How mentoring can help retain women and other minorities in their respective professions
Recent years have brought about many changes for women and other minorities in the workplace. However, they still face many challenges when it comes to moving up ranks in the offices and firms that employ them.
Why is that?
While there are many reasons, it often boils down to a lack of role models to look up to and learn from. It’s extremely beneficial for women and minorities to see other minorities who have found success in their careers. One study looked at how mentorship programs impact the careers of minority groups and found that an overwhelming majority find mentoring to be extremely beneficial to their success.
By understanding how mentorship programs work and the benefits they bring to women and minorities, we can create effective programs that increase the retention rate of minority groups in the workplace.
Mentorship Programs as the Solution
These mentorship programs are especially important in professions such as law, where it’s still not as common to see women as trailblazers who work their way up to partner status. While diversity has become a priority for corporate America, more needs to be done when it comes to establishing mentorship programs for women and minorities. Because minorities don’t have the same opportunities right out of the gate, they don’t tend to advance in their career as quickly as the majority does. Mentoring allows women and minorities to work alongside someone who will support their professional development and help them through challenges that come up as they climb the corporate ladder.
Mentorship for Women
The idea of mentorship for minorities in law isn’t new. There are many existing programs in place that are designed to benefit young lawyers of color but there hasn’t been much of an emphasis on helping young female attorneys move up in their firms. Looking at law as an example, the American Bar Association (ABA) addresses research that shows that women make up 45% of law firm associates and people of color make up only 22%. It’s more significant when we see these numbers plummet at larger and more prestigious firms. This makes it more challenging for minority women especially, to achieve supervisory or partner status. If minority women want to get to that point in their careers, they’re often left to search for more ‘attainable’ opportunities at smaller firms.
With a staggering 75% of female minority lawyers considering leaving or having already left the legal profession, according to a 2020 article from the ABA Journal, it’s clear that minority women are not receiving the support they need and aren’t being sufficiently recognized for their work. The same can be said for STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), where studies discuss how careers in STEM are less-conducive to building a family than other industries and undergo stereotypes that affect women’s performance in STEM. Women are also much more likely to leave a STEM job after 12 years of work (50%) than women working in other professions (20%).
One way that we can start reversing these negative trends is by providing minority women with mentorship programs that are designed to provide guidance and advice to those at a disadvantage in the workplace.
Benefits of Mentorship Programs
It’s clear that mentoring offers women and minorities a chance to advance in their careers. This is due to a few advantages that these programs offer.
Overcoming Feelings of Isolation
White men still dominate many industries including, but not limited to fintech, engineering, insurance, and law. Minorities working in these fields often feel alone, unseen, and as if their opinions regarding important issues don’t matter. With this overwhelming feeling across the board, minority groups struggle to assert dominance and express their ideas at work.
Mentorship allows women and minorities to connect with people who have been in their position and found success. This can create a sense of community and inclusion that would be hard to cultivate without a mentor-mentee relationship.
The pandemic brought about a new level of stress and anxiety for female and minority professionals who were already dealing with significant anxiety in the workplace. Mentorship programs offered support to the mentors and mentees who needed additional support.
While those being mentored gain many benefits, mentors have also expressed improved anxiety levels and job satisfaction.
Creating Lasting Relationships
It’s not uncommon to see mentoring relationships that extend far beyond the initial mentoring period. In fact, many mentorship programs have led to deep and meaningful relationships that last for years and carry on throughout both parties’ careers.
It’s in the mentor’s best interest to cultivate a strong relationship with their mentee, as that relationship could be beneficial in the workplace. For example, if a successful lawyer mentors a law student, they’ll have a strong professional connection if they need assistance with a case down the line.
Improving Diversity in the Workplace
Mentoring programs illustrate the value of diversity, even to partners and staff who have not yet embraced it. These programs can also broaden the company’s sense of purpose and commitment to community relations by demonstrating compassion for those in less fortunate positions. Companies that encourage diversity often increase their bottom line, as they have valuable employees who have different perspectives. This is great when working with new clients who are also from minority groups because they have the ability to speak to these clients from the same level.
Creating Effective Mentorship Programs
Once a company or firm has decided to move forward with a mentorship program, the next step is content. An effective mentorship program should place a main focus on inclusion. There should be a defined plan in place that takes all parties into consideration.
In the legal field, for example, this would look like including younger legal staffers in client meetings, hearings, depositions, mediation, and strategy sessions. This should be followed by the time allotted to review and ask questions. This method of mentorship can be done in any field and it’s often easier than most companies think to intertwine work and mentorship.
Focus on allowing women and minorities to join in and contribute to areas of work that could cause additional isolation is a great place to start. Providing extra work assignments is not the best way to go about a mentorship program, as it can lead to more isolation.
Mentorships Are the Future
Properly designed and executed mentoring programs offer great value to minorities and those who employ them. It’s a step closer to equality in the workplace and will allow women and minorities a better chance at achieving or surpassing their goals. It will also help ensure that qualified minorities don’t leave a career path they excel at and enjoy due to systemic issues.
Author: Natasha Cortes, Senior Partner at Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen
Natasha Cortes is a senior partner who practices in the areas of wrongful death, medical malpractice, complex personal injury matters, and complex commercial litigation. Natasha shares the firm’s commitment to seeking justice for her clients. Since joining the firm in 1998, she has handled more than a hundred multi-million-dollar lawsuits throughout the state of Florida. Her cases have resulted in recovering over $150 million dollars for her clients and families in a wide variety of cases including birth-related brain injuries, spinal injuries and paralysis, delayed diagnosis of cancers, and wrongful death suits. Natasha has also achieved multiple eight-figure settlements for the firm’s most catastrophically injured clients that have served to help ease their financial burdens and transform their lives for the better. As the firm’s only female Hispanic partner, Natasha also serves as a liaison to the various multi-cultural and minority communities in South Florida. She is one of the founding members of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida.