If your organization conducts a needs assessment and program evaluation to inform planning and evaluate results, consider adding a few questions to employee and program participant surveys, questionnaires, or focus groups related to issues of diversity and inclusion.
For example, if you want to ask employees a multiple choice question about what factors influence their decisions about participating as a mentor or a protégé, some potential reasons to include are:
In order to gauge how accessible your program is for all employees, consider asking a question such as:
Consider whether the individuals serving on your program's planning or advisory committee or board represent the full range of cultural differences and perspectives of the agency's employees. If the group lacks diversity, make a point to ask employees from various backgrounds or with different experiences to join.
Having an explicit goal related to promoting employee diversity and inclusion will push the program to be intentional in its efforts to reach and engage all employees and reduce any barriers to participation among typically under-represented groups. An example program goal is: "The Mentoring Program aims to engage, support and develop the potential of a diverse group of agency employees."
Whether you share information with interested employees and participants online or in print form, make sure the information is readily available in an accessible format for persons with disabilities. For guidance on making online information, documents and materials accessible, see the Job Accommodation Network's Technical Series: Tips for Designing Accessible Websites. For suggestions about appropriate accommodations for a person with a specific disability, search JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) system.
Limiting mentoring opportunities to only those employees who are nominated or identified by a supervisor or organizational leader may unintentionally create a barrier to participation for women, minorities and persons with disabilities if those in a position to nominate others have any biases or misperceptions about their capacity or potential for growth. It is preferable to allow employees the choice to self-nominate or apply to participate in formal mentoring programs to reduce any barriers. If the program requires supervisors to approve the employees' participation, consider requiring the supervisor to provide a clear, written justification for disapproving an employee's participation.
If it's not already included, consider adding a question such as "What if any preferences do you have regarding specific mentor/protégé characteristics or experience?" While the pool of potential mentors may or may not make it possible to respond to all preferences, asking applicants what they prefer gives them the opportunity to voice any specific preferences ranging from having a mentor or protégé of a particular gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status to being matched with someone who shares a particular interest or has prior experience in a specific job role or field. It is also essential to ask participants an open ended question such as "Please describe any special needs that will help you participate fully in the program." This will ensure the program plans accordingly to accommodate employees who make specific requests such a request for assistive technology to effectively communicate with their mentor or protégé.
Mentoring programs may find it challenging to recruit a diverse pool of mentors if the demographic make-up of the agency lacks diversity. Programs may need to take a two-pronged approach to recruiting a diverse group of mentors, combining general agency wide appeals with targeted outreach. General recruitment appeals should be made to all employees, where appropriate, to ensure all segments of the agency's workforce are encouraged to participate. If any employee seeking a mentor has specifically expressed a preference to be matched with a mentor from a similar background or cultural perspective, targeted outreach may be needed to ensure employees from under-represented groups have received the recruitment message and understand how participating as a mentor could benefit another employee. Employees should not be coerced into volunteering as a mentor but a personal, targeted appeal may motivate them to volunteer willingly to support another employee's growth.
Mentoring program staff should not share any demographic information or medical information, in the case of an employee with a disability, with other employees including mentors or protégés of the employee. Decisions about whether and what information to disclose about oneself to other people are very personal and can have negative repercussions in the workplace; therefore, always protect the privacy and confidentiality of any personal information pertaining to mentoring participants (National Collaborative for Workforce and Disability, 2009). Let all employees know it is up to them to decide what if any personal information they will share with their mentor/protégé.
Cultural differences may or may not impact the success of mentor-protégé relationships. It just depends on the individuals. Some employees may find it easy to get to know and partner effectively with an employee who is different that him/her while other employees may struggle with differences. If the agency already offers diversity awareness training and resources to employees, consider using some of the same training content or materials to briefly address diversity awareness and cultural differences in your mentoring program training.
If your agency does not have diversity awareness training resources, consider using some online resources such as:
While training for mentors and protégés may only briefly touch upon diversity awareness and cultural differences, consider providing a list of resources to both mentors and protégés and encourage them to individually learn about each other's different cultural backgrounds and experiences. The best way to learn about another person's culture and experiences is to ask them personally in a non-confrontational way; however, reading some background information on the Internet may help as well.
In addition to the resources listed for training in question #9, other helpful resources include:
For guidance on disabilities etiquette, see the ODEP fact sheet, Communicating with and about People with Disabilities.
An online presentation can also be found at: An Introduction to Disability Etiquette, National Business & Disability Council Online Presentation.