Mentorship that Drives Diversity

Post by
Phil Strazzulla
January 11, 2017

Tania Desa specializes in helping large organizations meet their D&I goals through mentorship programs that foster networking and career development through relationships that sustain over long periods of time. We asked her to share her thoughts on how mentorship can drive diversity, as well as what some organizations get wrong when they start this sort of program.

What is your background and what kind of work do you do currently?

I'm CEO of Desa Global Leadership - an international training firm on a mission to inspire women & underrepresented minorities to find voice & visibility in corporate boardrooms so that they can get promoted and feel more engaged at work. We lead experiential corporate trainings & keynotes on 3 continents to Fortune 500 companies. I've just returned from a speaking tour across Israel, Ireland and Germany! From my experiences of traveling to over 76 countries and living/studying/working in 8, I recognize how diversity of thought and cultures can open your eyes to new experiences and ideas, and help you grow as a person. My background in the corporate world, as a pharmaceutical sales rep then global marketing manager, has helped me understand the important of building relationship capital at work and the power of selling oneself to progress in your career journey.

What is the difference between mentorship and sponsorship?

These terms are often thrown around and mixed up in the corporate world. Mentorship is having someone share their career path, offer advice and guidance whereas sponsorship is having someone advocate and put their own reputation & personal brand on the line to champion you and your career goals. There is a stronger sense of accountability and action with sponsorship. I explain the key differences best in <5 min here.

Why is sponsorship important for companies as they think through building out their culture?

Sponsorship is key to build the next generation of leaders and also to help keep executives engaged and invested in executing their legacies.

It gives employees the opportunity to connect with executives and offer value sometimes cross-functionally and globally-- the effect of this is that it breaks down silo thinking mentalities, fosters best practice sharing and helps people network with people outside their direct line of business. Employees have the chance to showcase their awesomeness to someone who might not usually see it in their everyday workspace- thereby creating new career opportunities for themselves to grow within the company. Sponsorship is a gift that must be earned by the protege but it is also the responsibility of leaders to champion and grow young talent in the organization.Its a two-way value added relationship. Modeling it will help create the a culture of sponsorship.

What are the key pitfalls you see companies falling into when they setup mentorship programs?

  1. Matching mentors/mentees then not giving them the tools to sustain the relationship: Simply matching is not the solution, we must equip mentees and mentors with the tools to set them up for success- including topic ideas to discuss (we are launching discussion guides for sponsorship programs/conversations this year!) and ways to structure the relationship (frequency & format of meetings).
  2. No clear objectives: I see mentorship programs crumble because mentors and mentees enter into relationships without a clear idea of what they want to get out of it. Both parties need to set clear objectives and goals if they are to maximize their time together and make it value added.
  3. Poor matching & feeling stuck: When people are poorly matched either due to lack of chemistry or objective misalignment, they often feel stuck to " put their time in" but conversations are diluted, advice is weak and both parties aren't really invested in each other's career journey. People need to have the tools ( and permission) to break up from mentorship relationships if they are not working. Life happens- org restructures, personal crisis, work travel- mentors and mentees need the freedom to re-adjust and even end mentorships if they are no longer working.

Here's a look at other key challenges and ways to overcome them.

How does a company use this sort of program to attract and then develop talent?

Top talent should be asking about mentorship/sponsorship in the interview process as it demonstrates a culture of growth, development and inclusiveness. Companies should start highlighting and showcasing their mentorship programs in the recruiting process and at career fairs as it shows top talent that there are structures set up to foster networking and informal career development. We all need cheerleaders, coaches and challengers in our lives so when a company has a process that helps you create these advocates, you feel like you will be joining a supportive environment where you can grow your career and yourself over time. Being a sponsor or mentor to young talent within the organization can be a metric on performance reviews as it helps grow managers into leaders. Sponsorship programs highlight top talent cross functionally and highlight talent pools to discuss at annual talent roundtable discussions.