female mentor

Fostering Inclusion Through Mentorship

March 20, 2024

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and its 2024 theme, “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” we reflect on the many ways that leaders and women of all levels can be advocates for diminishing discrimination and bias to promote a more inclusive environment.

One of the most powerful diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) tools for personal and systemic change is mentorship, particularly for women in the workplace. Mentors not only provide practical career advice but also serve as a support system, fostering connections, sharing experiences and amplifying voices in a way that empowers other women to navigate professional obstacles and systemic barriers.

Mentorship comes in many forms and from a variety of channels, creating a ripple effect—a network of empowered women lifting each other up while advocating for a more equitable and inclusive world.

Professional Organizations and the Benefits of Formal Mentorship

Many professional organizations offer mentorship programs, providing a structured pathway for career advancement and expanding professional networks. Organizations like industry groups and college alumni networks offer formal sponsorship programs for joiners to be matched with mentors who are experienced in their field.

These programs are opportunities to form connections outside of office walls and are important for women in the workplace. Formal mentorship programs are crucial to foster DEI, promote long-term relationships across organizations and provide opportunities for career advancement. Sometimes, having a mentor outside your current workplace can provide great perspective and an external point of view can be invaluable in helping make decisions big and small as we all navigate the daily challenges of being a woman in the workplace.

Given that women of color tend to get less career advice and have less access to senior leaders, formal mentorship and sponsorship programs can be particularly impactful. Women of color remain underrepresented across the corporate pipeline, representing about one in 16 C-Suite leaders. Sponsorship programs tailored to their intersectional identities provide critical opportunities for career advancement that are often lacking. These formalized and intentional mentorship networks not only foster professional relationships, but inclusion and belonging for women that may otherwise have limited access to mentors and senior leadership.

The Impact of Informal Mentorships

While it is important for women in leadership roles to actively seek out opportunities to mentor others, mentors do not only come from the executive suite. Peer mentors and colleagues at similar levels are equally valuable, and these organic relationships often develop naturally within workplaces.

Collaboration and team-centered projects can often result in close working relationships with colleagues. Particularly among coworkers at similar levels, shared experiences build a sense of comradery.

Colleagues can lead by example and forge paths for women in similar roles. Whether navigating adversity and interpersonal challenges or larger organizational obstacles, informal mentors share practical life lessons and provide support. They can often relate not only to your role or stage in your career, but to the common challenges many professional women face, like negotiations, imposter syndrome and burnout.

While shared experiences in challenging environments or toxic cultures often leads to bonding, it is just as important for women to find informal mentors and friends within their healthy and positive workplace culture.

These relationships with colleagues can often evolve into informal mentorships and friendships that extend throughout careers, as women are more likely to have friends at work.

Finding Your People

Gallup employee engagement surveys have found that having a best friend at work is increasingly important to employees and positively impacts their engagement, job success and retention rates.

Whether formal or informal mentors, these trusted circles of colleagues provide a safety net. They can offer advice, help problem-solve or serve as a sounding board for current challenges. Individuals in this support network should be an ally—advocating for you and bringing up your name in the right rooms.

These champions are particularly important for women, who experience bias and discrimination in the workplace at a higher rate than men. When women in leadership positions bring others with them, it enhances belonging and inclusion for their mentees and organization as a whole.

Across organizations and levels, women can serve as mentors for one another to promote inclusion and equity.

Throughout Women’s History Month and every day of the year, we encourage you to consider the colleagues around you and how you can provide support and mentorship—formally or informally—to foster inclusion and belonging.

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