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Mentorship is a great way to invest in diversity and business success

No matter what industry you are in, the competition for top talent is increasing. The financial services industry is no exception, with the need to attract more diverse talent now than ever before.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, just 10.5% of those employed in business and financial functions identified as black or African American. Like many others who do not have friends or family working in the business, I initially did not focus on a career in financial services. One thing that made a difference and kept me engaged and on my way to leadership in a financial services company was mentorship.

The business case for non-traditional talent is well established: a diverse workforce brings different perspectives, aids in employee engagement and increases company performance and profitability. It is also the key to adapting and meeting the needs of underserved markets.

Mentorship helps employees to master the skills that are essential for stopping career spurts and making next-level planning and also helps new employees to come up with potential career options. Research by the Nationwide Retirement Institute confirmed what many diverse professionals have felt over the years: ‘If I can’t see diverse executives in roles at every level of the corporate ladder, it’s hard to realistically see myself moving forward. It is possible.’ Mentorship is a way of facilitating career development that will help diversify professionals up the ladder – and future job candidates and markets will notice.

It’s also important to remember that mentorship can take place through formal company-sponsored events, but can also include mentorship relationships built up organically. Our study found that approximately 4 in 10 black financial professionals currently have a mentor. It’s not bad – but there is room for improvement. And mentors of color see value in mentoring relationships. These individuals were more likely than white financial professionals to “strongly agree” that their advisors are important to their success.

Clarence Knox, SVP of Premium Finance and Advance Sales for Miami Life, recently shared with me his thoughts on the value of mentorship for diverse professionals:

“I was fortunate enough to attend Florida A&M University, a historically black university that provided exceptional education and supported and nurtured us through dedicated mentorship. When I consider my career in the financial services industry , so I can attribute my success to great mentors at every level. Being part of the Fair Alliance helps me complete the cycle of mentorship and help other young professionals navigate and succeed in our industry. Those directly affected will also serve as future mentors and leaders.”

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It is important to note that the benefits of counseling programs go both ways. For companies, an established mentorship program can not only help reduce turnover, it can also help improve job performance and build an overall commitment to the company culture.

However, setting up a mentorship program isn’t as simple as connecting experienced employees with new people and asking them to “go mentor.” This is not a short-term relationship with someone who acts as a “guardian for a day” or for a week or even a month. Instead, counseling requires commitment on the part of both parties, although it can certainly be time-bound in other ways.

So how should you think about it? A mentor is someone who has expertise in a given area or experience in offering advice and support to a mentor. It’s much more than just a sounding board or a place to vent. A mentor has skills that a mentor aspires to acquire, and a successful mentoring relationship should result in finding ways to help the advisor grow, learn, and build performable skills.

There is no one-size-fits-all counseling relationship. A mentee will require different leadership insights at different seasons throughout his career journey. For example, political counseling provides insight on managing relationships within your firm, if this is an applicable situation, while mental/emotional/spiritual counseling can provide advice and support on managing yourself. There are different gurus for different skills. Because of this, consultants need to identify areas in which they feel confident in offering support and growth. They are not necessarily all things to their master.

Mentors should hold their mentors accountable for their own development plan. They should also identify what they personally want to receive from the mentorship engagement.

The organization plays an equally important role by creating a support infrastructure to help them effectively identify areas in which they require guidance and to identify areas of strength and interest for mentors. The company can then specifically facilitate the initiation of mentorship relationships among diverse entrants. But organizations also need to be careful not to over-index on successful diversified financial professionals. An important point: successful counseling does not require alignment on demographic characteristics.

Personally, I have benefited from a number of mentoring relationships, from both ends of the spectrum, throughout my career. Those relationships were priceless, and I’ve gained perspectives that I might not have considered otherwise. Because of the various mentors in my professional career, I’ve been inspired to do the same for others, and it’s my mission to pursue this and rise to the top as I climb.

If you want to become a mentor or set up a mentoring program in your organization, consider starting by identifying diverse talent who can benefit from a mentorship relationship and build meaningful relationships.

Christy Rodriguez is senior vice president of the Nationwide Retirement Institute

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