Some companies use formal programs but an informal approach can be just as powerful.
There’s no one way to run a mentor program. Some are formal, some are informal. Some companies encourage all employees to participate while others focus their efforts on women, Black people, or other groups who have not always had access to promotions.
Researchers at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that mentoring programs increase the number of Black, Latinx, and Asian people in management by 9 to 24%. The study also found that mentoring programs help women and people of color get promoted 15% to 38% more often than employees who were not in mentor programs.
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Companies use these networking programs to encourage collaboration across divisions and to help employees reach career goals. Research shows that mentoring programs also boost retention.
Here is a look at how GE, PayPal, Zynga, and 3M make mentoring a priority for team members and company leaders.
African American Forum at GE
Started in 1991, the African American Forum (AAF) was GE’s first employee affinity network. The group works at global, business unit, and local levels to connect Black employees with mentors and professional development opportunities. At the global level, the group focuses on professional development, the Lloyd Trotter Scholarship fund, coaching circles, and more. At the business unit and chapter levels, the focus is networking, community and business-specific professional development, and mentoring.
Tanya Spencer, the global program manager for the GE Accelerated Leadership Program and an operating leader for GE Gas Power/AAF, said one of her most powerful memories of working at GE was attending her first AAF Symposium and hearing from Lloyd Trotter, a former GE vice chair and president and CEO of GE Industrial, and Jim Shepard, a former president and CEO of GE Infrastructure Sensing.
“My first volunteer leadership role at GE was leading a recruiting team at my alma mater and HBCU, Tuskegee University, which led to my first official management role,” she said. “I have received the most direct feedback, mentoring, and coaching from AAF members.”
Shawn Warren, vice president and general manager of Large Combat and Mobility Engines, Military Systems Operation, GE Aviation/AAF Global Operating Leader, said the forum provides Black people at GE a safe place to connect, find fellowship, talk about issues that impact the community, and coach each other on how to navigate the corporate workplace.
“Almost every African American leader in the business has also had a leadership role in the
forum at one point,” he said.
Warren said that the forum also creates an environment where employees can find mentors,
sponsors, and role models.
“Our National Symposium did a great job of showcasing our talent, and just the raw energy of being in the same room with up to 1,700 other successful, professional African Americans was enough to sustain your heart for many months afterwards,” he said.
WAZ works for Zynga
Michelle Del Rosario, a principal software engineer at Zynga, has participated in Women at Zynga (WAZ) and the Zynga Engineering Mentorship Program.
WAZ supports two programs: Mentor Match and several STEAM Outreach partnerships. The Mentor Match program connects women across disciplines within the company and introduces entry and midlevel employees to senior leaders. Zynga employees volunteer with STEAM organizations in the community to match employees with high school and college students interested in the video game industry.
Software engineers who join the Zynga Engineering Mentorship Program are paired with a senior colleague to spend six months developing professional goals including management, technology, process, communication, and strategy.
“The steering committee meticulously matches participating mentees with someone outside of their direct team and someone more senior to help guide them through their selection of aspirations,” Del Rosario said. “Mentors undergo training to help them acclimate to the responsibilities and expectations of them as well as prepare them to feel comfortable with their ability to mentor effectively.”
Del Rosario uses a structured and collaborative approach to plan sessions with her mentees.
“In my experience, presenting a clear agenda and direction for each meeting is important because this helps them maintain focus and see a steady progression towards their goals,” she said.
She cites these three benefits of the program:
- Encourages networking across departments and cross-pollination of ideas among teams
- Provides junior and entry-level professionals the chance to work with a trusted individual and learn how to lead by example
- Fosters camaraderie and friendship between colleagues, sharpens new skills, and connects people new to the workforce with an experienced individual
3M takes an informal approach
Rebecca Teeters, PhD is the director of strategy and execution for the enterprise operation for 3M. She and her 54,000-member team team run the company’s supply chain and customer service operation.
Teeters said mentoring at 3M is informal and an important part of the company’s values.
“We encourage everyone at the company to reach out and make connections with people that resonate with them and we give our direct reports guidance about who to connect with,” she said. “We are a science company and we are naturally attuned to knowledge sharing, it’s part of our culture.”
One of her experiences included working with the vice president of marketing for the company’s consumer marketing group and learning how marketing concepts are developed.
“I would never have naturally come across that experience in my regular workday,” she said. “It was very helpful to see strategic concepts in a different setting.”
Teeters also has led people to mentors. When working with her direct reports, she listens to where they are and where they want to go and extrapolates the most relevant experiences to accomplish that career goal.
“I try to connect them with people who have had that experience so that person can share their wisdom with people who are hoping to go through the same process,” she said.
At 3M, there’s also the opportunity for reverse mentoring: Pairing a senior leader with a new hire. Teeters shared the example of a new 3M employee who was a Black millennial who was paired with a baby boomer who was White and had been at the company for years.
“If you’ve been here 30 to 35 years, you just don’t know how the experience of a new hire today is radically different,” he said. “Reverse mentoring is a chance to share an experience that you would not have in your normal role.”
She said in her 23 years at the company she has never asked for a mentoring relationship and been turned down.
“Leaders at 3M always find the time and I’ve always found that to be just a cultural attribute that seems to really work well for our company,” she said.
Building connections at PayPal
At PayPal, the Mosaic program organizes networking events and group mentoring sessions. Employees can choose their mentor, and then build the relationship with that person.
Group mentoring sessions happen once a month and participants meet individually with their mentors during three monthly sessions. At the end of the sessions, each protégé can choose to keep going with that mentor or move to another.
In June 2020, Mosaic rolled out a new group mentoring track designed specifically for people at the director level and above. This program gives an opportunity for women at the vice president level and above to mentor PayPal’s employees in midlevel roles.
Jennifer Pulido, an integration engineer, started attending the Mosaic mentorship sessions in 2019 so she could learn about professional growth and development from other women at PayPal.
“It’s been incredibly beneficial with helping me take more initiative in stepping up for new projects and proactively asking my manager for feedback so I may continue to develop my skills,” she said.
After seeing the benefits of the Mosaic program, she and other PayPal employees launched a similar mentorship program in Aliados, the Diversity and Inclusion community for PayPal’s Latinx employees and allies. Pulido is the global co-chair of the group which offers a way for Latinx leaders to actively encourage community members from the top down.