Learn five tips on how to make diverse mentoring relationships work.
- Diverse mentoring refers to mentoring relationships where mentors and proteges are members of different demographic groups such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on. I am happy to share five tips with you to make your diverse mentoring relationships successful. The first strategy is to discover and build on your similarities with one another. My 20 years of research into diverse mentoring offers this commonsense advice.
When working in a diverse mentoring relationship, if you get to know each other more deeply, more quickly the surface demographic differences will matter far less. One great way to get to know each other is to discuss values. I have provided a list of values in the Exercise File. Choose five values that are most important to you, and discuss them with your mentor. I did this exercise recently with my new protege that was assigned to me.
This protege is a 20-year-old Hispanic male, so different from me in three demographic ways in respect to gender, ethnicity, and generation. We did this values exercise and found that we have a shared value of social justice. So this gave us something to build on right away. The second strategy is to acknowledge how your differences impact your life. Demographic differences are real, and they impact how we live in this world and are viewed by society every single day.
For example, a good reminder of this comes from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. When you enter the museum, there are two doors. One is marked prejudiced, and the other is marked unprejudiced. If you try to enter through the door marked unprejudiced, the door is locked. Why? The idea here is that in order for you to enter into a place of tolerance, you must acknowledge your own prejudices.
So in a diverse mentoring relationship, you need to respect that your mentor's experiences based on their demographic identity may be quite different from your own. The third strategy is to ask for feedback. There is compelling research from Dave Thomas showing that sometimes in diverse mentoring situations, the mentor of one race or gender is often reluctant to give critical feedback to the mentee of a different race or gender.
This tendency is called protective hesitation. It comes from the place of fear of saying the wrong thing, causing an adverse reaction. As a protege, you need to ask for critical feedback, and when you get the feedback, be sure to practice seeing the feedback as the gift it is and respond non-defensively. The fourth strategy is to speak up and check in with each other.
If there is something that comes up related to your membership in a different identity group, bring it up. You can always start the conversation with saying something like, "I feel awkward bringing this up, "and I'm afraid I might offend you." When you are honest and use this conversational opener, it really helps to decrease the defensiveness. The final strategy is use humor gracefully. For example, I have a mentor who is an older male.
We have developed a humorous catchphrase we use with each other when our perspectives vary due to gender. There's a story behind this, but our catchphrase is, "Don't worry your pretty little head about it." Whenever one of us feels that the other is being a little insensitive, we use our catchphrase to communicate humorously. It's a great way to open a conversation about diversity that keeps us both authentic and smiling. Remember, your diverse mentoring relationships can help you to learn and be more successful, not just at work, but personally, as well.
So be yourself, by all means, in your mentoring relationship, and be willing to teach and learn from each other.