Cesar Herrera is CEO and co-founder at Yuvo Healtha technology-enabled solution for administrative and managed care for community health centers.
Mentoring is often prescribed as a career must-have – and for good reason. But finding a mentor is a challenging feat that can be even more difficult for people of color and those from disadvantaged communities who face significant barriers to educational attainment and professional growth. Many do not see themselves represented in leadership roles and therefore struggle to find diverse mentors.
Among current Fortune 500 CEOs, more than 85% are still white and male, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. A 2020 ISS ESG analysis found that only 16.8% of more than 33,000 drivers at large capital firms were racially or ethnically diverse.
Raised in Detroit as a first-generation Filipino American, my inherited perception of success was limited. While attending a student event in college, I met a Filipino-American faculty member. Finding a professor who not only looked like me, but also took on nontraditional roles as a teacher, historian, and community activist changed my life. She was inspiring and personable when I approached her, and she welcomed my questions without judgment.
During our mentorship, she encouraged me to think beyond the constructs of the traditional beliefs that had raised me and provided me with ongoing support and advocacy, which enabled me to embark on a different career path. If I hadn’t received such meaningful guidance as a student, I might not have had the courage to deviate from medicine, and might not be in the position I am in now as CEO and advocate for communities like mine. .
Experiences like these can change lives, but too many people struggle to gain such meaningful mentorship. This is especially true for ethnically or racially marginalized individuals who have more barriers to mentoring than their white counterparts, are less mentored, and experience a lower quality of mentoring, as reported by the Career Development Magazine†
To solve this problem – which will undoubtedly increase as we face ever-widening racial disparities in education and career growth – we must prioritize higher quality mentoring opportunities for our youth, junior-level employees, managers and even high-level executives. The value of good mentorship is clear. How you build such a relationship is less so.
Over the course of my 15 years of professional experience, I have been blessed with countless mentors, all of whom have taught me lessons on how to be a better professional, colleague, leader and individual. As you approach mentorship, here are four tips to make the relationship more meaningful:
1. Diversify your mentors.
This may be easier said than done, but it’s worth it. In my first professional job, I had a manager who was a white southern cis-gender male. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different and I fully expected this relationship to end soon. But over time, I began to see the value of his guidance. Not only did he become a mentor, but he also taught me lessons that I still benefit from today. He challenged my mindset, supported my ambitions and exemplifies the qualities of a good, caring manager.
He taught me the value of surrounding myself with more diverse colleagues and mentors. This enables more robust thinking. and as a McKinsey and Company report has shown that diverse leadership can lead to more productive work and more successful business outcomes. As a business leader, recognizing and understanding different perspectives is critical to building a successful business.
2. Expand your list of mentors to accommodate your different needs.
Just as you shouldn’t rely on your financial planner to guide you through your health insurance plan, you shouldn’t rely on a single mentor to help you with every aspect of your career. You can benefit from having many different mentors as you can seek advice from certain mentors when you are facing a specific challenge, be it a career move or a strategic business decision.
3. Make mentoring a priority.
The mentor-mentee relationship offers many long-term benefits, but requires deliberate effort to maintain. Even if you experience an abundance of work and personal obligations, make time for these relationships so they can continue to grow. Schedule monthly or quarterly check-ins and make adjustments as needed. You will find that certain relationships require more effort at certain times than others. Divide your time accordingly.
4. Recognize the mutual benefits of mentorship.
The best mentorships are collaborative and provide value to both the mentor and mentee. When you mentor the right way, you learn as much from your mentee as they learn from you. As a current mentor to several Gen Z professionals, I can attest to this. My understanding of work and workplace culture is completely different from theirs. This differing point of view has helped shape my decisions as an employer.
That’s why you need to be selective about your mentors and mentees. If you don’t feel a kinship with anyone after the first meeting, cut your losses and move on. If you do, listen without judgment and with an open mind while also teaching the mentee. You want the mentorship experience to be a growing experience for both individuals.
Throughout my career, mentors have pushed my thinking, given me new perspectives on existing problems, and enabled me to take on new challenges. I am honored to be able to pass on these experiences, especially to those related to my journey.
While more companies are making efforts on diversity and inclusion, few people of color are represented in leadership roles. Mentors are needed now more than ever to build a more diverse workforce. If you have the opportunity to be a mentor, take advantage of it. If you can, diversify your mentees.
Mentors have a direct impact on mentees, be it good or bad. If you really want to make a difference, you need to hold yourself accountable and invest in building that relationship over a long period of time. Just as success doesn’t happen overnight, neither is meaningful mentorship.