April 21, 2017

The Road to Innovation: Developing Minority Leaders through Mentoring

We all want to achieve diverse leadership in our organizations. Top businesses tout the multiple benefits of having diverse leadership teams. Research has shown that heterogeneous groups – that are, diverse teams – can produce more creative and innovative work when compared to homogenous groups (Locke, 2009). For example, PepsiCo credited the creation of guacamole-favored chips – one of their most popular items – to their diverse management team. Guacamole-flavored chips is a novel idea that was able to tap into the $13 trillion minority market.  The old notion that diversity is only needed because it’s moral and legal has expired. We now see diversity in the workplace as a competitive edge, an increase in profit, and most importantly a path to innovation (Robinson & Dechant, 1997). However, organizations must actively develop minority leaders if they hope to tap into that innovation. Managing and developing minority leaders continues to be a challenge (Ensher & Murphy, 1997). Here are some ways to make minority mentorships successful.

First, when mentor and mentee are meeting for the first time, acknowledge differences to create a sense of openness and a pathway toward trust. Simply state, “Even though we have a different gender/race/age/etc., I will still work to support you in the formal matters of work, and I am here for you regarding the informal matters of work.” This step will allow both parties to feel comfortable to move on to a deeper relationship and is essential for minority mentorships (Ensher & Murphy, 1997). Once there is an open discussion on the surface differences, the duo can have a quality mentorship that moves toward a more in-depth interaction.

Second, create collaborative goals. Instead of saying what you are going to do or what I am going to do, change the dialogue to what we are going to do. Framing goals as shared goals highlights collaboration and helps the mentee and mentor trust each other (Wasburn, 2007). After the goal is complete, the duo will feel positive emotions towards each other as they see the positive results of their relationship.

Last, look for opportunities where the mentee can become a mentor. When the mentee becomes a mentor, they will be able to see how much they have grown. As a result of appreciating the process, the mentee will continue to grow and mature long after the initial mentorship relationship (Dunham-Taylor et al., 2008).

Effective minority mentorship does not greatly differ from other mentorships if individual differences are addressed up front; the first step, therefore, is the most important. However, when minority mentorships are effective, it can lead to greater innovation. Taking the time to do minority mentorship right will lead to greater chances of success.

About the Author

Amber Kea-Edwards is a research intern at LeAD Labs and a Ph.D. student in Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University. She specializes in leader development with interest in increasing communication between researchers and practitioners.

Related Research

Dunham-Taylor, J., Lynn, C. W., Moore, P., McDaniel, S., & Walker, J. K. (2008). What goes around comes around: Improving faculty retention through more effective mentoring. Journal of Professional Nursing, 24(6), 337-346.

Ensher, E. A., & Murphy, S. E. (1997). Effects of race, gender, perceived similarity, and contact on mentor relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(3), 460-481.

Robinson, G., & Dechant, K. (1997). Building a business case for diversity. The Academy of Management Executive, 11(3), 21-31.

Wasburn, M. H. (2007). Mentoring women faculty: an instrumental case study of strategic collaboration, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15(1), 57-72.

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