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ATD Blog

How to Build Inclusive Mentoring Programs for the Hybrid Workplace

Monday, December 27, 2021
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The last couple of years has shifted the definition of a “normal” workplace. Gone are the days where cubicles and open-plan offices were standard. Now, workplaces have to define what normal means to them. Some want their staff to return to the office once it’s safe to do so. Others are choosing to shift to a fully distributed, remote-first model. Many have decided on an arrangement that lands in-between, opting for a hybrid of remote and in-office work.

Of course, the definition of a hybrid workplace varies from organization to organization. For some, hybrid is synonymous with flexibility—meaning workers choose when (and if) they want to come to the office. For others, it means requiring their employees to be in the office for a set number of days a week.

The Importance of Mentoring in a Hybrid Workplace

A 2021 survey by PwC found that almost 4,000 business and HR leaders worldwide noticed a rise in productivity during the last year due to hybrid and remote working; however, less than one-third of leaders surveyed were confident they were cultivating high levels of trust between workers and supervisors. Regardless of what hybrid means to your organization, creating connection and support between employees is vital to your future of work. When done right, mentoring can help build that trust and belonging. One Moving Ahead study found that 82 percent of employees believe mentoring relationships help foster meaningful connections between mentors and mentees across departments and the organization.


Best Practices for Inclusive Mentoring

To build a mentoring program that connects employees across your hybrid workforce, it must be considerate and inclusive of all backgrounds. Women of color, for example, are more likely to feel excluded and lack a sense of belonging in the workplace. In addition, transgender people are more likely to frequently think about leaving their company (32 percent versus 21 percent of cisgender people). To ensure that your mentoring program is inclusive, consider these ideas:

Offer Matching Flexibility
The ingredients that make up a mentor-mentee relationship vary between individuals, so your program should reflect that reality. Rather than instituting a prescriptive program, listen to the needs of your employees, particularly those who belong to underrepresented communities. Ensure that you have a range of options that cultivate a sense of belonging. Some mentees might prefer being matched with those of a similar demographic or gender to give them the feeling of community in the workplace, while others might value having a mentor with a differing perspective and experience.


Emphasize Available Connection Tools
In a hybrid workplace, some mentoring sessions will undoubtedly take place virtually. Whether it’s Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, or another communication platform, your mentoring program should highlight the available communication tools for these sessions to occur and ensure workers have access (and are equipped) to use those tools. Further, it’s important for mentors and mentees to discuss what form of communication or meeting mode they are comfortable with and will commit to. Establishing a standard is important in setting expectations for mentoring relationships to thrive.

Train Participants
A strong mentor and mentee should be able to discuss difficult issues productively and constructively. You can facilitate that success by training your mentors and mentees on how to approach sensitive conversations, especially regarding stereotypes, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Providing resources around creating psychological safety in the workplace will help mentors and mentees be more intentional in their conversations.

Lead With Empathy
A fundamental tenet of inclusive leadership, and in turn, mentorship, is empathy. That requires participants to engage in active listening and a willingness to see things from the other person’s point of view without making assumptions. W. Brad Johnson, professor of psychology in the department of leadership, ethics, and law at the United States Naval Academy, said leaders need to ask “really good questions” to understand their employees’ reality. If you’re in charge of your organization’s mentorship program, model this behavior by taking the time to understand what your employees need. Don’t be afraid to ask for constructive feedback or suggestions or to make tweaks to your mentoring model if you discover it’s not serving your employees in the best way.

An inclusive mentorship program is an essential component of a successful hybrid workplace. Implementing these practices in your organization can help you build trust among your employees, improve a sense of belonging, increase employee satisfaction, and retain talent in today’s competitive labor market.

About the Author

Anisa Purbasari Horton is a freelance journalist, content creator, editor, and writer. She writes and edits stories about all things related to the intersection of work and life—whether that’s productivity, personal finance, careers, leadership, psychology, or workplace culture. Her work has been published in a range of publications including Fast Company, Business Insider, and BBC.

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