Mentoring has long been considered as one of the most effective ways for organisations and their employees to effectively develop, learn and grow. There has been a huge rise in the number of programmes and in the last couple of years the focus of these programmes to support those within organisational inclusion groups has expanded too. But how can running a mentoring programme help your LGBTQ+ employees and how can you get started?
What is mentoring?
Before we go into detail as to how mentoring programmes can help LGBTQ+ employees, it’s important to understand what mentoring is and where the value lies, more generally. Organisations and individuals can often confuse mentoring, coaching, sponsorship, and buddying schemes. Mentoring, simply put, is the act of one individual, sharing their knowledge, skills, and experience to help another individual to develop and progress. That’s it! It’s quite simple and you may notice that in this definition there is no reference to age, seniority, or business level. Traditionally, a mentor may have been seen as a senior leader and the mentee, one could assume, was more junior.
You may now see various additional and alternative forms of mentoring taking place, such as reverse and group mentoring. Reverse mentoring is equally as powerful for diversity and inclusion focused programmes. Reverse mentoring, similarly, to traditional mentoring, still has an individual sharing knowledge and experience, but these are focused on a specific area and typically delivered by someone who is not as senior in a business. So, these specific experience and insights areas could be LGBTQ+ experiences and the mentoring could be from an openly LGBTQ+ employee to a senior leader, focused on educating, raising awareness, and helping the senior leader to develop.
Why are LGBTQ+ Focused programmes important?
Providing employees at all levels with access to mentoring is vitally important. It provides employees with a sense of support, empowerment, continuous learning, and educational investment. When we take LGBTQ+ employees, much like other inclusion groups, there are potential additional challenges they could face around acceptance, progression, and development. Take, for example, any global business with international presence. The chances are that a global business will have offices or clients in countries where LGBTQ+ laws and rights are not recognised, or worse, illegal. In some countries, identifying as gay still carries the death penalty. This is just one challenge that individuals may face in a global business, where senior leaders or managers simply don’t think about or understand its implications. This is where something like reverse mentoring could come into play, in both empowering LGBTQ+ employees to feel able to stand-up and speak out about challenges they face to senior leaders, whilst also benefiting and education your senior leaders at the same time.
For other organisations, the idea of peer and role-model mentoring, perhaps more commonly associated with traditional mentoring, there is considerable value too. If you have senior leaders who openly identify as LGBTQ+ at work, they have the potential to act as role-models and help aspiring LGBTQ+ employees to feel there are others within the business who they can identify with and support them on their journey. We all go through a different journey in our lives and as LGBTQ+ employees, there are often additional hurdles and challenges such as coming out to colleagues, clients, and the wider world. If you allow and encourage your employees to feel comfortable, supported and confident in themselves you will immediately encourage a happier, more productive, more exciting and inspiring workplace, which will positively impact others too.
How can we start a mentoring programme?
If you’re looking to start a mentoring programme in your organisation, or scale it up to support inclusion groups, there are a few ways in which you can go about this. The more manual approach works just fine for smaller businesses and you can start simply by recruiting mentors and mentees from within the business, pair them up in an excel spreadsheet and guide them through the mentoring process with mentoring guidelines and training. There are a wealth of resources online such as example guides and videos to train mentors and mentees. If you want to run a larger programme or take mentoring to the next-level, software like PushFar’s mentoring platform can help to facilitate larger scale and ‘self-selection’ matching and management, to give everyone the opportunity to engage with mentoring.
However you choose to run your programmes and setup mentoring, make sure it is inclusive and open to all. You may be surprised how far reaching it can grow to and how many individuals it can benefit. Giving people access to connect with others to share experience, knowledge and insights is a perfect way for both the mentor and mentee to develop and grow.