Connections forged through mentoring open the doors to greater opportunities. Although affirmative action laws were put in place to address inequities in the workplace, they do not provide any mechanism for enabling African Americans to ascend up the corporate ladder.
Most successful professionals can attribute much of their achievement to their mentoring relationships. Unfortunately, mentors tend to be drawn toward proteges that remind them of themselves. This frequently unconscious bias is human nature. Since most of the people at the top are white males, most of their proteges are the same.
Mentors Make a Difference
Studies of African American executives show a direct correlation between job growth, promotions and salary increases and having mentors:
- Not having an influential mentor or sponsor was reported as one of the top barriers to advancement of African American female executives, according to a 2004 Catalyst report. An
earlier Catalyst study showed that 69 percent of those with mentors were promoted, compared with 50 percent of those with no mentors.
- According to Korn/Ferry International's 1998 study "Diversity in the Executive Suite: Creating Successful Career Paths and Strategies," formal and informal mentoring and support from superiors and coworkers are key factors that help place minority executives on the organizational fast track.
- Korn/Ferry International's study also shows that African American executives who reported having informal mentors at work (73 percent) had faster salary and total compensation growth than those without one.
The Difference for Me
In my work as a technology professional, writer and entrepreneur, I've taken time to establish relationships before seeking the guidance of my intended mentors. I have been fortunate enough to have had a best-selling author, chief technology officer, human resources consultant, venture capitalist, knowledge management expert and a national healthcare magazine publisher as mentors.
These mentors introduced me to industry leaders, helped me write proposals, provided invitations to important events, counseled me on career changes, critiqued my presentations, helped me learn complex Web-development programming languages, assessed potential business deals, referred potential clients to me and coached me on project-management techniques.
Their support and advice have helped be to become more focused, gain confidence and learn to trust my decisions. As a result, I am now experiencing a higher level of success and I find that great opportunities are starting to find me.
How to Find a Mentor
- Be direct and ask. If you are uncomfortable, simply ask for career advice and go from there.
- Identify common interests that bridge to relationships.
- Model yourself as a great protege, ready to assist with a project, office function, charitable event or other mutual endeavor.
- Demonstrate your abilities and commitment to your career. Seek out collaborative projects within your organization that showcase your work.
- Use your network to meet new people and find potential mentors: Participate in workplace social activities, go to your work's recreational facilities and attend industry events.
- Participate in mentor programs sponsored by professional associations.
- Investigate formal mentoring programs at your workplace. If there aren't any, approach human resources about pairing you with a mentor.
- Look to retired professionals as potential mentors.
- Ask members of your alumni association, fraternity or sorority to serve as mentors.
- Join committees within mainstream and African American professional associations and get to know the other members.
- If your company has an African American employee network, join and get to know the key players.
- Mentors are busy people too, so you must present yourself as a worthwhile time investment. If someone turns you down, continue developing that person into a strategic ally.
The rewards you will gain by constantly working to develop these relationships are invaluable and can ultimately lead to career success.