September 19, 2011

There are two types of mentoring relationships: formal and informal. Informal relationships spring up independent of the organization. Formal mentoring programs are assigned by the company and may factor in the person’s experience, job duties, potential career path, race/gender/ethnicity/orientation/disability or personality. Their goal is to promote employee engagement and talent development.

Several studies show that women, Blacks and Latinos in particular leave corporate America because they feel they won’t get promoted and that opportunities are limited. These studies find that formal mentoring programs are one of the most critical ways of retaining these employees and helping them develop in leadership roles.

A few examples: Latinas and Black and Asian women cite a lack of mentoring as the greatest barrier to corporate success. Catalyst’s “Women of Color in Corporate Management” survey found that 48 percent of them cited “not having an influential mentor or sponsor” as their greatest impediment, while 33 percent cited “lack of role models in my racial/ethnic group.”

A University of Pennsylvania study of more than 1,000 randomly selected employees at a large tech company over five years found that those enrolled in mentoring programs (as both mentors and mentees) were promoted at six times the rate of those who were not enrolled. And those in the mentoring program had retention rates of 72 percent on average, compared with 49 percent for those not in the program.

A National Black MBA Association survey of 2,875 Black managers found that they valued mentoring at almost double the rate of effective performance feedback.

Best Practices

Cross-cultural formal mentoring programs are increasingly used by companies in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity®. Five years ago, only 18 percent of managers at DiversityInc Top 50 companies were in formal mentoring programs. Today, that has increased to 39 percent.

Consider these statistics from the DiversityInc Top 50 on mentoring:

  • Ninety percent have measurable goals vs. 74 percent five years ago. Those goals usually include higher promotion and retention of mentored employees
  • Ninety-two percent have training for mentors vs. 80 percent five years ago
  • Ninety-four percent have formal follow-up to their mentoring programs vs. 80 percent five years ago
  • Ninety-eight percent use their employee-resource groups (also known as affinity groups and employee networks) to set up both informal and formal mentoring networks, including mentoring events. Five years ago, 84 percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 did this
  • Most offer a variety of mentoring programs to suit different needs. IBM, for example, has three formal major mentoring categories. Expert Mentoring helps employees acquire specific technical, business, functional and leadership skills. Career Mentoring addresses long-term career development and succession planning. Socialization Mentoring helps new hires adjust
  • Most DiversityInc Top 50 companies publicize the benefits of mentoring programs both internally and externally, often with real-life success stories

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