Diversity and Inclusion

How to start a mentorship program for employees of color

Mentoring programs designed to promote the advancement of employees from diverse backgrounds are proven to work. But there are nuances to successful mentoring programs. We share the 7 steps to launching a mentorship program for employees of color.

Saheed Hassen

Published on 

January 30, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

mins read time

Mentoring should be for everyone regardless of their color, but due to disparity in the workplace, people of color are often neglected. 

Research shows that 1 in 4 employees of color are discriminated against by their colleagues in the workplace, and 3 in 4 are based on the color of their skin. 

A study by COQUAL titled "Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration" found that employees of color are treated differently in terms of exposure to opportunities in comparison to their white counterparts in most companies.

Mentoring programs designed for employees of color can help bridge these gaps — but most organizations find it difficult to get effective results. 

This is due to issues such as a lack of diversity among mentors, implicit bias among mentors, limited resources, resistance to change, and lack of understanding about the importance of mentoring for underrepresented employees.

To address these challenges, we've put together a comprehensive guide to help organizations set up effective mentoring programs that promote advancement for employees of color. 

Although the focus is on employees of color, the best practices outlined in this article are applicable to all diversity-focused mentoring programs.

Why is it important to have mentoring programs specifically for employees of color?

Employees of color get treated differently unconsciously and consciously by their colleagues, which has led to them working extra hard to meet the company's standards.

Mckinsey's Race in the workplace: The Black experience in the US private sector 2021 report showed that employees of color are underrepresented in the top industries but overrepresented in smaller or medium sectors.

Professional exposure and networking

People of color rarely enjoy the privilege of having the same professional exposure as their fellow white colleagues. With mentorship programs, they will enjoy these privileges of professional exposure and networking. 

This creates an inclusive and equitable work environment which also promotes diversity in the company.

Career advancement and opportunities

Mentoring programs for BIPOC employees promote career development and advancement in an organization. 

In 2021, Bloomberg launched their Bloomberg Black in Tech Mentoring Program (BBIT), a mentorship program for black professionals in tech, and at the end of the program, some participants, such as Meshach, shared how the program helped him better solidify what he wanted to do with his career. 

The McKinsey report above also shows that employment opportunities vary greatly for white individuals and employees of color with similar backgrounds. 

However, with a well-designed mentoring program, this gap can be narrowed, and it gives people of color equal opportunities to advance and be valued within the organization.

Creates a sense of community among participants

Mentoring helps employees create a sense of community. In 2020, a leadership and mentorship program was designed for black youths at the University of Alberta for 13 weeks. 

At the end of the program, the professors who were employees of color at the institution formed close relationships and develop strong bonds with their mentees. 

Close the representation gap that exists in top industries

Mentoring helps bridge the representation gap that exists in top industries. It increases representation at the top management level by providing employees of color with access to senior leaders and mentors who understand their unique experiences and challenges.

Break systemic bias and inequities 

Employees of color face biases from almost every angle in the workplace.

Mentoring people of color will help them break free from systemic bias by providing employees of color with support, resources and opportunities they need to excel.

Improved organizational culture

Mentorship will help improve the workplace culture and also the working experience of employees of color.

Providing employees of color with skilled mentors who understand their unique experiences and challenges helps enhance their engagement and satisfaction. It develops employees of color professionally and with relevant skills needed for advancement.

Do employees of color want mentors from the same background?

Our research shows a significant percentage of employees of color would prefer to have mentors who come from the same background or diverse group. Specifically, 41% of employees from diverse groups feel more comfortable having mentors from their group, while 28% feel that it is not important.

This shows how important it is for employees of color that their mentors come from the same background or diversity group.

Some survey respondents shared they felt more comfortable asking certain questions or discussing specific topics with a mentor from the same group. In contrast, others preferred anonymity, "There are some questions I would only be comfortable asking another woman," says one of the respondents. 

Another one said, "I would be comfortable if I knew it was completely anonymous." 

Although not all employees of color see having a mentor from the same background as non-negotiable, your pool of mentors should be as diverse as the mentees.

How to start a mentorship program for employees of color

Starting a mentorship program for employees of color can be daunting because of the reasons we cited in the introduction (lack of diversity among mentors, implicit bias, limited resources, resistance to change)  — but the steps are clear. We outline each step below:

1. Decide on the structure of your program

When planning the structure of a mentorship program, it's essential to consider the desired outcome. The program's structure should align with the specific goals and objectives you wish to achieve.

Each mentorship program is unique — the differences lie in the objectives, goals, and structure chosen. 

While traditional mentoring is a common approach, group mentoring can also be effective, particularly for employees of color, as it allows them to connect with peers who share similar experiences and challenges. It's essential to evaluate the goals and objectives of your mentorship program and choose the structure that aligns best with them.

We've put together a separate article to help you decide between a group or 1-on-1 program.

2. Determine who will be mentors in your program

Attracting the right mentors to your program is key. You need to check their availability, skill sets, career exposure, and experience. 

To find the right mentors for your program, develop a targeted recruitment strategy to attract the best candidates. This may involve advertising the opportunity internally, reaching out to industry leaders, or networking with individuals with the right qualifications and experience. 

You need to be intentional and strategic in recruitment to attract the best mentors to your program. 

3. Train mentors and set clear expectations

It's not only the mentees that need training. Mentors also need training to be prepared ahead for the program. As a mentoring program manager, you must understand that mentoring isn't just about passing knowledge and experiences — it's also about fostering growth and development.

Not every experienced employee becomes a great mentor. Some people find it difficult to teach others, but they can improve with training. 

Provide mentors with the resources needed to assess mentees, such as guidelines for effective communication and feedback, tips on how to form meaningful relationships, and potential activities or projects they can do together.

Mentors are to be coached on the roles they are expected to play. During the mentors' training, you should set clear-cut expectations of their roles in the program.

4. Open and promote registration

After the mentors have undergone training, it's time to open registration. Get your employees interested in participating by emphasizing the benefits of the program. They need to know what to expect from their mentors and how the program will be run.

The requirements to become a participant must also be clearly stated in the registration form. For example, the participant must be an employee of color in a diversity-focused program.  

One way to promote mentoring registration is to include certification and incentives for everyone participating in the program. 

5. Match mentors and mentees

Matching mentors with mentees is not easy and can be tricky, especially when done manually. Although poor matching can be fixed during the program, it is best to get the right matching from the beginning. 

The matching process can either be done via self-pairing, where the mentees pick their mentors, or administrator pairing, where the program manager does the pairing. 

However, we recommend that for a diversity-focused mentoring program, mentees should have the ability to request their mentors rather than being assigned one.

6. Support meaningful mentoring relationships 

One way to support meaningful mentoring relationships is by encouraging diversity-focused activities

Creating meaningful support could include but not be limited to:

  • Creating a series of activities that the mentor and mentee can do, like attending industry events together, assigning a project, or more informal activities such as having lunch together to discuss work-related issues.
  • Encourage an open dialogue between mentor and mentee by creating a safe space and trusting environment where mentors and mentees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide feedback loops to mentor and mentee through regular check-ins, surveys and evaluations.
  • Provide resource materials for mentor and mentee such as online resources and materials, books, articles and career development guides, etc.
  • Ensure confidentiality of all conversations

7. Monitor your program's impact

Evaluating your program's impact is a continuous process. It should be done at every stage of the program. On the surface, you want to monitor:

  • Mentoring activities such as mentoring what's frequently discussed in the program.
  • Mentoring relationships 
  • Participant satisfaction
  • Program Impact

A report form should be submitted at the end of every mentorship session to track the program process effectively. 

The Together platform has been pre-designed to help keep track of the impact and success of any mentorship program.

Build your mentorship program with Together

Starting a mentorship program for your employees of color is a win-win for your organization and employees. We at Together are ready to help you get started with a mentoring program for your employees of color. 

We can help your organization handle any of the mentoring programs from start to finish. Our software is customized to suit your company's needs and is fully supported by effective program managers.

About the Author

close button