Mentor – “An experienced and trusted adviser”Oxford dictionary
We hear the word mentorship flying around all the time, but how can having a quality mentor truly impact the career trajectory of a black woman?
The concept of mentorship means different things to different people. Research shows that mentorship can play a significant role in aiding black women to succeed in the workplace, regardless of their career stage. In McKinsey’s 2019 report ‘Women in the Workplace’, distinct differences were found regarding the challenges different groups of women face in the workplace. Black women are amongst those who have “by and large had the worse experiences of women overall”.
Black women receive less support, see fewer opportunities to advance and are paid significantly less than their white female counterparts (let’s not even talk about the disparities compared to white men). Resistance to black women acquiring greater economic and professional influence is systemic and one of the ways this plays out is a lack of mentorship. Sounds too simple right? But hear me out.
McKinsey’s seven yearlong research into this topic only reaffirms that companies that are more ethnically and culturally diverse, outperform their peers on profitability; but for me, the most pertinent part of this discussion is the difference that investing in black women makes to individual lives. Improved living standards, representation for offspring, boosted self-esteem and self-worth, confirmation that hard work pays off – all create a standard that future generations not only see, but success becomes an aspiration that is accessible and within reach.
Good mentorship can provide a roadmap to success. When challenges are thrown our way, it’s entirely fair to say that we don’t know what we don’t know. This is why it’s vital to have mentors who can guide and help us to navigate through any situation we may face. “Isn’t this the role of a good manager?” I hear some of you say. Yes and No. A good manager will also try to mentor their staff; however, they have to focus on decisions that align with company strategy. On the other hand, mentors focus on personal and career growth. They can help you deal with workplace issues; advise on how to approach progression opportunities; help improve communication, networking and decision making skills; contribute to real projects from a place of experience and offer objective views on several different areas.
There will be times where our emotions will get the better of us; a mentor can help keep us grounded and steer us back on the right path. Having someone who you trust and believe has your best interest at heart can boost how we manage and see past difficult situations. Sourcing a suitable mentor isn’t always easy for black women. The best mentor is someone who works within the same (or a similar) profession and who has a perspective of the daily trials and tribulations that you encounter. In the United Kingdom, black women executives are underrepresented in line roles; studies have found that “black women suffer a double burden of bias that keeps them from the uppermost levels of corporate leadership” (McKinsey, Delivering through diversity, 2016).
Understandably, many black women have a preference towards mentors who physically reflect them due to the unique challenges faced, but this isn’t always so easy to find due to the lack of senior representation. However, I think we should consider engaging with mentors at different stages within their career, from our peers all the way up to C-Suite. While senior mentors can provide broader career guidance, we can certainly benefit from those in similar positions who have a different perspective on things. The most crucial factor is that your mentor is someone who you look up to regardless of their position.
It’s well documented that black women begin their careers confident, ambitious and determined to succeed but after the ever common issues of double standards, unconscious bias, and plain old racial abuse, black women drop off the progression ladder. Mentors can counteract some of the impacts such experiences may have and provide the support that reminds you of your worth. Sometimes you just need a good friend to remind you that you are the only person to set your worth; no one should have the power to chip away at your confidence and spirit.
You are the diamond that has been created under real pressure. Find a mentor who can help you buff your shine.
Sending love and light always.