The Diversity Manager's Role in your Corporate Mentoring Program

It's National Diversity Awareness Month, and we always use our October newsletter to discuss diversity issues in mentoring.

One thing we haven't talked about before, however, is the Diversity Manager's role in your mentoring program. We understand that not all organizations have identified this as an "official" position. But even if that's the case with your organization, it's likely someone (e.g. your HR Director) has been charged with the task of monitoring and managing diversity goals and issues.

Diversity & Mentoring
The connection between mentoring and diversity is not new. When done right, mentoring has the power to change behaviors and open doors to those most often blocked from advancement or success. In other words, your mentoring program can help your organization achieve its diversity initiatives. But exactly how should your Diversity Manager (DM) be involved in your program? Here are three areas in which you should involve your DM.

1. Mentoring Program Design
The Diversity Manager should be involved at the very beginning of your mentoring program's design phase. Sometimes the Diversity Manager will also be the Program Manager, but when this is not the case, he or she still needs to be on the design committee.

The DM's role on the committee is to keep the process honest and advocate for needs to happen in the organization for true diversity to exist. The DM's input into how matching is made and what criteria to use for mentors and mentorees is critical to ensure that favoritism or "business as usual" doesn't end up being the norm. In addition, the focus areas of the mentoring relationship should have components that meet diversity goals. For example, it would make sense to have a focus area devoted to diversity. One of the goals of this focus area would be for mentors and mentorees to talk about how the mentoree can successfully navigate the culture without sacrificing his or her uniqueness.

2. Mentor/Mentoree Matching
Your DM should have input on the matching process. Why? To ensure that your pairs are truly diverse and that you've made cross gender, cross-cultural, and cross ethnic matches. The DM will ensure that these matches are diverse and that they reflect a power dimension. In other words, your DM will help pair diversity mentorees with higher management -- and will do so in the right proportions. This sometimes means thinking outside the box because often there's a lot of diversity in the lower ranks but not much in the upper ranks of the mentoree population that you would normally match with senior management.

But there's also another part of diversity to consider: strategic matching. And this is where your DM's insight will be especially helpful. When we say strategic matching, we mean paying careful attention to making matches that will have the greatest impact on diversity. You might have several mentorees in mind for one particular mentor and all would be equally good, but your DM will help you see which match will support and advance your diversity goals the most. This not only relates to the type of diversity (ethnic, gender, etc.) but to the personalities involved. Which pairing will result in the greatest change to create a more diverse playing field? Your DM will definitely have thoughts on this.

3. Counseling Troubled Pairs
Involve the DM in discussions with diverse pairs who are experiencing problems. Your DM can serve as an objective second opinion because he or she can provide the nuances that the majority population never sees -- nuances that may very likely provide better insight as to what is really happening in that given pair.

For example, it might be easy for a mentor to conclude that her Asian mentoree is not motivated sufficiently because the mentoree appears too deferential to the mentor. This, most likely, is a misunderstanding. The issue is not a lack of motivation, but rather the amount of respect that person has for the mentor's role. In a case like this, the DM could let the mentor know that she is expected to provide more guidance in how to proceed with the mentoring relationship rather than assuming her mentoree will. (And, at the same time, the mentor will then avoid making false assumptions that the mentoree is not a good one.)

The truth is that mentoring is one of the most effective ways of actually changing behaviors in diversity. The key is involving the DM in all aspects of the program. Diversity Managers bring extremely valuable knowledge that can help avoid failed relationships resulting from a lack of understanding and awareness. So if you want to increase the success of your program, make the Diversity Manager a partner in the process.

Are there any other ways you use your DM? We'd love to hear them.

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