Diversity Initiatives & Corporate Mentoring Programs

Diversity is one of those words that most people would agree is important, yet few know how to really define it. Some people define diversity as any difference between two individuals: differences in race, in upbringing, in education, in physical attributes, etc. Although this type of definition has the advantage of emphasizing that we're all unique, it also has the disadvantage of negating those differences that have had a disproportionate impact on a class of individuals, specifically in the areas of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability.

Current discrimination laws have created a chilling effect on many people in the workplace. Many individuals fear accusations of racism or sexism if they say certain things. That's why mentoring training is so important.

We know that people are more likely to mentor someone who looks like them rather than someone who is unlike them. One of the benefits of a formal mentoring program is that it can pair people who would not normally come together. Coupled with training and an understanding of what mentoring is, these relationships will often be profoundly transforming for both partners.

Although diversity training is an added plus for those who engage in mentoring programs, stereotypes still exist that may negatively impact diverse relationships. Below are some common stereotypes that--unless we're aware of them--may cause us to be less effective in mentoring or to lack understanding as to why the relationship may not be moving as expected. These are stereotypes that a mentor in the majority position (in our society, a white male) may hold. However, mentorees may also carry some of these stereotypes. What is most important is developing understanding and awareness to ensure these stereotypes do not affect your mentoring relationship.

You may find it hard to read some of these stereotypes, or you might find yourself uncomfortable if you see yourself in some of them. That's okay! Again, being an effective mentor, mentoree, or program manage involves being aware. With awareness comes the ability to address and prevent some of these stereotypes from affecting your mentoring success.

Stereotypes That May Impact the Mentoring Relationship:

Cross-Gender

Father-Daughter/Mother-Son. Mentor treats mentoree like a daughter/son or mentoree relates to mentor as father/mother.

Chivalrous Knight. The mentor expects himself to personally remove barriers that hinder the mentoree rather than empowering the mentoree to do this himself or herself.

Nurturing Partner. Mentor looks to the mentoree for emotional support rather than focusing on the mentoree's needs.

Color/Ethnic Differences

These stereotypes can arise when the mentoring pair is made of a white and non-white individual and the mentor is in the majority population.

Liberator-Victim. Specifically, this would refer to the similar situation as the Chivalrous Knight except it applies to someone who is a minority individual.

Idealized/Rebellious Victim. This refers to a mentor who cannot or does not provide critical feedback to a minority individual for fear that he or she has already been put down by society. The mentor doesn't want to add to this or doesn't provide critical feedback because the mentor expects this to be met with hostility on the part of the minority person.

E-Raced. The most common stereotype, which is generally conveyed by such words as "race doesn't matter, it's what you do that matters," ignores the impact that race has in our society. Though the intent is appropriate and often meant to make the individual feel comfortable, you're essentially saying that the core of who the person is does not matter. This is one of the most common stereotypes because, at first, it appears politically correct.

Gay/Lesbian

Some of the stereotypes that abound include:  

  • Gay men tend to be more effeminate.
  • Lesbians tend to be more masculine.
  • Gays/lesbians are sexually preoccupied.

Disability

Again, these stereoptypes abound: 

  • A person with a disability is sick or has something wrong with him or her that makes him or her less than a "whole" person.
  • People with disabilities have a poor quality of life.
  • People with disabilities are inspirational, brave and courageous for living with their disabilities.

Remember, with awareness comes the ability to address and prevent some of these stereotypes from affecting your mentoring success.

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