How to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion through mentorship

Diversity-focused mentorship programs support and empower minority employees in their careers, develop their skills and network to increase leadership succession, while fostering a strong company culture. In this webinar, we will cover how you can improve DEI in your organization through mentorship.
Leslie Alexander
Founder & CEO
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Amanda: Hello, everyone. I'm Amanda from If you were joining us for the first time today, we welcome you to Inspire 2021 and welcome back for those that have rejoined us. Have a look around and tune into the valuable learning sessions and networking times. Check out the event navigation guide to get the most out of the event.

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This session is How to Increase Diversity, Equity and Inclusion through Mentorship, presented by Matthew Reeves.

Matthew helps companies use Together's mentoring software to drive better business results, such as improved employee retention. It is now my pleasure to turn it over to Matthew.

Matthew Reeves: Thanks, Amanda. I really appreciate it. Let’s just go ahead and share my screen here.

Thanks again, everyone, for joining. Really excited to be here and presenting on the topic of DEI through mentorship. 

Before we dive in, just very briefly on my background, as Amanda mentioned I'm the CEO and co-founder of Together software. Together software helps companies manage best practice mentoring programs for their employees.

Prior to founding Together, I worked at the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm. And like most consulting firms, people really are their product and so there's a huge emphasis on people development and mentorship in particular, so got great exposure to what world-class mentoring looked like.

At the same time being exposed to a number of our clients, we realized that many employees didn't have the same levels of opportunity that I did at BCG and felt like software could help bridge the gap. 

So that's what I went out to do with another colleague from BCG. Left to found together and today we're supporting numerous companies worldwide, including those 7-Eleven, Kellogg's, the United Nations and so forth, with improving mentorship opportunities for their employees.

Before we dive too deeply into mentorship in particular, I want to set the stage on DEI more generally. I won't spend too much time here, as I'm sure if you're in this room you're likely bought into the value that DEI brings your organization and are looking at ways and opportunities to support that more specifically. So we'll get to that quickly. 

But for those that aren't bought in, we want to just set the foundation here. So lots of what we're seeing in the marketplace and what research is definitely showing us is that DEI is becoming prioritized, particularly in North America. Even with some of our clients outside this geography, that's true to an extent as well.

A lot of this is being driven by external factors. Consumers are certainly demanding this from the companies that they buy from and are voting with their wallets. Investors as well are demanding this and shifting money into investments where businesses are meeting certain sets of criteria of meeting social responsibility, DEI being one of those.

So management teams are starting to be held accountable for these initiatives. Because of this, they're starting to take actions rather than just necessarily say nice things. So boards are holding management teams accountable by setting targets for them, tying their performance bonuses to these targets. 

So not surprisingly, what gets measured gets done. So businesses are starting to allocate larger portions of their budget to these initiatives. I have certainly seen this ourselves with some of our clients where our software was brought in specifically from a budget that was directly from the CEO's discretionary budget for improving DEI.

And because of this improved budget, of course this is improving the access and involvement of organizations. No longer just necessarily a small part of the organization or constrained to an employee resource group. A lot of the initiatives that we're seeing, while they may be sponsored by a DEI team or sponsored by an employee resource group, are being made available to the entire organization and so there's huge levels of involvement in these initiatives.

Of course when you bring something to that scale and it's across an organization, you need technology to help support that. So tons of new software companies and technology are out there to help support these sorts of initiatives. We're just one of those. There's plenty of others as well.

In addition to why DEI is becoming more prioritized, there's certainly a ton of reasons why it's important for a business and why it matters above and beyond just because consumers are demanding it and because it's the right thing to do. Certainly, a ton of research has gone into showing that this can actually be very beneficial to your organization along a number of different dimensions, including employer retention, productivity, recruitment, employee engagement and so forth and so forth. 

And the list goes on. Here's even more.

But in the interest of time, I do want to switch over to talking about specifically how mentorship can help. Certainly, mentorship isn't going to be the silver bullet that solves all of your DEI issues. There's probably tons of barriers and issues that we're not going to be able to solve on this webinar today, but there are a few ways that mentorship can help with your diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives.

Three of those include lack of employee involvement, lack of understanding awareness and lack of support and role models where mentoring can help with all of these.

One of the great things about mentorship is that it's an extremely cost-effective way to involve a very large portion of your organization. With mentorship, you have your junior employees involved as mentees, your mid-level employees involved as mentors and mentees, and your senior employees involved as mentors. So it really spans from the top of the organization right down to the bottom.

As well as, typically, mentorship programs are ongoing programs. So you get involvement potentially in perpetuity rather than just a one-off training where perhaps it’s once or twice a year.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, what we're seeing here with a lot of our clients is that they're offering these mentorship programs. While they may be sponsored by a DEI division or an employee resource group, they're actually being made available to the entire organization and they're being used as opportunities to build awareness and involve other parts of the organization, even those employees that are not specifically from diverse backgrounds. 

Then of course I think finally this one is perhaps the most straightforward. Almost by definition, mentorship is there to help provide role models and support to those who need it. And you can do that by running a mentorship program for your employees.

I want to pause just briefly to take a quick poll of the audience. Understand in your organizations, do you have a mentorship program? If you do, is it run manually or is it run using software?

And Amanda, when we get enough response, feel free to share results. We'll be curious to see what those look like.

So not surprising, I've run this poll a few times. It looks like most of you are saying that you don't have a mentorship program. Certainly, we hear a lot that’s great. There's tons of opportunity for organizations out there to improve using mentorship.

So actually somewhat interesting is that if you do a bit more of a forensic analysis of organizations, generally you do find that most organizations over a certain size do have mentorship programs of some sort somewhere in the organization. But the fact that it seems like the majority of people don't know they exist is a problem in and of itself.

Thank you for answering that poll. I want to talk now, we sort of understand a little bit about how mentorship programs can help an organization more generally, but want to talk a little bit about the individuals and how mentorship can benefit both the mentee and then the mentor.

First on the mentee side, I think this one's a bit more straightforward. But when I think back to when I was at BCG and the value of having a mentor, it was really the benefit of having a third party, unbiased, independent advisor. Yes, there was some element of knowledge transfer, although in these days I think that’s served the least benefit. Google and LMS they're just pretty easy to get knowledge more generally.

But what was extremely valuable about having a mentor is that they can provide feedback in a way that's very different than your immediate working group. Unfortunately, to an extent, your managers, subordinates and peers are going to have some bias in any feedback that they give you, because any feedback they give you will likely directly impact their work.

So take delegation, for example. Feedback that is pretty common for junior or mid-level employees that they should learn to delegate more and better. This, to an extent, a good manager would hopefully tell you this, but some managers may be hesitant to share this feedback if they're worried that if you delegate more work to someone who's less competent than you is going to create more work for them. Or certainly your peers or subordinates are less likely to tell you to give them more work.

That's not the case when you have someone who's removed from your immediate peer group and working group, which ideally is where a mentor is coming from outside that so they can be unbiased. And when you come to them with a problem, they can problem solve that with you. 

And then if there are these particular solutions, like delegation, there's no conflict of interest with a mentor giving you that advice. They're solely there to provide what's potentially best for you and potentially best for the company.

In addition to that, because they're removed from your immediate world, they're able to give a larger span and perspective of different opportunities that may be available to you in your organization outside of your particular role.

On the flip side, I think people rarely question what benefit there is for a mentee. We get a ton of feedback and concern, though, about what is in it for a mentor. Why would anyone be involved as a mentor? This is rarely as big of a concern as I think organizations make it out to be before launching a program. 

Yes, you are going to have your mentors and you are mentees. This is just a fact that most organizations are pyramids, and so you tend to have your senior people then do junior people. So the set of eligible people to be mentors is naturally going to be less. 

But when you look at the participation rate adjusting for the eligible population, they're quite similar between mentees and mentors. And that's because people want to be mentors for a variety of reasons. 

One, perhaps when they were in the shoes of some of the more junior people, they were either a mentored themselves or they wished they had a mentor and so now they want to give back. But beyond just wanting to be good and help your organization, there are a couple of other great reasons why people want to be mentors.

Most organizations expect their senior leaders to be people developers, culture carriers and so forth. Mentorship is a great way to both demonstrate this and also practice this skill. 

So I want to turn now to looking at a few specific examples of clients we've worked with in the past. We'll take a look at one program focused specifically on women in leadership. Another program focused on DEI education, and the last focused on supporting high potential talent.

The first example here is with one of our clients, Avison Young, a global real estate company. In their particular program this is sponsored by their women's employee resource group. So the way that they have their particular program set up is that mentees were restricted to the employees that were the women that were part of this employee resource group. And then mentors were recruited from senior leadership across the organization, both men and women.

It had great participation from both groups. Again, there was very little issue recruiting mentors to support this program and the feedback has been phenomenal from both mentors and mentees.

Very similar setup here is King. King is the developer of Candy Crush, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard. The same setup in that this program was sponsored by one of their employee resource groups. The program as mentees was restricted to women and non-binary, and then the mentors were recruited from across the organization of people above a certain level.

This one was a little bit different though in that they combined this with a number of different initiatives to help with awareness across the organization. This actually launched pre-COVID and they did some in-person events that anyone from the company is welcome to attend and had some educational sessions there as well.

The final one, similar, but in their case they actually had the luxury of actually being able to pair more of their mentees with people from the same background that they identified with, which is great when you have the ability to do that. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations are in the place where they have a large enough pool of mentors where they can match the diversity background of both the mentee and mentor. 

If you do have that luxury then that's great and certainly something you should strive for. In the case of New York Life, they were able to make sure that over 50 % of their pairs they were able to match the mentee with a mentor from the background that they had identified with and which they could get the mentor from. Which is certainly ideal if you can do this because they're able to more honestly speak about the issues that they'll be facing and have some experience to reflect on what they're providing that advice.

So in all of these cases, all of these customers had run mentorship programs prior to involving us. The difference was that, in most of these programs, they were much smaller in scale and limited to just a small subset of the organization.

By using software, they were able to scale this to a much broader part of their organization and impact a lot more people.

What's interesting about mentorship in particular, like any initiative, you can expect that as you increase the size of the program participants, the amount of work required is going to increase. But what's unique about mentorship is that if you take pairing, for example, if you have a program size of just ten participants, there are roughly just under one hundred pairing combinations.

However, if you scale that from ten participants to a hundred participants, how many possible pairing combinations would you think there are? So if you just thought about it quickly, say we've increased the program size by ten, there's probably going to be roughly ten times in that pairing combination. So you've gone from a hundred pairing combinations to a thousand pairing combinations, which already is a lot of increased work.

Unfortunately, it's even more work than that. If you go from ten program participants to a hundred participants, there are now almost 10,000 pairing combinations. And so you've actually increased the complexity of this program a hundred fold versus the program size just increased ten times. 

Unfortunately, mentorship programs without software are not highly scalable. So if you have an organization of any size, software is typically going to be something you'll want to look into.

We typically put that range if you're going to have a participant pool of 50 to 100 program participants, you'll want to start considering software. I have seen some superheroes do it into a few hundred program participants, but usually they're the happiest to start using software because they realize how much pain that can be.

In addition to the scalability that software brings, an additional benefit that software can have is the ability to measure results. What's really interesting when we talk to people that have run mentorship programs in the past without using software, we'll ask them how many program participants do you have and they'll say something along the lines of, “Well, we had 96 people register but we actually have no idea how many people are actually meeting or if they're still engaged and whatnot.”

So as we discussed a little bit earlier, those things that get measured get done, and if you're not measuring if people are meeting or what impact the program is having then there's a good chance that people aren't meeting and it's not having much of an impact.

With software, it's much easier to integrate with some of your existing tools, like calendars and so forth, so you can very easily understand both. First order insights, are people meeting? How frequently are they meeting? What are they getting at these sessions? What goals and skills are they discussing? And so forth.

But then also drive to some second order insights as well. What sort of impact is the mentorship program having on employee retention or employee promotion rates? Particularly from a DEI lens, you may want to look at a particular population of your organization. So you can look at a particular group of people and have you improved their promotion rate or retention rate and so forth.

Beyond just measuring results, in a lot of cases, program administrators haven't run a mentorship program in the past. And if they have, it's usually just the one program that they're running or have run in the past, so they don’t necessarily know what best practice looks like.

Working with a company like ours, we run mentorship programs all day, every day, and so we've seen it all before and can very easily advise on questions, like what questions do you ask in your registration questionnaire? What criteria should you use for the pairing process? How long should your program be? How frequently should people meet? Et cetera, et cetera. All the things you've seen before and can advise on.

In addition, similar to how program administrators haven't necessarily run a program in the past, a lot of employees haven't been mentors or mentees themselves either. And so they don't necessarily know how to engage or be a great mentor or be a great mentee. 

Using software can help put some guardrails around that ensuring that they're meeting at the right frequency, ensuring that they have talking points to discuss in each of their sessions, ensuring that they're building a development plan, that they're recording action items and so forth.

And then of course it can help save time as well for both administrators as well as for the mentors and mentees. 

I want to now look at a specific way of justifying really any actual investment in an HR software and HR initiative. There's certainly a few different ways when you have to build a business case for any of these initiatives that you can do it. Employee retention, which we'll talk about, skill progression, promotion rates and so forth.

But employee retention is actually one of the easier ways to put numbers behind any of your initiatives. We'll put this in the lens of an employee mentorship program but it can really be used for any sort of initiative you're trying to build a business case for.

One thing to know is that this can vary a lot from organization to organization, depending on the specifics of your company. So this is just one example.

We have a calculator online, if you want to use that. And there's other on other sites, I’m sure, where you can plug in the specifics of your own company to understand the impact that employee turnover is having and what any initiative to reduce that is saving your company.

With this particular example here, we're looking at a table where assuming there's a 15% annual turnover rate within your organization. This varies a lot from company to company. 

But the other factors that are very important here is the average annual salary of your employees. What's interesting is that the turnover cost is very highly correlated to the average annual salary of your employees. This involves both direct costs, things like the cost of your recruiter, your recruiting team, training that new employee, doing background checks, et cetera, et cetera. As well as indirect costs, things like the lost productivity of losing someone who's fully trained on ramp to someone who has to get trained.

So if we look here and take the midpoint, for example, at a company that has about 5,000 employees and they have an average annual salary of $110,000, the cost to this company in turnover would be roughly $41 million a year if they had a 15% annual turnover rate. So that's a fair amount of money and so any initiative that you can do to decrease that is going to have a strong financial return for the organization. 

So if an initiative, for example, had a 20% reduction employee turnover, looking at that same example, this would save the company about $8 million a year.

The good news is most of the initiatives, like mentorship software or other DEI initiatives likely won’t cost you a million dollars per year and so there's a huge, huge ROI. Even if any of your assumptions are off by an order of magnitude, there's still a strong, strong business case here from that initiative.

So looking a little bit at mentorship again and how you can think about structuring your program, there's really six different components that you need to think about. The first is about marketing the program and how you're going to generate interest. 

The next is about registration. Who's going to be eligible for the program? What information are you going to collect from those users so that you can appropriately pair them together and guide the relationship?

The next I think is the one people are most excited and most interested about, which is of course pairing. It likely is the most important part of the process. If you get this right it solves for a lot of the other issues. 

However, I think in a lot of cases, people put too much emphasis on this at the expense of what comes after the pairing process. So it’s still important to think about the development plans once people are paired, ensuring that they know what to be talking about in their sessions, that they're building development plans with the mentor-mentee, that they're following up on those.

And you have to think about the logistics of how frequently people are meeting and how you're going to measure that. And then finally how that all funnels into your reporting and ensuring that this program has set KPIs that you can measure against and then report on the success of the program.

Digging a little bit into registration in particular, a few things that you'll want to think about especially in the lens of diversity and inclusion. So typically, when you think about a registration questionnaire for your mentorship program, you're going to want to understand what goals and skills users are both hoping to improve or achieve as well as those that they have achieved or skills that they have.

When you do this in the lens of DEI, you'll also want to include goals that are specific to the background of that group of people that can help be used in the pairing process and when you go to pair them together. 

The other one's a bit more obvious, is around ensuring that you are collecting information about which diversity group they identify with so that you can use that in the pairing process. As we mentioned earlier, it's ideal if you have the pool, the population of mentors to be able to pair on this dimension. It’s certainly extremely helpful. It improves the success rate of the mentees.

If you don't have that population, unfortunately there's not much you can do about them. To some extent the whole point of this initiative is to improve that representation at higher levels that, in the future, you do have mentors that come from the same background.

Then of course also one thing about logistics, things like what time zones people are in, when they're able to meet, languages. Potentially, you're across multiple languages. And when you go to the pairing process, just ensuring that these diversity metrics are more heavily weighted in in your pairing process.

A couple of examples of what those questions can look like here. We'll be sharing the deck afterwards so you'll have those for your use.

Final poll question here. I’m curious to understand when you're looking at procuring software in your organization, be it mentorship software or anything related to DEI or HR, what is the most important purchasing criteria for you. 

And I'll pass it over to Amanda to bring that question up.

There we go. So we’ll give everyone 30 seconds to fill out that question. And then Amanda, once we have enough results, feel free to share the results again.

So you should be able to see the results now. It looks like two clear winners here: great employee experience and then customizability, followed quite far behind by some of the other ones.

So I won't go through this slide here. There's a bit of a tear-away sheet for you. We'll be sharing the materials with you afterwards as well as this recording and some tips for starting your DEI mentorship program.

So that's all the content I wanted to go through. We can take some time now to address any questions, if there are any.

So we have a few questions coming in. First question here on how to ensure that we have enough mentors for mentees. 

Great question. As I mentioned earlier, this is typically a very common concern. That you won't have enough mentors rarely turns out to be an issue in practice. As I mentioned as well, you will have to ensure that your mentors take on typically at least two mentees just given the fact that most organizations are a pyramid. So it's important to communicate that in advance.

The other thing that's important to take into consideration when you're doing this is not just to look at the high level number of mentors to mentees. It's actually a bit more complex than that, because if you dig into the specifics of your mentees and look at the needs of those individuals, not all mentors are created equal. And so there's going to be only specific mentors that will be a good fit for a particular mentee.

So in general, you actually need some additional buffer in the number of mentors that you recruit. That being said, as I said, I wouldn't be too concerned about this. What we've found is if you market your program sufficiently, you won't have any issues recruiting enough mentors. 

So second question here, what are the best metrics to use to measure the impact of mentorship? That's a great question.

So a few things. First, you'll want to certainly set these out ahead of time so that you know what to measure and that you can set up the infrastructure in advance to measure these. Depending on if you're doing this manually or if you're using software, it sort of changes things. If you're doing it manually, you'll probably want fewer KPIs just because it will be much harder for you to track all of those.

If you use software, you sort of have the luxury to track a lot more. But some of the things that we see customers track are at two different levels. As we would say, first order insight. Things like how many mentorship sessions have you had? How many pairings have you had? You may want to look at the types of pairings in the lens of the diversity, equity, inclusion. So often understand how many pairs do you have where both the mentor and mentee are from diverse backgrounds and so forth?

You can look at the feedback ratings of those sessions and how mentors and mentees are rating each other and the program in general. 

You can also capture things around goals and skills that they use at discussing these sessions.

So that’s for first order insight. The second order insights are things like— and these ones are harder to do and take a little bit longer. It doesn’t happen overnight. But you can start looking at what impact these programs are having on employee retention as we take a look at, for example. 

And how you would typically do this is you would either baseline your employee retention rate ahead of time or you would have a control group. You have to run your program for three months, six months, ideally even longer, a year before you can truly see the impact that this is having. 

And then you look at the retention rate of people that participated in your program and compare that to your baseline ahead of time or to your control group and you can then see the difference in employee retention.

You can do that not just with employee retention but also with promotion rates, particularly, as I mentioned earlier, from a DEI lens. Often, a lot of organizations do have targets around the number of people who are promoting or retaining from a specific background.

And then the other one, this one I always find a bit more challenging to make quantitative. But certainly from an L&D perspective it can be quite important. But understanding skill progression and sort of having users baseline their level of competency in a goal or skill ahead of time and then reassessing either throughout the course of the program and then at the end of the program as well.

And then you can do some math, you'd like to assign value to goals or to skills, but that’s not always as sensible as some of the other ones. 

What if we have a very, very small senior leadership population? Yeah, so that is certainly a challenge. Mentorship programs in general I think, particularly those run internally within the organization, are more beneficial to larger organizations. We typically don't start working with organizations until they have roughly 500 employees-plus.

If you're smaller than that, mentorship is probably not going to be the best solution for you. You may want to explore some of those external tools and coaching that can provide support for your employees if you don't have it internally.

Tips on marketing the program to generate interest. We are in the construction industry and it can be hard to get our employees interested, involved with programs.

That's interesting to say you’re in the construction industry. We actually see some of the highest participation rates from some of our customers in the construction industry. 

So a few things for marketing a program, I think just general best practice really for marketing any of your initiatives. First, really important to get senior leadership buy-in and have a senior sponsor in the organization. A mentorship program, like any initiative, is going to take some employee time to be involved in these initiatives. And if employees don't believe that this is supported, they may be concerned about taking away time out of their day-to-day to be involved in one of these programs. So you need to ensure that they are getting the support from leadership and they’re able to do that. 

And then you can involve that senior leader in your marketing. Have them attend any of the live kickoff or webinar that you do, film a video that you use in any of your marketing campaigns. 

And then the other thing is just set hard deadlines for the registration process. People tend to procrastinate unless there's sort of a fixed deadline. So we typically see programs more successful when you run it in a cohort basis and you have a fixed registration period where that you're building up to and getting people to register before instead of having it ongoing and there's no motivation for people to act and to register.

So that’s all the questions I saw in the Q&A. I saw some in the chat. 

What are the best ways to promote DEI mentorship program? I think similar to what we just talked about. 

Do you see a big difference in programs where people are partnering with someone who look like them versus ones who don’t? How critical is that to have success with the program versus simply having invested mentors and mentees?

So I think we talked about this a little bit earlier. To the extent possible, it is ideal if you can. And we typically leave this questions open and up to the mentees and mentors to identify and indicate whether they want their diverse backgrounds to play a role in their pairing process. 

In general, a lot of people do want that to have, take a part in their pairing process when we pair people with a mentor. 

The issue as I mentioned earlier, unfortunately, a lot of organizations don’t have a large enough pool of mentors to support pairing every mentee from a diverse background with someone from the same background. So what’s more important is just ensuring that they have some support and some mentorship. And if you can, yes, it does, in general, help to have people from the same background.

I think the same question there. Please let me know if I've missed any of the questions. I think I've gotten all of them.

Perfect. Well, if there's no final questions, I think Amanda has some final words before we all head out.

Amanda: Thank you so much. We’d like to thank our sponsor Together software and of course our presenter Matthew Reeves for presenting this very informative webcast today.

And thanks to all of you for attending.