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How to start an inclusive mentoring program

An inclusive mentoring program can improve an employee's sense of belonging and create new relationships between workers. Learn how to start one and mistakes to avoid.

An inclusive mentoring program is one that takes all employee backgrounds into account, and HR leaders should avoid some common mistakes when they attempt to create one.

An inclusive mentoring program can improve employees' sense of belonging, help with succession planning and help co-workers form new relationships, said Anthony Paradiso, vice president of HR support services at Industrial U.I. Services.

In this interview, Paradiso discusses how an inclusive mentoring program fits into a company's diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and some initial steps HR leaders can take to get started.

In what ways can mentoring programs provide value to organizations?

Anthony Paradiso: Mentoring is a great tool for educating employees. Mentoring also keeps you on track for succession planning, and mentoring is also just a great way to get to know one another. If the person is new, a mentoring program can give them the ins and outs of what's going on with the organization.

A mentoring program is also a part of diversity, equity [and] inclusion. You have two people that didn't know one another, possibly, and now, [they're] getting to know one another better. The mentoring is creating a sense of belonging.

In what ways can a mentoring program fit into a company's overall DEI initiatives?

Paradiso: When two people don't know each other and you're creating this mentorship, they're getting to know each other's stories; they're getting to know each other's vulnerabilities.

You want to do as many things as possible to create an inclusive environment, and mentorship is certainly a way of creating that environment.
Anthony ParadisoVice president of HR support services, Industrial U.I. Services

You want to do as many things as possible to create an inclusive environment, and mentorship is certainly a way of creating that environment.

Can you elaborate further on how mentoring can tie into succession planning?

Paradiso: Succession planning is really important. You want to make sure you have someone in mind to take a role over, and the way to do that is through mentorship.

[Mentorship] also could just be a way for an employee to gain some more insight about another person's position. You could do cross-training -- maybe that person might be in accounting, but you want them to also learn more about marketing.

Kick-starting an inclusive mentoring program

What are some first steps that HR leaders could take to create mentoring programs that are inclusive?

Paradiso: I think the first thing is communicating with employees [about] what their needs are. You can do that through one-on-one communication with employees or through surveys. Make sure that people realize that whatever they're submitting is not confidential -- it will be out there for HR to review.

And then make sure that you're putting the right people with each other and also keeping it diverse.

Ask the mentee what they're looking for in a mentorship. Where do they want to be five years from now? Maybe they want to take on a more consulting role, where they're not managing others. Make sure you're matching people correctly with a mentor.

What are some specific questions that HR staff could include in an employee survey so they know what employees are looking for from the program?

Paradiso: Some questions would be: Do you want to manage others? What do you want out of the mentorship?

Maybe there's someone that an employee looks up to in the organization, and they want to have a mentorship with them to learn what they do and how they do it. It may not even be a role that they want. So, you could also maybe ask who an employee would want to have as a mentor.

You could also ask: Do you want to do it by Zoom? Do you want to do it in person?

What to avoid with inclusive mentoring programs

What are some common mistakes that companies make when they're trying to make mentoring programs inclusive?

Paradiso: A lot of organizations just rush right into a program, especially if they didn't have one before, so they have no way of knowing what works and what doesn't work. Also, what works for one company may not work for another company. There are all sorts of variables that matter -- size of the company, location, hybrid/remote.

If it's your first time doing this, make sure you have a full plan. And I wouldn't just have HR looking at the program. HR can certainly spearhead the program, but you want to make sure that other departments are also involved.

And then, once you have the program out, make sure that you're effectively communicating what your expectations are as an organization. Be realistic.

You also want to create a time period of how long this mentorship is going to be. Is it going to be for six months? Three months? A year? How often do you want people to meet? Again, make that very transparent.

And, if there are any issues that are arising, who are they to contact? Is it HR? Is it someone else?

You may [also] want to have a training for your mentors.

Editor's note: Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Molly Driscoll is a site editor at TechTarget and covers HR and ERP software.

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