving feedback when it comes to your allyship performance is especially difficult. It’s a direct hit to your ego and values, making it some of the most challenging feedback you will ever receive. I encourage you to seek feedback regarding your antiracist behaviors from a trusted allyship partner. By this point, you have spent time building trust, creating boundaries, and getting to know each other. Thus, feedback will feel less harmful from someone you know has your best interest at heart. You may even seek feedback about how you are receiving feedback from their feedback!
Below are some tips that you can use to prepare yourself for feedback. Practice and discuss these techniques and others with your allyship partner in your next meeting. You may choose to start with general feedback about how the mentoring relationship progresses before addressing allyship behaviors. Practicing receiving and giving feedback with your allyship partner will prepare you for other professional encounters and mentoring relationships.
As I listened to Makayla’s feedback, I had to remind myself not to plead my case or apologize, listen actively, and plan to reflect and do better next time. Try to pay attention to this as you and your partner give each other feedback.
When I got home from the conversation with Makayla, I called my allyship partner, another White woman on her own allyship journey. I told her how terrible I felt for hurting my friend, not walking the walk, and not being mindful of my mistake. She listened, and we collaborated on ways for both of us to identify moments when we can amplify voices of color and step into conversations for support. Your allyship partner will serve as a neutral agent that can help you process the event to extract the most developmental opportunities.
Use the feedback as momentum to propel you and your allyship to do better next time.
The combination of practicing and seeking feedback from like-minded folks will also give you momentum through your allyship journey. Lastly, remember that you are not alone on this journey. By now, you have your allyship partner, continue to use this relationship as a tool for reflection, practice, and discussion.
I’m crafty, which means I’m very good at starting crafts, forgetting, then returning to them years later. In fact, I have a blanket I started for my grandma stuffed away in my closet right now. I pulled it out the other day to find a knotted ball of yarn attached to the blanket’s start. It looked like it was played with by two kittens, a dog, then tossed in the garbage disposal for good measure. Looking at that mass, I was overwhelmed. I needed to find where it was attached to the blanket and work through the tangle of knots just so that I could start knitting the blanket. As I worked through the yarn, I began to pick up on the texture, how the knots form, how hard to pull on the strand, and eventually, I was better able to untangle the ball quickly.
This knotted ball is allyship. Allyship is a complicated mass of knowledge and behaviors that we have to untangle. It requires that we learn and develop and work through a knotted mass that’s wrapped up with what we know, believe, and how we operate. This requires that we get educated. Starting at the beginning of the knotted ball, you will begin to untangle knots like systemic racism, power, covert racism, and privilege, gaining a longer and longer strand of usable yarn, which you will use to develop allyship. The process may be frustrating, and you may feel like giving up. Some knots will be incredibly hard to get through, while others will be straightforward. But unlike my blanket in the closet, keep working on that ball, so you can develop concrete ally behaviors to support people of color in and outside of the workplace.
Getting educated is perhaps the most foundational piece of allyship, and it is forever ongoing, and if that sounds exhausting– it is. Thankfully, mentoring can provide you with support and direction as you begin to maneuver through the knots of racism, inequality, and social justice. In our last piece, we talked about the importance of developing an allyship partner and things to consider when selecting this partner. In Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, authors Lisa Fain and Dr. Lois Zachary identify the three functions of mentoring that we can apply to allyship partnership:
Leaning on these three functions of mentoring can be the means through which one stays committed to their allyship journey. The following sections will elaborate on the benefits of using mentorship to foster allyship.
Support is the management and process of a mentoring relationship (Fain & Zachary, 2019). As you work through allyship materials or engage in other allyship behaviors, ensure you have an excellent connection to lean on when you need advice, support, or comfort. There are many strategies you can utilize. Here are two examples to offer:
- Maintain a climate conducive to learning. Most likely, the work you will be doing with your partner will primarily involve learning new material. As such, develop an environment in your partnership that encourages exploration.
- Create structure and maintain accountability. The main activity that you and your partner should begin with is creating structure and accountability pertaining to allyship. How will you document or discuss any experiences you have at work that required allyship? Who else can you talk to about allyship outside of this relationship?
The vision is the link that binds you and your allyship partner together. Develop a roadmap for where you’d like to be due to this relationship (e.g., an advocate in the workplace). You can do this by:
- Sharing your story. As allyship partners, you may decide to start by sharing your story concerning how you have experienced race. Where did you grow up? What was it like at your school? Have your political viewpoints shifted? If so, how did this come to be? As you begin to explore your history, you will begin to identify similarities and differences that you can use to flex your allyship muscles by examining the role your personal history has played on your current behaviors and values.
- Creating future scenarios. Just like any new skill, allyship must be practiced. Ensuring that there is space for co-workers of color will not come naturally to most people. Nor will calling out racist statements or behaviors in the workplace. We encourage allyship partners to practice how they would react in scenarios where they should serve as an ally.
- Holding up a proverbial mirror to encourage mentee self-reflection and heightened self-awareness. Reflect on your readings or everyday experiences. You and your partner may use these to determine what allyship looks like for you both. Additionally, remember that you both will fail at serving as an ally at times. Use those instances as opportunities to learn for both you and your allyship partner.
Challenging each other may be the most pivotal function of an allyship partnership. Much of the material that you will cover may challenge what you have known. Here are three steps:
- Suggesting things outside of your comfort zone and providing a safe place for your partner to take risks. Given that you have created a structure and established trust, you and your partner should push each other to explore topics and scenarios outside of the norm. Consider role-playing scenarios that currently make you uncomfortable (e.g., standing up to your superior when making a racist comment).
- Presenting opposing viewpoints or perspectives. We are in a very divided time where people will have differing opinions from yours. In your partnership, consider what these perspectives are and how you may respond to views that run counter to allyship principles.
- Asking questions that bring past actions into consciousness and promote insights into change. Again, we emphasize reflection. Consider how your past actions have led you to where you are. How would you change?
A simple Google search can provide you with lists of antiracist materials. Ultimately, it will be up to you and your partner to determine what type of literature you both want to investigate.
- What is our previous exposure to antiracist literature?
- How strong is our collective understanding of history?
- Do we have the same religious/value system? (e.g., Should we utilize a Christian lens to approach antiracism?)
- Am I educating myself with diverse voices or just authors with the same identity as myself?
Recognize that the foundation of allyship is understanding oppression, privilege, systemic racism, power, and white fragility. As you learn more, you might decide to discuss your learning with your mentoring partner (See note below for an important caveat). Here are three resources that might be helpful:
- Me and White Supremacy originated as a 28-day Instagram Challenge from Layla F. Saad. Mentoring pairs may choose to work through the challenge together, process the material, and reflect together.
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
examines how he has experienced and internalized racism and offers insights into how you can strive to be antiracist. This book is full of history. Ask yourself (and/or your mentee) some of these critical questions: Did I learn about this in school? Why or why not? Who will I share my new knowledge with now? How might this new knowledge change my social interactions?
- Dear White People is a comedy-drama that addresses intense social issues through Black students’ eyes on an Ivy League college campus. Mentoring pairs can watch an episode and reflect on how the episodes’ issue plays out in the world. Note: the series is rated TV-MA.
Reflection Questions with Your Partner
- Use your allyship partnership to reflect on each resource you review.
- You and your allyship partner may choose to reflect on the literature using the same questions. For example:
- What was new information? What did I already know?
- How can I integrate the knowledge and principles I have gained in both my professional and personal life?
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.
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.
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.
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.
LIST 1: Better Mentoring is….
- 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.
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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
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…
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Good conversation is especially important in any mentoring relationship, but more so in virtual mentoring.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Decide what you want to learn.
- 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.
- Invest time and effort to set the climate for learning – setting, space, lighting, connection.
- 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.
- 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.