Executive mentorship can create lasting change.
From increasing job satisfaction and empowering marginalized team members to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, executive mentorship is an essential step toward meaningful growth and connection.
Mentorship is a proven tool to boost representation and build inclusion. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that “mentoring programs make companies’ managerial echelons significantly more diverse. On average they boost the representation of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men, by 9% to 24%.”
National Mentoring Month, is an opportunity to thank impactful mentors and give back by becoming a mentor in whatever capacity is available to you.
Ahead, we’ll outline a vision for engaging in mentorship as an executive, walk you through how to find an executive mentor, and offer strategies to make the most of these all-important connections.
The benefits of executive mentorship
If you’ve experienced the power of mentorship for yourself, you may be familiar with the benefits of executive mentorship like increased work satisfaction, personal and professional development, and access to new opportunities. But there’s far more to mentorship relationships than individual satisfaction or success, though these remain valuable aspects too.
There’s a bigger picture here: Mentorship has the potential to open doors for historically underrepresented employees, many of whom may not be represented in C-suite or boardroom leadership. One of the top obstacles to becoming an executive? A lack of mentors, according to A Global Imperative, an international survey of gender equality in the C-suite.
“Formal mentoring and coaching for entry-level and middle-management female employees has made the biggest impact in creating gender equality and a culture of inclusiveness,” per the report.
For many employees of color, mentorship can be a bridge to inclusion, connection, and representation in the workplace. And it works both ways. Mentors get to give back, passing along their experiences and knowledge to the next generation of leaders.
In addition to executive mentorship’s benefits from an individual and workplace culture standpoint, mentorship is also a boon to business resilience. Investing in inclusive mentorship includes strengthening your organization’s recruitment and hiring pipeline and contributing to job satisfaction, professional development, and retention.
How to navigate mentorship in the C-suite
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to executive mentorship. Perhaps a formal mentorship program is more your style (or your schedule), or maybe a handful of informal meetings scheduled in advance is more sustainable.
Here are some strategies and tips to help you take the next step toward inclusive mentorship.
Don't overthink mentoring
Serving as a mentor is a commitment, and that commitment can take whatever shape or form works best for you and your mentee. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at the thought of executive mentorship, remember that mentorship doesn’t require a long-term obligation (though quality connections can sometimes last long past the formal mentorship period).
Start out by setting expectations and boundaries around what mentorship with you will look like. Consider the timeline of the mentorship relationship, including meeting frequency and the time frame for mentorship, e.g. meeting once a month for two semesters, biweekly for three months, etc.
If you’ve been approached by someone regarding mentorship and don’t have the capacity to commit, consider recommending a trusted colleague who would be a good fit. This is one way to practice inclusivity and promote connection if you’re unable to engage as a mentor.
Keep inclusion top of mind
Now that you’ve established your capacity for mentorship, it’s time to go about investing in inclusive mentorship. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in your mentorship process can advance these values on an interpersonal level and make an impact on your workplace culture, too. One hallmark of inclusive mentorship is investing in a mentor relationship with someone from a different background than yourself. Keep in mind that power dynamics exist. Even employees who desire to be mentored may not feel comfortable directly approaching an executive for mentorship, and this can be especially true for employees of color.
Incorporating inclusivity into your mentorship approach can help you unlock the power of investing into another person on a professional level. For many, a quality mentor can help encourage, support, and even unlocks opportunities they may not have found otherwise. Another way to build inclusivity into your mentorship connection includes creating space for your mentee to learn and process at their own pace and in their own way.
Ask questions centered on growth, challenge
To make the most of a mentorship relationship, get clear about what your mentee hopes to receive from your mentorship. Don’t know what that is? Ask them. This can help you ensure each mentoring session involves a dialogue geared toward their end goal.
Examples of mentorship questions centered on growth and challenge include:
- What do you need from me as a mentor?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10 years? Why?
- Tell me about a past success you learned from.
- Tell me about a previous challenge you overcame.
- How did those experiences change you?
- What aspects of your job are challenging you the most? Why?
- What aspects of your work are you most proud of? Why?
- In which areas can I support you?
Offer value and insights
Practicing vulnerability with your mentee can help increase your connection and offer true insights into your own journey and growth. This entails being authentic about challenges, successes, and everything in between. If possible, consider how you can share information with your mentee beyond what’s available or known through your biography or resume/CV, for example. Let them in on real lessons you’ve learned throughout your career.
How to connect with a C-suite mentor
Hoping to be mentored by someone in the C-suite? Here are some pointers to help you get started:
- Outline your goals. Before reaching out to a prospective mentor, take time to delineate what you hope to get out of your mentorship connection. Are you hoping to develop a specific skill or characteristic? Is your goal to learn as much as possible from a certain individual? Even so, outline what you’d specifically like to learn.
- Find the right fit. If your prospective mentor is someone you work with, do your best to gauge whether they could be a good fit as a mentor. For instance, taking them out for coffee to discuss your career goals could be a good preliminary conversation to assess the mentorship connection.
- Make a clear ask. Don’t overcomplicate things. When you’re ready to reach out to a prospective executive mentor, whether in-person or via email, make your expectations clear. Include details about why you want to be mentored by this person, your mentorship goals, and options for logistics, e.g. time frame for mentorship, meeting frequency, and meeting location such as in-person or a virtual or phone call.
Build diversity and inclusion into your work DNA through AboveBoard
The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. Yet women and people of color only make up a small percentage of Fortune 500 leadership.
In some ways, that’s because inclusive mentorship involves the slow work of relationship building, learning, and growing alongside another individual. While executive mentorship should remain a vital piece of our diversity efforts, it remains just one tool among many that can help us advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
That’s where AboveBoard comes in. We’re on a mission to increase diversity in today’s C-suites and boardrooms. Our inclusive, two-sided platform is a simple executive hiring tool for both diverse executive candidates and the jobs and opportunities that await them.