Mentorships can be career-changing for all professionals, but the potential value for professionals of color is even greater.
For the second consecutive year, The List—the group of marketing, advertising and media leaders, assembled by Ad Age in partnership with Facebook—appeared in The Female Quotient's Equality Lounge during the Sundance Film Festival. While the 2019 List advocated for equitable family leave, the 2020 and 2021 classes have banded together to help eliminate unconscious bias by addressing the diverse talent crisis in the industry. To accomplish this mission, The List is launching a pilot mentorship program for midcareer BIPOC professionals.
List members Shannon Jones, co-founder of Verb, and YuJung Kim, president of The Dodo, joined Facebook Global Head of Digital Marketing and Partnerships Brandi Pitts and Ad Age Contributing Editor Natalie Zfat in The Female Quotient’s Virtual Equality Lounge at Sundance for a candid conversation about the ways in which mentorship can open doors, elevate voices, establish trust and ultimately improve diversity in the workforce.
“There have been many times where not only was I the only Black person in the room, but the only woman in the room, and that can be a lonely place,” said Pitts, advocating for the value that Black women mentors have added to her life. And while mentorship program structures and goals may differ company to company and person to person, the goal should always be the same: building a mutually beneficial relationship that educates, inspires, supports and encourages.
Here are the top takeaways from the discussion:
1. When initiating a mentorship, leverage people you already know when possible, and be personal in your approach.
For so many, reaching out and asking someone to be a mentor can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t need to be.
“You don’t always have to put subject line: ‘Mentor Needed,’” Jones said. “Reach out to build a relationship. The space to connect is always there.”
“I think most people are kind, and they do want to help,” Pitts added. “Try to put your fear to the side, and put yourself out there.”
2. It’s important to set clear expectations from the start.
Before approaching someone, it’s important for mentees to identify exactly what it is they are looking for in a mentor. Establishing clear expectations from the start makes it easier to measure the success of the mentorship as the relationship develops.
“A coach, a guide, a cheerleader, a confidant—a mentor can encompass all of these different roles, because the reality is: You need different help at different times,” said Pitts. “Think about what you need, and then find the best mentor based on that.”
"Sometime the advice you get in those pivotal moments can change the trajectory of your career," Jones added.
3. The most successful mentorships are centered on trust, genuine connections and mutual benefit.
“To me, the most valuable function of a mentor is to act as a sounding board and to give advice,” Kim said. “The best mentors are the ones you can be honest and vulnerable with.”
But it’s important to remember that mentorship isn’t a one-way street.
“As a mentee, you shouldn’t assume you’re purely on the receiving end of the give-and-take dynamic,” Kim added. “Be proactive in sharing your insights as a mentee, and your relationship with your mentor will be richer for it.”
4. Reverse and peer mentorship can foster inclusion in the workplace.
While most mentees "initially picture a wise sage to guide you on your path, I’ve benefited most from peer mentors," said Jones.
Many companies are trying their hand at reverse mentorship programs, a relationship in which younger employees share knowledge and experiences with more senior or executive-level leadership:
“I think [reverse mentorship] can be a particularly effective tool for professionals of color because it empowers them to drive the narrative around the challenges they've had to overcome and the challenges they still experience,” said Kim. “Reverse mentorship puts professionals of color in a position of empowerment and education, while putting executives in a position of humility and learning.”
5. When measuring the success of a mentorship, you need to strike a balance between qualitative and quantitative evaluation.
While there’s no guidebook for mentorship program success metrics, panelists agreed it’s important to check in regularly throughout the program, and avoid metrics that are too broad.
“Consider a survey at the start of the program, and then at intervals throughout,” Kim suggested.
“At the end of the day there’s some work required from the mentee,” Pitts added. “If they walk away from that experience feeling like the work yielded strong results for themselves, they’ll recommend the program to their friends.”