Structured mentoring programs are becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace. In fact, over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have some type of mentorship program.
The benefits of workplace mentoring for employees and employers are numerous, as mentoring proves to be a highly successful professional development and retention strategy. For employers, mentoring can increase organizational diversity, reduce turnover, and prompt higher levels of employee engagement. Employees that participate in mentoring programs experience easier transitions into the workplace, expanded leadership abilities, increased technical skills, and countless other benefits. For employees with disabilities, workplace mentoring programs can provide additional benefits, including a greater sense of belonging and ability to explore potential issues and challenges in a supportive environment.
Disability-inclusive mentoring programs are an ideal way to develop a stronger, more inclusive workplace culture. Employers that desire to engage employees with disabilities in workplace mentoring should consider the following:
- Create inclusive, accessible recruitment material – Employers should develop inclusive recruitment material for their workplace mentoring programs in the same manner they would for inclusive hiring initiatives. In addition to showing visual representation of people with disabilities, print and web materials should be accessible and should clearly state that your mentoring program is disability inclusive. Additionally, program applications should request information about accommodation needs. For example, include the statement “Please describe any accommodations that will help you participate fully in the mentoring program.” This will help with planning and will help assure potential participants that their needs will be met throughout the program’s duration.
- Train participants – Formal workplace mentoring programs should provide training for mentees and mentors. This will help them feel more prepared and eliminate concerns prior to program implementation. It’s important in mentor/mentee trainings to emphasize that an employee’s disability should not be considered a barrier to participation in the mentoring program. In fact, the Workplace Mentoring Playbook developed by the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) shares that disability-inclusive, comprehensive mentoring training programs should include: overview of the program; reasonable accommodations; disability disclosure and self-identification; mentee expectations; mentor expectations; and specific activities, such as career planning, company culture discussion, functional business unit discussions, etc.
- Clearly define individual goals – Mentors and mentees should collaborate to define measurable goals to work toward. This can include both personal and professional goals, some of which may or may not be directed toward a mentee’s disability. In developing goals, mentors should be sure to focus on the needs and interests of mentees, not their personal expectations.
- Provide open and accessible communication – Communication is critical to successful relationships – including mentoring relationships. Mentors and mentoring program organizers should set expectations and model strong communication by connecting consistently with mentees through written and verbal communication. Simply acknowledging receipt or sending a quick note to check in can often be enough. It’s also important for mentors to communicate when there will be periods when they won’t be available. Participants can become frustrated and/or withdrawn when significant lapses in time occur between communications.
At the start of mentoring relationships, mentors should ask about communication preferences, as employees, including those with disabilities, may have preferred styles that will help them better participate in the program. For example, some employees may prefer to communicate primarily through email, so they have a longer time to process and respond to information. Others may request virtual or in-person meetings, as the social interaction may be more beneficial to set and accomplish goals.
- Foster a trusting environment – Mentors should demonstrate that they value and respect their mentees, including respecting their time and personal choices. This helps foster trusting environments where mentees will feel more comfortable sharing their needs and concerns. Mentors should also emphasize confidentiality, as mentees should never feel they will be penalized for what they’ve shared in a closed meeting or conversation.
- Offer opportunities for feedback – Successful workplace mentoring programs create opportunities for participants to evaluate the program and offer areas for improvement. Simply sending out questions or developing an online survey to send out to mentors and mentees mid-way through and/or after program completion can significantly help improve program quality.
For more strategies, tools and activities for employers and employees interested in establishing mentoring relationship, check out EARN’s Workplace Mentoring Playbook. For additional guidance on engaging employees with disabilities in workplace mentoring, contact the Getting Hired team.
Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions