Magazine article Personnel Journal

Mentorships Ensure Equal Opportunity

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Mentorships Ensure Equal Opportunity

Article excerpt

IN1984, HEIDRICH AND STRUGGLES INC., a Chicago-based executive search firm, surveyed top executives on the topic of mentoring. Of the respondents, approximately 80% had mentors or sponsors during the early stages of their careers. These executives reported that effective mentors were willing to share information and experience, were knowledgeable about the company and use of power, and offered helpful career counseling. In comparison to those executives who didn't have the benefit of mentorships, those who received mentoring had more advanced college degrees, engaged in more extensive career planning, received slightly more compensation and, overall, were more satisfied with their work and their careers.

This study is one of many that have illustrated the benefits of mentoring programs. As employees work through the corporate maze, mentors provide support and assistance to help them propel their careers forward. In fact, in some companies, it's difficult to secure top-level promotions without a personal advocate or sponsor. However, while mentoring is used effectively in some groups, not everyone has equal access to this type of learning relationship.

Some organizations strive to provide equal opportunity by assigning proteges to mentors. Most companies, however, simply allow employees to seek out their own role models. This isn't always easy. In a study called the Glass Ceiling Initiative, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs determined that barriers--including a lack of mentoring--impede women and minorities from obtaining upper-management positions. One reason for this is evident: Potential sponsors or mentors, most of whom are white, tend to choose proteges who are similar to themselves in social background and with whom they can identify more readily.

Trust is another key component. For a mentorship to be successful, each participant must trust the other. However, according to Dow Scott, assistant professor of management at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, "Each racial group trusts members of their own group more than members of other groups." He says that this phenomenon is caused in part by basic attitudinal differences, attributed to culture, economic factors, past discrimination and educational levels. This lack of trust makes mentorships for many minorities difficult.

A formal mentorship program can break through barriers, Because of these factors, it should be the responsibility of the human resources department to formalize the mentoring system and ensure that mentorships are available to everyone. This will bring about several positive business changes, including greater opportunity for heterogeneous work groups in all levels of the corporation, from the shop floor to the board room.

Mentoring can help companies encourage and capitalize on diversity, which is essential to business success, especially in the international marketplace. There are many examples of business blunders caused by too much homogeneity at top management levels.

A single Spanish speaker in the decision-making loop, for instance, could have saved General Motors the expense of trying to market the Chevy Nova in Mexico. ("No va" means "Won't go.") With a little more intercultural savvy, the Gerber baby food folks would have known that marketing their products in Africa wouldn't be as easy as changing the white baby on the labels to a black baby. In one African country, it's customary for a label to picture the product, not the intended customer. …

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