Establishing a mentoring culture

Keri Gilder, Vice President and General Manager, EMEA at Ciena

Mentors are incredibly valuable – both to individuals and organisations.
Establishing a mentoring culture

They help navigate career paths, give individual’s skills and confidence to succeed, and also facilitate the gathering and sharing of experiences and ideas. Mentors also play an important role in helping develop and nurture diversity in the workforce, helping to instil confidence among women and minority employees and championing the role these important individuals play in the workplace. In the technology sector, an industry with a reputation for being male employee-oriented, rapid growth and competition for talent has demonstrated that mentoring programmes are key when it comes to recruiting, retaining and developing the most coveted employees. However, recent reports show there are fewer women working in the tech sector today than there were 10 years ago.

At Ciena we are acutely aware of this. We work to create an understanding about the value of each individual, to break down barriers that exist, and empower the voice of women. The goal, while aimed at women primarily, is to leverage mentoring as a way to encourage diversity more broadly, both internally and externally. Here are some ideas to help get a similar programme going.

Recognise that diversity is a benefit to the business

Diversity is a business imperative. Creating a diverse workforce has a significant impact on an organisations operations and performance. Research shows that organisations with greater gender diversity outperform those that don’t by 15%.

Implementing a mentoring programme will alter the way talent is developed. Such a move will, ultimately, impact an organisation’s culture for the better. It will also consume time and resources. It is therefore vital to focus on the business outcomes first. If there is a need to convince the business about your approach the pitch must address the business’s priorities. A diverse workforce inspires diverse thinking and ideas; it’s a business conversation.

Top down

Executive sponsorship is critical – an organisations’ leaders define its culture, encourage participation and mobilise teams for change. Support for any mentoring initiative should come from an executive aligned with, but not in human resources (HR) or training. It should be someone that has previously been a mentee and thus recognises the role that mentoring played in their career and skills development. It is also vital that the executive is also hands-on in delivering mentoring activities. Practice what you preach.

Organise and Prioritise

For a mentoring programme to be a success all involved need to set time aside for it and make it a priority. Newsletters and internal and external events help share ideas. For example, the ‘Women @ Ciena’ initiative has implemented a Global Women’s Council to manage the scheme, with regional representation and autonomy. In this way it is structured, with regional goals and local events that inspire engagement with the entire organisation.

Culture and commitment

It’s important to define the objectives of the mentoring programme upfront. A broad focus on recruitment, retention and development will have different boundaries and parameters than one focused solely on one aspect.

Also, while mentoring should be encouraged among women in leadership roles in order to encourage diversity, it shouldn’t be restricted to women alone. Doing so will limit the value and diversity of the programme. Male mentorship is also vital for a different view, input and balance of ideas.

After all, the outcomes of these programmes often create an environment that benefits everyone, not just women. When these initiatives take hold they can extend from career development support, to better work-life balance policies, to improved maternity and paternity benefits.

At Ciena, for example, we recently updated our Global Family Leave Policy to build on the company’s commitment to diversity. As of September 2015, all new parents receive enhanced paid leave, absence duration and return to work schedules. This helps give all employees a better work-life balance and greater job satisfaction.

Diversity in the programme

A combination of initiatives – mentoring, coaching and sponsoring – will help create momentum for a programme to succeed. A coach may be a boss or line-manager, a mentor is long-term guide and a sponsor can be a shorter term influencer; a programme that accommodates for all three can ensure there is a rich mix of expertise and experience, makes the programme more dynamic and allows for changes based on needs at different stages of someone’s career. These can be both informal and formal – some set up and managed by the organisation, while others may just be encouraged.

Take responsibility

While having a mentoring programme in place that fosters and develops women is crucial for an organisation’s success, it must also be owned by the individual and incorporated into their long-term career plans. It is up to the individual to take advantage of the opportunity.

Mentoring is one of the greatest investments an organisation can make. It’s much more than training as it gives back to the people at the heart of the business, influences a team’s culture and helps attract, develop and retain more women and diverse ideas in the workforce.

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