Academic journal article Adult Learning

Mentoring as a Bridge to Understanding Cultural Difference

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Mentoring as a Bridge to Understanding Cultural Difference

Article excerpt

Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives (Anzaldua, 2002, p. 1).

At its best, mentoring serves as an important bridge in many of the ways described by Anzaldua (2002). When asked to think about our mentoring relationships, I imagine many of us have experienced these critical developmental partnerships as passageways carrying us through the changing terrain of our career journeys or acting as connectors allowing us to transition from one phase or job to the next. Mentoring relationships literally and figuratively provide a way for us to cross borders, to gain access to alternative perspectives, and experiences. In light of a number of shifting demographics, including increasing workforce diversity, globalization, and technological advances, the use of mentoring as a bridge will become more critical as a tool to navigate the changing landscape.

Drawing from Anzaldua's (2002) description of bridges as primal symbols, we see that mentoring also draws on archetype. There is an image of mentoring that is timeless--a wise, older person taking someone younger under his wing. What is left unsaid is that in this archetype of mentoring, the mentor and protege are similar to one another; they are from the same clan. Yet, more and more, we are required to work and connect with people from whom we are very different. What happens as we are on our career sojourns and we must interact with travelers from a different land? While the study of mentoring has become more and more popular over the past three decades, there are still gaps in our understanding, places where we don't know as much about how relationships unfold between mentoring partners who are very different from one another because we have not yet paid sufficient attention to increasingly complex and nuanced dynamics. The scenario below describes some of the gaps and highlights the opportunities and the challenges of understanding mentoring in a global context that exist in an increasingly diverse workforce.

Meihui is preparing to meet with her colleague, John Young. They met when both were part of a product team in a large pharmaceutical company. After the product launch, Meihui continued to stay in touch with John, getting together occasionally to talk about the different products they were selling, strategies to penetrate target markets and partnerships that they needed to forge to operate effectively. John was always forthcoming about his own experiences in the company. He often had suggestions and strategies, some that Meihui adopted. Although neither Meihui nor John had formally identified their relationship as a mentoring one, she believed that John was a resource to whom she could turn to gain guidance and support.

Meihui felt that she could really use some of that guidance in light of her recent meeting with her manager, Adam. Last week, Meihui had completed her annual performance review with Adam. While the overall news was good, there were several red flags. During Meihui's seven years in the company, her performance had been consistently rated as "exceeds expectations." Yet, Adam still didn't feel comfortable putting her in front of the high-visibility, high stakes clients. Adam suggested that she needed to develop her presence more. "You know your product line like the back of your hand and you are technically proficient. But in order to connect with these clients, you need to fill the room in a space with pretty big personalities." Adam also felt as if Meihui did not assert herself enough. At the conclusion of the review, Adam's parting words of advice were, "You know, Meihui, we have a saying--the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I need to hear more from you."

Meihui struggled with this advice. What should she do when all that she had been taught as she was growing up--to be more emotionally restrained, to listen and observe rather than jump in the fray and to avoid conflict and challenging authority--clashed with the norms and culture of her organization? …

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