The benefits of mentoring

Mentoring is an effective way to develop leaders

Mentoring can help provide the role models needed to see more women and under-represented groups make their way into positions of leadership, says Susy Roberts.

We’re drawn to people like ourselves, and when it comes to leadership there’s no doubt it’s much easier for white men to find role models.

In August 2017, Green Park published its report into the diversity of 10,000 of the most senior employees operating within the FTSE 100. Six in ten boards have no ethnic minority presence and just 8 per cent of FTSE directors are from black or ethnic minority backgrounds. While the figures for women have improved slightly at just over a quarter of all directors, the numbers drop sharply higher up the ladder: there are just five female chairs out of a total of 91, with six female CEOs from a total of 100.

Research by Deloitte found that companies with a female leader have nearly twice as many women on the board, and this is not surprising. When a woman has a leader to identify with, she can see herself in that role, and the same applies for minority groups. Without role models at the top, there’s nothing – or no-one – to aspire to.

So how do we address this issue? One answer lies in mentoring.

A 2006 University of Minnesota study showed that economic and social behaviour was significantly affected by a series of identity traits. Those who were shown someone similar to themselves in a work situation had a significantly increased level of engagement than with those who did not look like them.

For an organisation to produce and retain talented female and minority leaders, it needs to ensure that it not only has strong role models at the top, but that these role models take the time to mentor the next generation. By mentoring, not only will they impart their skills, they’ll give those who show promise someone to emulate.

When there are far fewer role models at the top to provide mentoring services, it will often be necessary to look outside the organisation. This in itself can bring benefits: Identifying and approaching high-performing leaders in other organisations and asking them to take an ambitious protégée under their wing enables the mentee to speak freely about the challenges they face without fear of being judged or line managed.

Young leaders from minority backgrounds, in particular, can benefit from mentoring. For example, culturally, leadership style can differ significantly. In India, for example, there is a very hierarchical form of leadership which does not translate well to the UK’s much more collaborative way of working. Giving someone who shows promise a mentor will not only provide them someone to identify with, it will help them to rub off any sharp corners in their style and adapt to a more globally-acceptable way of leadership – all under the guidance of someone who has already negotiated that career path.

With a positive and pro-active mentoring policy for under-represented groups, forward-thinking organisations can develop future leaders who display the skills that are needed for growth combined with a cultural awareness that will generate a positive impact in the global business environment.

Susy Roberts is founder of Hunter Roberts.


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