The role of mentoring in cultural diversity

Mentoring and cultural diversity blog
The World Day for Cultural Diversity is on 21 May. To celebrate, the RCPod is sharing advice from its mentoring platform, PLD, about the importance of mentoring in encouraging diversity and inclusion.

21 May is the World Day for Cultural Diversity. The United Nations sanctioned the observance of this day back in 2002 and gave it the full name of the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. The aim of the day is to promote diversity and intercultural dialogue. It also serves as a powerful reminder to embrace diversity, foster dialogue and build inclusive communities and workplaces, encouraging the inclusion of people from various origins, ethnicities, sexual identities and politial viewpoints.

Cultural diversity in the workplace

There is evidence to show that fostering cultural diversity in the workplace boosts team performance and efficiency, and encourages creativity. A Deloitte study found that when team members feel represented, innovation improves by a staggering 83%. 

Encouraging a culturally diverse organisation or team requires a plan of action. Kühlmann and  Heinz (2017) set out the essential elements for success:

  • Cultural diversity management is a long-term undertaking requiring change in the whole organisation and its processes
  • Cultural diversity management is an ongoing process that needs constant monitoring, evaluation, and periodic adjustment
  • Cultural diversity management must be led, promoted and supported by top management leaders with a crucial role in the organisation
  • A cultural diversity management plan must include the entire workforce
  • Cultural diversity should be communicated positively
  • Cultural diversity management must be underpinned by social integration and the creation of equal opportunities for all employees.
The role of mentoring in creating cultural diversity

Each of the elements Kühlmann and Heinz have highlighted can be actively supported by a mentoring programme. Indeed, a Harvard Business Review article set out that mentoring can be up to 24% more successful in increasing minority representation in management positions than other corporate tactics such as mandatory diversity training, grievance systems or job tests.

Mentoring is therefore key in supporting and encouraging cultural diversity. First it can foster a more inclusive workplace by connecting employees from under-represented groups with leaders. It also provides opportunities for skill development and networking that can ease some of the challenges the mentees experience as they make their way into leadership positions or new responsibilities within an organisation. 

However, it is not just the mentee that benefits by gaining access to a leader. Reverse mentoring occurs as mentees step up to help senior leaders learn about technology changes, and this in turn provides opportunities to to promote diversity, bridging the gap between employees of different generations and backgrounds; helping the mentor understand what it’s like to work in the organisation from the mentee’s unique point of view.

An inclusive mindset

For both mentor and mentee, mentoring will also  develop an inclusive mindset and behavioural patterns. The direct, personal interactions between team members fosters mutual empathy and understanding, and exposes both mentors and mentees to new viewpoints. These interactions create an environment where different perspectives are acknowledged and valued and integrated into the organisation’s culture.

Challenges of a diverse workplace

While there are many benefits associated with a culturally diverse workplace, it can also present challenges. Katie Reynold, of Hult International Business School, identified the following challenges:

  • Negative stereotypes which interfere in the integration of multicultural teams
  • Differences in professional communication across cultures and languages can result in misunderstandings and/or misinterpretations
  • Professional etiquette and working styles can vary across cultures.

As with everything in life, how we communicate within a mentoring relationship is important. Mentors and mentees should recognise that cultural, racial and gender sensitivity is essential. Practising communication skills in a cross-cultural context, as well as recognising and understanding cultural and gender biases, is important.

Further information

  • Find out more about World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development here.
  • Find out more about RCPod's commitment to Equality, diversity and inclusivity here.
  • Mentoring is a key membership benefit for members of the RCPod. Find out more about mentoring at the RCPod here.