The most recent AIM-PAR Survey, funded by the Walter Kaitz Foundation, found that to increase representation of people of color in our industry, we must strengthen our efforts to retain employees of color and close existing promotion gaps. One way to do so is through mentorship – yet of the companies surveyed, only 45 percent offered mentoring programs for women or people of color.
This is in contrast to a growing body of business research that affirms the benefits that mentorship provides to both mentees and mentors. Employees with mentors tend to perform better, advance more quickly and experience higher career satisfaction and commitment to their organizations. Likewise, mentors also gain from their mentoring relationships, reporting personal growth and development that includes a greater awareness of and appreciation for diversity, opportunities for self-reflection and increased confidence in their ability to coach others.
The experience of Mark Holmes and Shelda Eason, a mentor-mentee pair from Charter Communications, a leading connectivity company known through its Spectrum brand of TV, internet, voice and mobile services, bears out the research. Holmes and Eason participated in a mentoring program offered by Charter Communications through the Spectrum Multicultural Business Resource Group.
“Serving as a mentor helped me learn more about myself as a leader,” says Holmes, Group Vice President of Enterprise Decision Support for Charter. “With every new person I meet, I have to figure out how to build rapport and trust. Mentoring others helps me navigate those waters.”
As her mentor, Holmes provided the valuable career advice that Eason was looking for. “By listening carefully, Mark was able to see patterns in my work life and helped me articulate and prioritize what’s important to me,” says Eason, an Experience Design Manager of Marketing Communications & Brand Governance for Charter.
Holmes notes, “Charter is committed to creating an inclusive environment where engaged employees are inspired to contribute to our success, and we provide many opportunities for their professional development. Mentoring relationships like ours support this culture.”
At first glance, Holmes and Eason may seem an unusual pairing. In his current role, Holmes leads a financial analysis team of over 100 professionals, focused on evaluating capital investments, accounts receivables, collections and government subsidized programs for Spectrum Enterprise, an arm of Charter that serves many of America’s largest businesses. Eason works in brand governance, providing creative direction across digital platforms for Spectrum Enterprise’s consumer-facing products. The differences in their day-to-day responsibilities actually made their mentorship richer, as did their different backgrounds.
“The experience contributed to both of us learning about ourselves, the business, and our company culture,” says Eason. In fact, research shows that cross-cultural and cross-gender mentorship in particular offers important benefits for mentees. Mentees can gain access to the knowledge, expertise and networks of mentors whose backgrounds are different from their own. In turn, this can help women and employees of color gain the insights and network needed to advance.
We asked Holmes and Eason what advice they would give to others embarking on their own mentoring journey, and their tips for how to build a relationship that has the most impact. Here’s what they shared:
- Look for diversity – in all its forms. Connect with someone from a different business unit, which will give you a big-picture view of your company and push you to learn more about the business. Seek out cross-cultural and cross-gender mentorships to broaden your perspective.
- Use a framework to kick-start the relationship. Especially as many meetings continue to take place virtually, find ways to quickly build rapport. Start with leadership assessments or other tools available through Business Resource Groups for your initial “getting to know you” conversations.
- Know that mentoring is a two-way street. Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, recognize that any mentoring relationship is an opportunity to grow and develop, as an employee and as a leader.
- Be honest and transparent. Both parties must be willing to be vulnerable and authentic. By doing so, you’re better able to receive and give advice that will make an impact. For mentors especially, tell stories that bridge your experience with your mentee’s path. Importantly, share the missteps you’ve made and how you bounced back from them.
- Don’t be too prescriptive. As a mentee, come into the mentoring relationship with clear goals, but be open to your goals evolving over time. Let the relationship grow naturally and the learning will follow.
Charter is committed to diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our business. As we strive to deliver high-quality products and services that exceed our customers’ expectations, we embrace the unique backgrounds, perspectives and experiences of our employees and partners. We aim to foster a culture of inclusion, and support the career development of employees through internal development programs and partnerships with external organizations like the Walter Kaitz Foundation, Women In Cable Telecommunications and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity In Communications.