When bringing together a diverse and inclusive workforce, a great way to encourage professional development is through shared experience programs such as mentorships. Mentors can help bring inclusivity to the forefront of the workplace by providing a support system to mentees who might feel alienated from the rest of their team, or need help with a specific area of professional development they are struggling with. They help integrate individuals into a team or organization and make sure those individuals remain a cooperative and successful member of that team.
Often times during an economic rough patch, the professional development of employees can be overlooked by managers consumed with keeping a business running at full steam. As a result, employees can often feel as though they are not valued or supported. In these times, it is crucial to engage in productive knowledge sharing to fuel engagement and support professional development. That’s why we put an emphasis on mentoring as a critical component of workplace culture. As we discuss in our recent book, Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition: “Mentoring can provide powerful advancement of an individual’s personal and professional development. When it is done well and a true partnership is created between two individuals, an employee feels more connected and integrated into the organization.”
Mentoring programs can be effective between both individuals inside the organization and from the outside. For example, there are many cases of successful mentorships within the Chicago Innovation Women Mentoring Co-op, a program that connects successful Chicago innovators with women who want to grow their businesses and careers in the Chicago region through the support of a mentor. The program not only provides experiential learning for aspiring women, but it also bridges the gap between inclusivity and mentorship. “In order for Chicago to really thrive as a hub of creative activity, ideas and innovation, we know it needs to be very inclusive. It needs to be very collaborative,” said Luke Tanen, Executive Director of Chicago Innovation. “We wanted to do everything within our community to move the needle, and to engage and support more young women in Chicago who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.”
In its simplest form, inclusion involves placing a high regard on differences within a workforce and strategically leveraging those differences to conduct business more effectively and optimize results through collaboration. “I believe that the Midwest mentality here in Chicago of helping others has really come through around collaboration and the ecosystem as a whole,” said Kristi Ross, one of the Women Mentoring Co-op mentors and the Co-CEO of Tastytrade, Inc. “And you see that. It’s incredibly inclusive.” Differing points of view in a mentoring relationship can reveal new solutions as people seek to discover each others’ strengths and challenges. Over time, their differences will become the basis for a culture of diverse voices throughout the organization.
In a highly competitive job market where the battle for talent is prevalent, it is critical that organizations embrace the gift of mentoring. Mentors may uncover unexploited ideas and resources, strengthening the organization in a number of ways by bringing out a sense of passion and empowerment in their mentees.
When employees feel empowered to contribute to the organization, they are inspired to succeed based on their ability. It is the responsibility of both the mentor and mentee to build a strong relationship with end goals in mind; to teach one another and learn from one another. In the process, they will create a culture of inclusivity, empowerment, and diversity.