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Mentorship programs hold the key to DEI efforts

Tuesday October 19, 2021, By Diversity Digest

Beginning one’s career journey can be scary. It can be difficult to know how to communicate issues with management, when to speak up during a meeting and get up to speed on the way that the company works. No one wants to be seen as incompetent. The lack of “know-how” and fears of failure can lead to roadblocks for new hires, especially those from marginalized backgrounds. One way to ensure that marginalized employees can integrate into the company and feel supported on their journey is through one-on-one mentorship programs. Below I detail my own experiences with mentorship when starting work in new fields.

When I begin work— be it on-campus or a summer internship– I always feel intimidated by my manager. My mind goes blank as soon as they ask me a question, and I can never figure out how to keep a conversation going. I get nervous that I appear distant or uninterested in my work when the truth is that I don’t know how to communicate with my manager and don’t want to be rude. While communication with my manager is difficult, talking to a trusted mentor always feels a lot easier. In these new environments, it always feels nice to have someone that I can be unapologetically honest. I can say, “I’m having a hard time talking to Mr.X. Is there anything that I should know about him?” Mentors have helped calm my fears, let me know who is laid-back and easy to speak with and who should be communicated with more carefully. They are also helpful for reminders about company culture and how best to succeed.

When pairing mentors and mentees, I’ve found that mentors do not always have to be of the same race or gender (though some people may be comforted by these traits). I’ve received some of the best life advice from mentors with entirely different backgrounds than myself. It is more important that my mentors connect with me, act as sounding boards, and show me the ropes. Mentors should provide all structural support, which ensures that new people, especially those of marginalized backgrounds, can learn by asking questions, and having their concerns addressed.

In my most difficult internship experiences, it was not only the difficulty of the work that caused me stress, but also the feeling of being uncertain about who to go to for questions, how to navigate the company social environment, and feelings of isolation. Though I was interested in the work, I realized that company culture and my outlook were misaligned. There was no one to guide me in building a relationship with my manager, who had a very different communication style than myself. I reached out for help at times, and received no reply or felt that I was being a bother. The environment was very unforgiving. When the end of summer arrived, I didn’t pursue a return offer and was sure to caution other marginalized people who were considering work there.

In my best experiences, I worked closely with several members of my team, built relationships across teams, and received one on one help with updating my resume— thanks to an involved and kind mentor. My mentor and I were able to have candid conversations about things we enjoyed about our work and the improvements we wanted to see.  We discussed how to navigate new relationships in our office and make the most of my summer experience. It was one of my most formative internship experiences.

Mentorship programs may be the key to DEI efforts. Many marginalized people have a hard time navigating their work environment when they begin their careers, often leaving them feeling isolated, uncertain, and insecure. In my experience, having an individual that could provide clear, one-on-one guidance made my integration into the work environment easy and rewarding.

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Diversity Digest
Diversity Digest
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