Diversity: Finding the way

Moving up in the business world can be a challenge to say the least. If you are not a white male striving to get ahead, the climb is a little steeper. One way you can overcome the odds is to become part of a mentoring program.

Mentoring can take many forms. Most adults can identify a person who, at some time in their life, had a significant and positive impact on them. Mentors can be friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, or even historic or contemporary personalities. Most often, a mentor is a more experienced or older person who acts as a role model, compatriot, challenger, guide or cheerleader. In the workplace, mentoring is a method by which businesses match a senior level executive with a junior or entry-level employee to help the less experienced employee reach his or her career goals.

The Advancing Women Network, a women’s news e-zine located at www.advancingwomen.com cites research that concludes, "mentoring is one of the crucial and important factors in business success. Having a mentor or going through some type of mentoring program dramatically increases one’s chances for success."

Many corporations, large and small, have realized the benefits of mentoring and specifically, the impact mentoring has on bringing women and minorities through the ranks into top management positions. Some examples include:

* Ernst and Young, LLP Women’s Access Program

* Accenture Mentoring Program for Women and Minorities

* Grubb and Ellis Manager Mentor Program and

* Digital Equipment

Digital Equipment reports they, "use mentors as a strategy to maintain a diverse workforce and that mentoring reduces turnover by 30 percent among minorities and 15 percent among new hires."

If your company is small or simply does not offer a mentor program, don’t worry. You can find and recruit your own mentor. To do this:

1. Take time to define what your expectations of a mentor are. You will want it to be someone you respect, who has experience in your field and who can influence and support your career.

2. Make sure your potential mentor is willing to take the time to understand your career aspirations. They must have the desire and ability to help you reach your career goals.

3. Much of the success of mentoring partnerships is dependent on the commitment of both parties to monitor the relationship as it develops. When you find your mentor, develop an agreement that identifies what you are want to achieve, the time frame and how you will attempt to do it. Check your progress at regular intervals.

4. Your mentor must be assured in action, not just in words, that they will be getting something valuable out of being a mentor and that their time will be well spent. Mentors need to experience value when they interact with their partners. It cannot be a one-way relationship where the mentor does all the giving.

You can take advantage of mentor relationships in other ways as well.

* Informal mentoring through industry organizations where you can learn from peers and executives.

* Contact local organizations like, Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative (WWBIC), Small Business Association (SBA) and other professional organizations to learn more about their mentor programs.

In a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, more than half of the chief information officers polled said that they had benefited from a mentoring relationship. Respondents to the survey, who had experienced a mentoring relationship at some point in their careers, were asked to name the single greatest benefit of the relationship. In response, 37 percent said that a mentor provides insight into a particular field or industry. Thirty-two percent said that the mentor serves as a confidant or advisor, and 16 percent said the mentor provides encouragement and boosts morale. That boost in morale can go a long way toward creating a more productive, loyal workforce.

Both the mentor and protZgZ can realize the real benefits of mentoring. Mentors can serve as sounding boards at critical points during a professional’s career development. They offer insight into a company’s accepted business practices and help develop inexperienced managers into strategic business leaders. Because the mentor is someone that the protZgZ does not report to, the mentor is able to take a more unbiased approach to coaching the protZgZ‘s career development. Overall the company obtains a positive corporate culture resulting in increased productivity and reduced turnover.

KeleMarie Lyons is the founder of Pinnacle XL, a management-consulting company with offices in Milwaukee and Chicago. She can be reached via e-mail at kelemarie@pinnaclexl.com.

July 23, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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