For many companies, a diverse workplace is an important part of encouraging business objectives such as employee engagement and retention. As Iliana Castillo-Frick of SHRM said, “By fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion, organizations will attract and retain the highest level of talent.” Diversity is important – but are HR professionals managing their programs in a way that ensures as much impact as possible? And can diversity mentoring, with its emphasis on informal relationships, really help organizations?

The Importance of Diversity in Organizations

Many organizations increasingly tie diversity to business results and objectives. A survey by Bersin found that organizations, especially Fortune 500 companies, invest in diversity and inclusion to drive talent and business outcomes:

    • 51 percent seek enhanced employee engagement
    • 44 percent seek increased innovation and agility

Additionally, inclusive organizations are 3.3 times more likely to be high performing and five times more likely to be agile.

However, other organizations still face difficulty explaining why diversity is important to them. Bersin found that 62 percent of organizations couldn’t agree that diversity and inclusion initiatives mapped to strategic business outcomes and 54 percent couldn’t agree they mapped to strategic talent outcomes.

It’s important to form effective diversity and inclusion initiatives. But it’s also important to formalize and measure them to prove their value to your leadership.

How Mentoring Helps Diversity

That’s where diversity mentoring programs come into play. By creating a diversity mentoring program that helps create informal relationships, organizations discover top talent, encourage employees to build career paths, and create an environment with equal opportunities so all employees feel empowered to collaborate.

Diversity mentoring combines all of the benefits of informal relationships with a structured goal. And when a diversity mentoring program is set up correctly, organizations can track and measure results to tie to them to business objectives to prove the value of their programs.

Of course, doing this is easier said than done – mentoring within or between unique groups can come with its own challenges. That’s why we’ve combined some of our best practice tips for diversity mentoring programs with lessons learned from Horizons Unlimited, a talent development consultancy and Chronus partner with decades of business experience.

Best Practice Tips for Diversity Mentoring Programs

Define the Purpose Carefully

Ensure there are clear objectives and actionable goals so it’s easy to measure results. A goal such as “supporting women in the organization” isn’t direct enough if you want real results. Instead, try topics such as “encouraging more women leaders” and tie it to a specific goal like tracking the number of promotions within active mentoring relationships vs. outside of active mentoring relationships.

Know Your Audience

It’s important to clearly understand the groups you’re trying to support and be careful about being sensitive to their needs. We suggest having regular roundtables with active members to ensure the program is valuable and to see if there are possible improvements. If you have software, launching surveys to all program members is an easy task but there are plenty of other survey clients out there too.

Make Programs “Opt In”

After going through the effort of creating a program like this, it might be tempting to automatically enroll everyone who qualifies. That way the most people can benefit from it, right?

But for your program to be as successful as possible, it’s imperative that mentors and mentees want to be active participants. They should be excited and eager about the program, especially since diversity mentoring requires careful thinking and listening to people with differing perspectives. You’ll want members who truly care about helping others and making an impact through the mentoring program.

Ensure Quality Trumps Quantity

Say you have 100 very excited mentees and only 40 mentors. You might want to let everyone join the program. But limit the program to the number of quality mentors available so that in-program mentees don’t feel let down if they don’t have a match. You want to keep in-program enthusiasm high. Create a waiting for list for those who aren’t in the program and send them a few updates along the way so they know they’re not forgotten.

Alternatively, you can see whether mentors are willing to take on additional mentees. We recommend setting two as the maximum even if mentors say they can take on more. You don’t want overwhelmed mentors and you want to be sure they can dedicate a good amount of their time to their mentees.

Same Group vs. Cross Group? – It Depends

Pulling mentors and mentees from the same diversity group can encourage empathy between the matched pairs. But cross-group relationships can foster a greater level of understanding which is good for the organization as a whole. Think carefully about what your organization needs more. A supportive environment for diverse employees? Or more knowledge and sensitivity throughout the organization?

Either way, diversity mentoring program will help mentees and mentors feel supported and foster learning.

Invest in Training & Guide Relationships

A common misconception is that mentors and mentees automatically know what to do to make their relationships a success – and if it isn’t, it was probably bound to fail anyway. Luckily, that’s not true. Basic mentor/mentee training contributes significantly to positive relationships.

Training most commonly takes the form of videos or documents. But regardless of the format, it should help mentees understand their role and improve mentors’ coaching capabilities. In addition, in diversity mentoring it’s especially important to train people about cultural sensitivity issues.

After training, initial enthusiasm can wane if mentoring pairs aren’t directed. Provide your participants with workflows that guide them throughout the mentoring process and help them stay on track for a productive relationship.

Acknowledge Stereotyping

No one likes stereotyping – but it happens, so make sure you discuss this during training. Mentors in particular should be able to openly and honestly discuss the role of stereotypes if the topic should come up. That way, they’ll be knowledgeable enough to move the conversation forward and address any concerns the mentee may have.

Avoiding this topic in a diversity mentoring relationship can hinder it from reaching its full potential, so it’s important to ensure it can be openly talked about and acknowledged.

Balance Challenges With Advantages

It may be tempting to avoid discussing challenges related to diversity – or to focus too much on them. Mentors must tread a fine line between ignoring challenges and allowing them to overtake the mentoring relationship. Focusing solely on either of these limits the mentee’s potential.

Mentors should work with mentees to establish a balance sheet of both the advantages and challenges they may face in the workplace. Then, they can use this to create a go-forward plan of how to make full use of the advantages and overcome the challenges. This puts a framework in place that encourages progress towards defined goals.


The benefits of diversity mentoring programs are manifold. They connect employees, build communication networks, and spread ideas across the company. When tied to business objectives, they can increase promotion rates of target groups and enhance the organization’s ability to compete in global markets. While implementing a diversity mentoring program can seem daunting, we hope this list of best practices tips and items to consider will help. For more advice, we encourage you to read our guide on starting a mentoring program to you can make your program the best it can be.

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