Leading diversity and inclusion through mentorship

Leading diversity and inclusion through mentorship

Sonwabise Mzinyathi, Chair: SA Women in ICT Forum.

“Diversity is inviting someone to a party. Inclusion is asking them for a dance. Equality is coming up with the dance together,” author unknown.

In an interview recently I was asked what the top four things I’d advise to women who are entering the workplace. My advice was as follows:

  • You are never alone, there’s always a woman who is experiencing or has experienced what you are going through. Speak up.
  • If someone is not in your arena doing the hard work with you, you have no business listening to their opinion.
  • Lift other women as you rise.
  • Don’t stop learning and unlearning.

In particular, however, I’d like to focus on the need for getting a mentor and a sponsor in your corner as you grow in your career. Mentoring provides the key to the strategic and intentional acquisition and retention of women and is a crucial part of leading diversity and inclusion. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career if it wasn’t for the men and women who mentored me, who were my sounding boards and sponsored me. You see, when I began my career, I learnt very early from my mentors that being a woman in the workplace requires you to act with intention and purpose, to always be extra prepared and to back your opinion with data.

Being a woman in business, entrepreneurship or professionally is not an easy task. It comes with so many hurdles that sometimes you feel alone but that is never the case. According to the Pew research Centre, women make up 40% of the workforce in more than 80 countries globally. Most surprising is that the top five countries with the highest female representation in the workforce are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi lead the diversity board with more than 50%, Gambia sits at 50.8%, Liberia at 50.6% and Tanzania comes in at 50.5%.

Women are becoming prime candidates for filling the leadership pipeline and C-suite benches that will soon be left lighter by a departing generation of workers, namely the baby boomers that will be retiring in the next few years. And yet, women get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in the corporate ladder, the fewer women you see. This representation can discourage women from seeking advancement and cause them to become complacent with their current position, or push them out of an organisation or even an industry altogether. Likewise, a lack of gender diversity can negatively impact organisations, hindering their talent recruitment, diminishing their leadership pipeline and even impacting their profit margins.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that the most successful teams were ones with more women on them. The University reiterates that when women make up more than 50% of a team, the team’s collective intelligence rises above average. This is partly because gender diverse groups provide varied points of view that make for better decision making proving these teams to be smarter, more innovative problem solvers, and more impactful teams.

Organisations that do not engage in the recruitment of women leaders end up losing their middle management talent because these women do not see themselves climbing the corporate ladder in a company or an industry where they are not represented and therefore they go elsewhere to seek employment where their ambitions can be fulfilled. The middle management stage of women’s careers is pivotal as this is when women make the decision on whether they will continue to push for their aspirations or will tap out. Providing opportunities for enablement; namely: internal stakeholder networking, mentorship and sponsorship during this time helps women better navigate their next career move and helps organisations in turn to retain their female staff.

Mentoring enables skills development, increased employee engagement and retention, the freedom for employees to drive their own development while creating highly scalable models and innovations for their organisations. Mentorship formats include mentoring circles, flash mentoring, high potential mentoring, and modern mentoring imparting inclusivity for women to feel more connected and engaged in their place of employment.

In addition, mentorship programmes cultivate habits that build a woman’s belief in her capabilities and therefore lead her to perform better and enable her sponsor to have reasons that support her rising success in the company through salary increases and promotions etc. In addition, women who have experienced mentoring at a young age tend to show willingness to mentor others as their careers evolve. In fact it is said that 67% women find mentoring to be a crucial part of their career progression. In my personal capacity, I mentor ten young male and female aspiring leaders at a time because I recognise the impact that mentorship has had in my career.

When an organisation adds mentoring of women as part of their strategy for human capital development, it increases their female employee engagement, belief in their intellect and ability to collaborate, increasing innovation, growing company profits and revenue. The female staff also start to push their boundaries of contribution to the company’s growth. Organisations can unlock the talent pipeline with the right strategic mentoring programmes that support women in building the skills and knowledge needed to elevate to the next level, and initiating a network of resources available to provide guidance, sponsorship and career growth.

About the author

Sonwabise Mzinyathi is an advocate for the use of technology to bridge the inequality gap, specifically for the most vulnerable in the community – women and children. She is the acting chair of the South African Women in ICT Forum, a councillor on the broad-based black economic empowerment ICT Sector Council and she owns an impact investment company, Source Creations.

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