Inclusion: Genuinely valuing a wide range of diversity in talent, perspective and person, for its ability to contribute to individual, organisational and societal well-being. Authentic inclusion is recognised by a sense amongst all groups that the only limitations on their potential to achieve are those they choose to impose upon themselves; and by the high quality of conversations between people, irrespective of their differences.

From very early origins in the 1980s, when mentoring was about maintaining the status quo and was largely an instrument for reinforcing barriers against inclusion, mentoring has become one of the most significant resources for supporting inclusion, in organisations and in society in general.

Effective developmental mentoring is about stimulating learning conversations between people, who have different levels or kinds of experience. In its early manifestations, structured mentoring focused on the age gap – the passing on of wisdom from a senior, authority figure to a new entrant to an organisation or profession. Inevitably, the mentors were attracted to mentees, who they saw as similar to themselves. Gradually, however, mentoring has shifted to place emphasis on other kinds of experience gap, based on diversity of race, gender, education, discipline, ability/ disability and so on.

The impact on the diversity and inclusion agenda is substantial. Some of the most common ways we see that impact on people from less advantaged groups include:

  • Giving insight into the realities of how organisations work and what is needed to progress
  • Helping them raise their ambition levels, discover their strengths and overcome self-limiting beliefs
  • Providing a safe environment to challenge stereotypes
  • Building support networks that extend into the sources of power within organisations and societies

At the same time, there are major impacts on leaders and people in more advantaged groups

  • Creating understanding amongst about the nature and mechanisms of unconscious discrimination; educating them to recognise and challenge
  • Giving them a safe environment, in which they can be challenged (and can challenged themselves) about beliefs and practices that limit others
  • Enabling them to practise engaging and conversing with people, who are different, so that they are better able to relax into and appreciate diverse relationships.

From an organisational perspective, mentoring helps achieve diversity objectives, not least because it is closely associated with retention of diverse talent. However, it does much more – it opens up dialogue generally around diversity issues and it helps shift the culture of the organisation to one that it much more inclusive. In particular, mentoring reinforces the cultural evolution from an equal opportunities focus, through a focus on diversity management, to one on leveraging the power of difference, where inclusion can flourish.

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