Mentoring is not easy. It takes time, commitment and a lot of patience, without too many tangible benefits.
But it can be satisfying and can add a lot of value to your own life. It gives you the opportunity to examine your own work and enhances your job satisfaction. It gives you greater peer recognition, helps develop and further professional relationships. It can also improve your understanding of the organisation and the way it works, opening your eyes and mind to things you might have missed otherwise. Most of all it provides personal satisfaction as you make a difference in another person’s life.
This was amply proven in a Durham University 2009 survey of mentors, with many stating that they the greatest benefit they derived from mentoring someone was the opportunity to reflect on their own practice and “develop a network of enabling relationships”.
However even when mentoring, one can fall into the trap of only choosing mentees that are the most like us. It of course is a very natural tendency to recognise the potential and talent of someone like us and be enthusiastic about nurturing it. But confining ourselves in this manner can limit us and the benefits we can get out of mentoring. At the same time, it can be detrimental to our organisation since it also reduces the pool of talent that can give to the organisation.
If mentors keep choosing mentees that are the most like them, growth and achievement can be disproportionately focussed in the social group that’s already in power. The old boys club usually observed in organisations is just an example of this way of functioning.
Experience has proven that more diversity is better for any firm as well as society at large. But unless there is an active commitment to ensure diversity, one will only end up paying lip service to the idea.
Sometimes we might have a blindspot regarding the experiences of someone belonging to a minority social group, simply because our experiences might vastly differ. It could result in some basic practical problems that could be hampering the growth and full realization of their talents. A simple example could be a case whether there is no easy access to women toilets leading to women wasting a lot of time and comfort which can detract from their work.
Unless there is someone these women can share this with, it is a basic need that would go unaddressed and cause unnecessary complications in their work-life.
It is also important to note that people not belonging to the dominant demographic might find it more difficult to state their views, voice their concerns or even ask for help. In a world as diverse as we live in, there is also a problem of perceptions and communication gaps that can hamper these processes.
The only way around is to choose mentor and communicate with mentees across social and demographic lines. In turn you might find yourself becoming more empathic, emotionally intelligent and attuned to the challenges of different people; thereby becoming a better leader and in a position to make the most of the people working with you.