JANET M. GRAHAM AND SARAH ANN KERR1
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
As an introduction to the topic of mentoring, Janet Graham and Sarah Kerr of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company presented an overview of DuPont’s mentoring program. They described the four guiding principles of the DuPont mentoring program, which are that it is:
open to all employees
management supported with encouragement and administrative resources
The program is protégé driven in the sense that individuals who want to participate as protégés (or mentees) are responsible for identifying their preferred mentors and approaching them with their requests.
Based on their experience in DuPont’s mentoring program, the participants have learned that successful mentoring relationships require that both parties be interested in learning from each other and that both believe the experience of mentoring is valuable, to the individuals involved and to the company. Discussions between mentors and protégés must be confidential, and the parties must treat each other with trust and respect. Each mentor and protégé pair should agree on the goals of the relationship in advance and keep their commitments to each other.
A successful mentor should be easy to approach, a good listener, committed to his or her personal development and to the development of others, a provider of honest, constructive feedback, and should respect different perspectives. Because mentoring provides mentors an opportunity for reflecting on their career experiences, learning is often reciprocal—the mentor learns from the protégé and vice versa. A senior employee who acts as a mentor can improve his or her listening and interpersonal skills and become more appreciative of cultural diversity. Mentors often feel pride in contributing to the development of junior colleagues.
A successful protégé must be willing to learn from the experience of others and must be able to accept feedback. A mentoring relationship provides an opportunity for employees to receive constructive, unbiased feedback outside of the regular performance review process. Protégés have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the corporate hierarchy and to learn the unwritten rules of the organization. They often gain confidence, competence, and credibility through participating in a mentoring relationship. The interaction between mentors and protégés can also bring new perspectives to the organization and challenge organizational thinking.
Perceived benefits to the organization of a successful mentoring program include employee development and an effective transfer of institutional knowledge. Relationships between employees with different levels of experience and expertise often generate new ideas and encourage cultural exchange. Employee satisfaction can lead to higher retention rates, increased productivity, and can ultimately give the company a competitive advantage.
DuPont identified eleven factors necessary for a successful mentoring program. During the start-up phase, the planners should collect information on mentoring to take advantage of the experience of others. The company should put together a design team to identify the needs of employees and set goals for the program. A coordinator should be appointed to oversee the program and keep it going and to enlist the support of management. Before implementing a full-scale program, the company should initiate a pilot program in a single department or small group of employees. The program should be marketed to potential mentors and protégés to ensure that everyone understands the mechanics and benefits of the program. Pairings should be based on a matching process that allows both mentors and protégés to specify their preferences and expectations for a mentoring relationship. All participants should be trained in ways to make the mentoring experience productive. The supervisors of participants should be involved in the program and should be aware of the benefits. The company should have a mechanism for keeping track of the mentoring relationships, so that the results can be evaluated. Finally, succession planning should be part of the program.
Some of the pitfalls and challenges of mentoring programs identified by du Pont are: meeting too infrequently, lack of meaningful discussions, and failure
to follow up on important issues. Mentoring relationships that cross gender, ethnic, or cultural lines can be especially challenging. In short, the mentor and protégé should be aware of potential problems and prepared to address them.
DuPont had little experience with measuring the success of their mentoring program quantitatively. Feedback and testimonials from participants, however, provided a qualitative assessment of the program, which was mostly positive. Some mentors commented that the program had increased their appreciation of differences and their trust in others. Mentors also felt that their participation had changed their perceptions and their understanding of others and of themselves. Protégés felt they had gained a better understanding of the organization, had expanded their networks, had increased their sense of empowerment and had raised their level of self-esteem.
Summary of Discussion
Center for Workforce Development
University of Washington
Our topic was mentoring programs. The three questions we addressed were: What are the key components of effective mentoring programs? Are there potential pitfalls in mentoring programs for diverse employees, and, if so, how should they be handled? Is there a “best” way to deal with the issues of gender and ethnicity in mentoring programs?
Most people felt that companies should specify their goals and objectives for mentoring programs. Is the objective to improve recruitment? to increase retention? or to promote the advancement of diverse groups? Mentoring programs would be implemented in different ways depending on their objectives. Another critical component was commitment from the leadership in the company or institution and the communication of that commitment to employees throughout the organization. DuPont’s diversity programs were given as examples. Diversity and mentoring were discussed with employees and through external seminars for deans of colleges of engineering. The University of Washington’s Curriculum for Training Mentors and Mentees in Science and Engineering, which is now used in 250 institutions across the country, provides a designed approach to implementing mentoring programs and a methodology for evaluating their effectiveness. Another critical component of effective mentoring programs was accountability or a method for measuring their effectiveness in terms of retention, recruitment, and advancement.
The second question addressed potential pitfalls in mentoring programs for diverse employees and how can they be avoided. Several members of the group noted that research has shown that gender and cross-racial mentoring can be effective when the participants are trained and educated in advance about
sensitivities to diversity. Some of the literature concludes that cross-racial and cross-gender mentoring can never be effective. Take, for example, an African-American female mentee and a Caucasian male mentor; this situation could be fraught with complicated issues. The combination is not necessarily negative if both have been made aware of differences and expectations based on cultural experiences, as well as gender experiences. Another pitfall was “terminating a relationship.” In both academic and corporate settings, mentees are often easily intimidated by senior mentors, regardless of their race or ethnicity. As a result, connecting with a senior mentor may be difficult and often delayed by the mentee. Sometimes, the “chemistry” is just not right. Mentors and mentees must be given the option of terminating the relationship for whatever reason and of being rematched with no fault attached to either. Mentoring programs that have built in “fault-free termination” are more effective.
Finally, the third question was if there is a “best” way to deal with cross-gender, cross-racial, and similar issues in mentoring programs. One of the most effective ways of matching mentors and mentees is to have them identify the desired characteristics of their partners in terms of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on. Doing this at the beginning may avoid some pitfalls. Another good idea is to build a feedback loop into the mentoring program so that mentors and mentees can relay problems as they arise. Having a coordinator for the program is critical then, to ensure that problems are addressed up front. Finally, training in mentoring and educating participants to the sensitivities of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures is very important to ensuring that the relationships are beneficial to both mentors and mentees.