Men­tor­ing and Spon­sor­ship

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For­mal men­tor­ing ini­tia­tives, in which the com­pany pairs a se­nior per­son with a ju­nior per­son, have ex­isted for decades. The ben­e­fits of men­tor­ing have been well-doc­u­mented and in­clude, ac­cord­ing to the Jour­nal of Vo­ca­tional Be­hav­ior, re­duced turnover and in­creased job sat­is­fac­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity for or­ga­ni­za­tions. They also build so­cial cap­i­tal, which has been a proven as­set and nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ent for white-male ca­reer as­cent. For mentees, men­tors can increase self-con­fi­dence and as­sist them in de­vel­op­ing the spe­cific skills they need to move up. The Best Com­pa­nies re­port 31 per­cent of all women now par­tic­i­pate in for­mal men­tor­ing, but there are dis­crep­an­cies by ma­jor racial/eth­nic groups. While 39 per­cent of Asian-Amer­i­can women and 37 per­cent of white women par­tic­i­pate, only 21 per­cent of African-Amer­i­can women and 17 per­cent of His­panic women par­tic­i­pate.

Spon­sor­ship is a newer con­cept, in which se­nior ex­ec­u­tives use their own po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal within the com­pany to ad­vo­cate for the ad­vance­ment of a ju­nior per­son. Some com­pa­nies are now ask­ing se­nior peo­ple to for­mally spon­sor a ju­nior per­son and are re­quir­ing that they pick one who is a woman or a per­son of color to en­sure more di­ver­sity. But most spon­sor­ship is still in­for­mal, and par­tic­i­pa­tion of mul­ti­cul­tural women lags, ac­cord­ing to the Best Com­pa­nies sur­vey. While 9 per­cent of white women par­tic­i­pated in spon­sor­ship ini­tia­tives, 6 per­cent of African-Amer­i­can women, 5 per­cent of Asian-Amer­i­can women and 4 per­cent of His­panic women were pro­tégés (the cor­po­rate term for peo­ple who are spon­sored).

Dab­bah and Robin­son say His­panic and African-Amer­i­can women might de­cide not to join men­tor­ing or spon­sor­ship pro­grams be­cause they aren’t see­ing the value of the re­la­tion­ships. Or they might not feel com­fort­able or fully able to let down their guard. “Feel­ing dif­fer­ent or iso­lated can make an in­di­vid­ual afraid to stand out from the crowd or be no­ticed, Robin­son says, “which can cause African-Amer­i­can women to hide their light.”

Dab­bah rec­om­mends com­pa­nies help mul­ti­cul­tural women find a “culture men­tor,” some­one who can in­for­mally dis­cuss how to nav­i­gate the or­ga­ni­za­tion (when to ap­proach the boss, when to talk at a meet­ing, what to wear to cer­tain func­tions). This per­son some­times can be found through an em­ployee-re­source group, a com­pany-spon­sored or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cus­ing on a spe­cific group, such as women or African-Amer­i­cans. All the

Best Com­pa­nies for Mul­ti­cul­tural Women have em­ployee-re­source groups.

Robin­son sug­gests en­cour­ag­ing women to use their men­tors as sound­ing boards to find ways to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves.

Fo­cus­ing on de­vis­ing in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to business prob­lems and look­ing at what in a per­son’s back­ground and ed­u­ca­tion makes them unique can lead to ad­vance­ment. “It doesn’t mat­ter how ju­nior their role is; they have to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves so they can get no­ticed,” she says.

Aku­ta­gawa notes that for Asian-Amer­i­can women, even though their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is higher, they might not com­pete for a pro­mo­tion their men­tor or spon­sor ad­vo­cates. Cul­tur­ally, she says, many Asians are taught that they must

“be ac­com­plished be­fore you raise your hand to say, ‘I am ready for the next-level job.’” While this might be chang­ing for younger women, she still sees many Asian-Amer­i­can women cit­ing hav­ing to ad­here to “im­pos­si­ble stan­dards”: Be nice, be re­spect­ful and wait your turn, and you will be rec­og­nized when some­one thinks you’re ready. She says it plays into a lack of con­fi­dence on whether to vol­un­teer for the next job or ig­nore a state­ment when a men­tor says you are ready.

The fi­nal take-away: While progress in get­ting more women of color to cor­po­rate lead­er­ship po­si­tions is slow, com­pa­nies on this list are mak­ing strides in reach­ing and pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tural women by us­ing ini­tia­tives that build on un­der­stand­ing dif­fer­ences and de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships.

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