The pandemic has surely made us race into the future. Remote work was at it’s peak this past year, with many people still working from home here in 2021. So how does mentoring, something that hinges on interpersonal connection, work in a virtual workplace? In this episode of “Thinking Inside the Box” by Matt Burns, CME’s CEO, Lisa Fain, discusses how mentoring may be in the future, and how those relationships can thrive.
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.
Around the time PIE was starting the accelerator phase of this ongoing experiment, David Cohen, cofounder of TechStars, shared the TechStars Mentor Manifesto. And it served as an inspiration for me. A post by Micah Baldwin, a former TechStars mentor, provided a similar nudge for me.
I’m often reminded to go back and reread both of these posts and am inspired, again and again. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to augment the PIE mentor guidance a bit with some things that we’ve learned from observing PIE startups and mentors over the years.
We shared these tips with the PIE mentors and a few of them suggested we turn it into a blog post for the broader mentor community.
So we took that mentoring to heart.
If you’re thinking about becoming a mentor for startups — either in a formal accelerator program or independently — here are some tips for thinking about how to work with entrepreneurs.
Read on here for 10 tips for mentoring startups.
You’ve come so far in your mentor/mentee relationship! Take a breath and take a look at all you’ve accomplished over the past 12 months.
Do you remember where you began a year ago? What was the quality and tone of that relationship then? What were your goals and visions?
Where are you now…and even more exciting, Where are you headed for the next 12 months?
Next month we begin a whole new series of tips! So, dream, journal and wonder at your next level…and stay tuned for more.