Mentoring Across Cultures

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National discussions of diversity and cultural differences are at a fever pitch right now. That means the time is ripe to encourage your employees to build relationships across generations, politics, culture, race, gender, and sexual orientation – and what better way to do that than through mentorships?

Thanks to social media, coworkers are increasingly aware of the cultural and ethnic backgrounds, political affiliations, and religious ties of their peers. Even employees who tend to keep their personal lives private may be privy to more of each other’s non-professional opinions than ever before. Most likely all mentors and mentees will be from different backgrounds in one way or another, even if it’s just across a generational gap. In some companies, new employees from across the globe will receive local mentors as part of their onboarding.

Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring these differences makes your company tone-deaf, antiquated, and unappealing to employees who are more accustomed to these topics being openly discussed. While secondary education have been tackling the benefits and challenges of diversity in mentorship programs for years, the professional sector is only just getting hip to navigating this tricky sector. Make your business stand out by applying these strategies for success and embracing diversity in the workplace.

Strategies for Success

  • Look for Participants Who are Open and Curious. While we’d like to say that everyone is ready for cross-cultural mentoring, certain candidates are more suited to connecting with people across boundaries. Try to select people are open-minded, have excellent listening skills, and appreciate diversity in the workplace. These traits are especially important for mentors to possess.
  • Bring up Crossing Cultural Bridges as a Benefit from the Beginning. As Larry Ambrose writes for the American College of Healthcare Executives, “mentors tend to mentor someone who is ‘like them.’ They often do not think about reaching out to those who are different in race, culture, or gender because they are either unaware of the need or they fear the unknown.”
  • Set Expectations. As we’ve discussed in our other posts, having firm expectations with defined benchmarks and goals keeps participants and administrators on the same page. This is nowhere more necessary than in cross-cultural mentoring where clarity is key. Ambrose defines a clear goal for a mentoring program as “increasing the number of minorities in managerial and leadership ranks by preparing them for upward mobility”.
  • Get Anonymous Feedback from Mentee Participants. If you’re not 100% sure what your potential mentees need, aside from the usual guidance, ask them! When it comes to breaking glass ceilings that affect people based on nationality, gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity, your employees are likely to be hesitant to express their opinions honestly. Mandating an anonymous survey that asks about these topics directly will cultivate inclusivity and transparency in your workplace.
  • Focus on Building Trust and Understanding. In an article for Liberal Education, Betty Neal Crutcher uses the three V’s for achieving this goal: Values, Virtues, and Vision. By encouraging mentors and mentees to discuss these three elements of their approach to work and life, they often find that they have more in common than they previously thought.

 

There are innumerable articles online where you can read about the benefits of diversity – and the sheer inevitability – of a multicultural workplace in the United States. Set your company apart by making a commitment to encouraging cross-cultural connections through a mentorship program.

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Kate Mason
kate.mason@ementorconnect.com

Kate Mason is a writer, historian, and stand-up comic living in New Orleans, LA. She is the Programming Coordinator for the New Orleans Film Society and an avid enthusiast of pop culture. She approaches mentoring challenges with a witty, creative mind.

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