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09 Jan 2024

Leveraging Mentorship to Empower Minorities in the Workplace

Guest Blog From Dakota Murphey

Women and minorities are still disproportionately underrepresented in the workplace, from STEM industries to leadership positions. But mentorship initiatives serve a vital purpose in providing guidance, support and opportunities to help close these gaps and promote equality.

Quality mentorship gives women and minorities access to career contacts, insider advice and tailored development opportunities many may not have otherwise had. Mentorship also provides motivation and accountability in working towards professional goals and conquering obstacles faced. 76% of people believe mentors are important, yet only 36% have one themselves. This shows that there’s tremendous potential for structured programmes to empower these groups with key directions to reach their aspirations.

The Benefits of Mentorship

Quality mentorship provides numerous professional and personal advantages that are instrumental in empowering the advancement of women and minorities in their careers.

Mentors often have extensive networks and spheres of influence within their industry. They can connect their mentees to senior leaders, collaborators and contacts that can significantly raise one’s profile. Mentors use their connections to help secure speaking opportunities, committee appointments, cross-functional projects and other growth avenues. This level of access and visibility gives mentees chances to showcase their skills which may otherwise go unnoticed.

In addition to contacts, mentors provide invaluable insider information on topics like organisational processes, upcoming projects, political dynamics and unwritten rules that are key for progression. Mentors give context and advice for navigating professional situations, be it discrimination over disabilities or critical decisions such as taking a new role, considering promotions or building teams. Mentorship also helps increase the positive representation for women in the workplace.

According to Larice Stielow, Senior Economist with PwC UK, businesses must continue their efforts in designing and developing “policy solutions that actively address the underlying causes of the inequality that exist today”, as she explains, “An 18 year old woman entering the workforce today will not see pay equality in her working lifetime. At the rate the gender pay gap is closing, it will take more than 50 years to reach gender pay parity.”

In addition, the recent Gender Equality Roadmap pledged the UK Government’s commitment for everyone, regardless of gender, to reach their full potential. In the Roadmap,  The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt, MP and Minister for Women and Equalities, announces her plans for shared parental leave and for businesses to mandatory reveal their gender pay gap. She writes, “Women generally go on to work in lower-paid jobs and take more time out to care for both children and others. In turn, this results in slower career progression, a gender pay gap and lower pensions wealth”. 

Ideally, this focus should apply to both the public and private sectors as active mentor Kat Mitchell, who has risen to Chief Revenue Officer at MPB, adds. “We all know, representation at the highest levels and in the boardroom is still sadly lagging behind. It’s hugely important that young women have the role models and the aspiration to see and reach these paths in their future”.

Mentor guidance, therefore, plays a pivotal role in developing the confidence that is essential for ambition and to ascend up the ranks. Through regular encouragement, advice and reassurance from an experienced professional, mentees gain self-assurance in their own talents and potential which is particularly important for groups who have been overlooked previously.

The regular check-ins and discussions in a mentoring relationship lead to meaningful goal-setting and planning. Mentors impart structure and expectations that motivate mentees to step outside comfort zones, but they also provide accountability through consistent encouragement and troubleshooting that keeps mentees focused when challenges arise.

Mentoring for Inclusion Versus Mentoring for Diversity

Mentoring programmes aimed at furthering diversity have the specific goal of advancing and retaining minority groups within an organisation. Often called "reverse mentoring", they pair minority employees with senior leaders unlike themselves to diversify leadership pipelines. Goals can include increasing retention rates or leadership roles among particularly marginalised groups. For example, reverse mentoring that partners younger tech-savvy staff with older employees less familiar with new technologies builds digital skills. It also fosters intergenerational relationships countering ageism.

In contrast, inclusive mentoring supports a culture where all employees feel a sense of belonging and ability to contribute. These programmes promote collaboration and inclusivity among employees regardless of their specific roles or positions within the organisation, facilitating mutual sharing of knowledge and skills for everyone's growth. Another approach is mentoring circles, gathering diverse employees to relate experiences, discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions. This builds connections and cultural competence across differences. Inclusive mentoring and targeted diversity mentoring efforts go hand in hand. Diversity mentoring lifts and empowers marginalised groups, while inclusive mentoring builds understanding and lowers barriers. Both are essential for a respectful, equitable workplace where all talents thrive.

The most effective mentoring programmes align to overarching diversity, equity and inclusion goals, utilising employee resource groups for recruitment and support. When structured intentionally, mentoring can transform workplace culture, advancement and retention for underrepresented groups. 

How to Find a Mentorship Programme for Minority Groups

There are many resources available to help minority groups find mentorship programs. These may include professional organisations, such as the London School of Economics’ BAME Mentoring Scheme which connects Black, Asian and minority ethnic professionals. Many colleges and universities have mentorship programmes that are accessible for current students and alumni in their field of interest. dir="ltr">There are also community organisations, like the IGNITE Network+ programme which supports researchers in the energy sector with peer-learning opportunities for women, those with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals and more. There are, of course, also online resources that support those seeking mentorship for a host of diverse groups.  

Setting Up Workplaces to Thrive

To truly empower minority groups, workplaces need to be intentionally set up for diverse employees to thrive. Casual and creative office cultures can inadvertently alienate those from different backgrounds who don't feel they fit company norms. Implementing formal mentoring programs and processes ensures opportunities are accessible to all.

However, establishing equal access is not enough. Workplaces must also dismantle subtle biases and barriers that persist for marginalised groups. Microaggressions and feeling pressure to code switch all day take a toll. Leadership roles and career advancement still tend to default along racial, gender and other dominant structures.

True change requires the acknowledgment and dismantling of structural inequities, not just checking the box on compliance. Marginalised employees understandably harbour scepticism, having watched diversity initiatives come and go according to passing whims. Even so, they shouldn’t be made to feel the burden falls on them to call out issues or be tokenized as proof of progress. The onus is on organisations to back up statements with tangible investments into sustaining an environment where minority employees are set up to achieve long-term career success.


Dakota Murphey is an established freelance writer, and advocate for human potential in an evolving digital age. She combines expertise in eCommerce, Digital Trends and Branding with a deep understanding of talent dynamics. Her aim is to celebrate the blend of technology within business and the power of people. 

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