January is not only the month that we celebrate one of the most important figures in our nation's recent history, Martin Luther King, but it is also National Mentoring Month. I don't think it is a mistake that these two celebrations are intertwined. Martin Luther King was a change-maker, a visionary, a man with a mission, a hero....he was brave, perservering, intelligent, respectful and humble. Are these some of the adjectives you would use to describe your ideal mentor?
At Management Mentors, we see many different kinds of mentors with differing personalities, strategies and goals. Combining mentoring and diversity can be challenging. Mentoring may not have been Dr. King’s goal, but he is undoubtedly one of the most looked-up-to mentors our country has ever had.
There are many companies today with lofty diversity goals and initiatives. Even if a company is enlightened enough to establish a structured mentoring initiative, it may not be sensitive to the unique needs involved in diversity mentoring, such as finding diverse mentors and understanding how to navigate successfully in a majority culture. It is important, therefore, for anyone exploring a mentoring initiative to identify its goals, not only for the organization, but for the mentorees. Our approach is to respect and build upon the company’s culture and the needs of employees being mentored. A one-size-fits-all approach will fall short of achieving your goals.
According to this recent Fast Company article, Natalie Madeira Cofield launched her own mentoring organization, Walker's Legacy, after finding it impossible to find any female African American business mentors to guide her while she navigated her way to success. Cofield, a young, successful entrepreneur wanted and needed to be able to have very sensitive and HONEST conversations with diverse individuals such as herself, but was surprised when she couldn’t find any other African American businesswomen willing to fill the role. Cofield said "You need mentors who will say, ‘that wasn’t the right thing to do’ or ‘you shouldn’t be wearing that’ … someone who’s going to be honest like that," she explains.
While we applaud Cofield’s extremely admirable and important contribution to the world of mentoring, we would like to help make it easier for companies to create effective mentoring and diversity programs, so that not everyone has to go out and reinvent the wheel. We have many free resources on mentoring and diversity including the following:
How to Start a Diversity Conversation in Your Mentoring Program
Diversity Initiatives & Mentoring Programs
The Diversity Manager's Role in Your Mentoring Program
So, while mentoring may not always be the solution to your company's diversity initiatives, it certainly can play a large role in alleviating those "elephant in the room" conversations and allow for some real, honest discussions that may lead to a more successful diversity program and, ultimately, a more successful company.
Finally, if you have not already seen it, check out Common's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes this past weekend. Common and John Legend won the award for best original song in a movie. The song is Glory from the movie Selma—the story of MLK’s initiative to obtain equal voting rights for all via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Common’s speech reminds us all why diversity initiatives are so important.
Image credit: enjoyfestivals.com