Mentoring of newer employees by more experienced colleagues can be one of the most effective routes to career growth and advancement in a company. Access or lack of access to a mentoring relationship can have a significant impact on a person's career. The primary weakness of mentoring in a diverse workplace is that mentors are often more available to some employees than others.
Formal mentoring programs are a more organized version of something that has existed informally for a very long time. When an established colleague takes an interest in the professional development of a less experienced employee, the protege not only gains access to the experience and advice of the mentor but also to the mentor's professional contacts and opportunities. The mentor-protege relationship can provide significant long-term career advantages, which is exactly why it can also help perpetuate the glass ceiling.
People in general are usually more comfortable with people they perceive as being similar to them. When a senior employee at a company decides to mentor a junior, he is more likely to be interested in mentoring someone who reminds him of his younger self than someone with a very different life experience. Without necessarily intending to promote discrimination, he may provide an advantage to one type of person while disadvantaging others. If most of the senior employees at a company are white males, white males are more likely to be offered mentoring opportunities. This makes it more likely that the next generation will also have disproportionate numbers of white males, and the problem will perpetuate itself.
Some companies are aware of the problem of typing or unintentional discriminating, and try to overcome it by promoting diversity in mentoring. Male mentors might be encouraged to mentor female protegees, or white mentors might be encouraged to mentor minorities. However, some employees may be left out of diversity mentoring programs because of legal complications. For instance, the company might not be able to encourage the mentoring of employees with disabilities without violating their confidentiality. Employees with disabilities may fear the potential consequences of making their disability public knowledge in the workplace.
Lack of Acknowledgement
Another factor reducing the effectiveness of mentoring in a diverse workplace is that not all types of diversity are openly acknowledged. Many companies acknowledge the need to promote diversity in mentoring when it comes to gender and race, but not when it concerns other factors such as sexual orientation or socioeconomic background. Any situation where the senior employees at an organization tend to belong to the same type can disadvantage employees of another type, even when that type is not openly acknowledged as a factor in the company's diversity program.
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