Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Supporting black employees with mentorship

Numerous studies show BIPOC employees—employees who aren't white—have far fewer opportunities for career advancement. They have fewer mentors and career sponsors to help them grow. This article will unpack 4 types of mentorship for employees from underrepresented backgrounds.

Saheed Hassan

Published on 

February 18, 2022

Updated on 

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According to the book Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience by Laura Morgan Roberts, a professor at the University of Virginia: ethnicity still matters in the American workforce. Black employees in particular are still held back —it has been a hindrance to people of colour to attain leadership positions.

  • Among the 274 top executives' board members of the biggest 50 companies in S&P 100, only five are black, two of whom are retired. (USA Today
  • In STEM, black professionals are an underrepresented 9% despite making up to 12% of the US workforce (Pew Research)
  • There are only 17 blacks (women and men) amongst the 1,099 most powerful roles in the public and private sectors in Great Britain (The Colour of Power 2020)

Black employees are more likely to leave their jobs than other underrepresented groups. This is often due to a lack of mentors, role models, and support. Black mentorship can help bridge this gap and create a more inclusive workplace culture. 

This blog post will discuss the benefits of mentoring programs for employees of colour and how you can get involved.

Do black employees have equal access to mentorship?

The sad truth is people of colour often face a unique set of pressures within the workplace, including unconscious bias from their peers and supervisors. Employees of colour may seek managerial support through a mentorship program to overcome these challenges.

Numerous studies are showing that black employees, and all employees of colour, don't have the same access to mentorship opportunities as other employees:

  • Only 31% of black employees have access to a senior leader in the workplace compared to white employees (41%).
  • 67% of black professionals have no access to sponsors or allies to help their career growth.
  • Yet 65% of employees of colour are more ambitious and are qualified, or overqualified, like their white colleagues, yet 20% feel they won't attain a top position in their company compared to only 3% of white employees.

Black women are the least represented in Corporate America:

  • 7.4% of the U.S. population are black women, yet only 1.6% are in V.P. positions, and 1.4% hold C-suites roles.
  • 59% of black women claimed they never had access to interact with upper management.
  • Among the 37 women CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies, none are black.

A study shows that women or minorities in the workforce find it much harder to advance professionally than their white male peers, even with the same qualifications. Their white male counterparts have access to mentors who can guide them through challenges.

Because black employees have unequal access to mentorship, they aren't left out from all of this. Consider these LinkedIn surveys:

  • Four out of every ten black employees say they have no clear career path and opportunity to grow in their organization.
  • 44% of black employees say they have been passed and sidelined for career advancement

To promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workforce, employers need to chip away at what researchers call the "concrete wall," or the barriers that hold Black employees, especially Black women, from reaching senior-level positions. A key way to address the "concrete wall" is to build mentorship and sponsorship programs.

Why are workplace mentoring programs important for black and employees of colour?

Workplace mentoring programs are important for the overall experience of black and employees of colour. It encourages workplace diversity, a safe place to learn and grow, a sense of community, and increased productivity through shared knowledge and skills development.

Formal programs make access to mentors equitable

It makes it easier for people from all backgrounds, including those historically marginalized or underrepresented in the workforce, to have equitable mentors.

Equip employees with valuable career guidance and support

Through mentorship, employees have more experienced and knowledgeable career guidance and support. This relationship benefits both the mentor and mentee by allowing each other to learn from experiences, exchange ideas, share problems, help one another grow professionally, develop personal skills, give advice on career opportunities, and so on. Anne Rolfe published a paper on mentoring that can help career development.

  • Employees with mentors are 5x more likely to get promoted and,
  • Mentors are 6x more likely to get promotions compared to those without mentees (Forbes)
  • Mentors (28%) and mentees(25%) are more likely to get a raise in their pay than 5% of those who are not mentors. (Gartner)

Provides support outside of direct managers 

Mentoring programs are a great way for employees to get support, feedback on performance, and encouragement. Often the mentor-mentee dynamic includes an element of disclosing certain private details about oneself from having built trust to create a safe space.

Provides the opportunity for employees of colour to grow their networks 

Mentorships provide an invaluable resource for ensuring that you stay on the cutting edge of your field. Mentors can provide new networking opportunities and help identify potential collaborators within one's area while increasing visibility among others in related fields. And if you think networking isn't important, consider these:

  • 70% of job positions are occupied through networking (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Yale University)
  • 70% of jobs are never posted, and 80% are occupied internally, or recruiter meet their prospective employee through networking (CNBC)
  • 8 out of ten professionals say the network is crucial to their career success, and 7 out of ten employees got hired in a company through their connection in that company (LinkedIn)

Building strong employee connections and trust networks can be difficult--it requires a lot of time. A workplace mentor for people of colour can help by connecting them with their contacts, thus expanding their professional network

It opens the door for mentors to sponsor employees for promotions

This is an excellent way to get people of colour, and the underrepresented, into leadership positions. Mckinsey 2020 report shows that despite women representing 47% entry-level, only 28% are in senior positions compared to 59% of male counterparts.

Of the 28% of women, 23% are white, and only 5% are black. 

The study also shows that improving women's promotions doesn't equate to women of colour: Women of colour representation between entry-level and c-suites positions skydived by over 75%.

A study by Havard Business Review has shown that mentoring is not enough—the studies stated that women get less promotion and advancement in their careers than men because they are under sponsored.

An effective workplace mentorship program encourages mentors to go beyond personal development and push their mentees or protégés for promotions. 

Builds future leaders 

One of the best ways to build future leaders is from within. And the best method for this is through workplace mentorship, where leaders in the organization share their experience and pass on their organizational know-how.

With strategic mentorship for people of colour, they get to draw from the wealth of experience of their mentors. Through workplace mentorship, blacks and the underrepresented get to position themselves for leadership roles in the future.

What kind of mentoring programs should workplaces have for BIPOC employees?

To improve the success of BIPOC employees within a workplace, they must have access to mentors who can guide them on their journey. What kinds of mentorship specifically?

1-on-1 Mentorship

Traditional mentoring in this scenario involves pairing a BIPOC employee with a senior member to provide counselling, advice, and guidance on navigating their career trajectories. It usually lasts between 9-12 months and often results in a strong bond and connection between mentor and mentee. Organizations should improve BIPOC skills retention and build future leaders in them.

Reverse mentorship

Skill gaps are a big deal across various organizational levels. In reverse mentorship, a BIPOC employee could mentor other senior colleagues in the organization. Reverse mentoring has been effective:

  • To help BIPOC build more confidence in themselves and their work. 
  • To improve the connection between employees by bringing two people with different backgrounds and experiences together.
  • To promote diversity and inclusion in an organization—in this case, BIPOC employees get more visibility.

Essentially, this mentorship includes pairing junior BIPOC employees to teach and share specific knowledge with senior employees.


There is an urgent need for sponsorship because of the disparity between BIPOC employees and others. In contrast, sponsorship goes further than what a mentor offers---sharing and guiding their mentees. They will guide, advise, and push BIPOC–they will take action and open up career paths for BIPOC.

The sponsor picks up the job where the mentor stops. When a mentor has provided the necessary guidance and knowledge, the sponsor will recommend your name for promotion or career advancement.

Employee Resource Group mentoring

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are groups of people with similarities who work for the same company. For example, these groups are joined by people of similar genders or ethnicities. They get together to talk about their common interests and support each other. Many companies have ERGs for LGBTQ employees or women. ERGs can help organizations build an inclusive and diverse culture. It's one of the best ways to create a welcoming community for BIPOC. 

EGRs will be invaluable to BIPOC and organization goals and objectives—as these groups provide members with resources, support, and career empowerment opportunities that will translate to more productivity, reduce turnover, and increase retention.

Launch a diversity and inclusion mentorship program

Launching a diverse and inclusive mentorship program will help close the gap that has stagnated the black employee in terms of wealth, position, and career advancement and put cooperation in an advantageous position. Boston Consulting Group found that cooperation with a more diverse team in leadership positions stands a better chance on finance and innovation.

Corporations need to start diverse and inclusive teams. It's time to move beyond the hashtags and promises from big corporations. Even though companies say they want to overcome these biases and hire more diverse candidates, they usually don't do it the good way. 

We’ve published a comprehensive guide at Together Platform on how to build diverse mentoring programs. It will surely, help you launch a strategic DEI program.

Author bio: Saheed Hassan is a freelance SEO copywriter & content strategist. His focus is on B2B SaaS, Human Resources and the future of work.

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