The Critical Need for Mentorship in Black and Brown Professional Development

Asha Tarry
Young Black woman in white blouse shaking hands.

Mentorship is crucial for the career development of individuals in any profession, but mentorship plays an even more critical role for those in communities of color. With unique challenges and barriers to overcome, Black and brown professionals need mentors who understand their experiences and can provide appropriate guidance and support.

As a young Black professional, I benefited from parents affiliated with an extensive network and was exposed to a wide range of professionals. However, I quickly discovered that my experience was not the norm. My colleagues with fewer financial resources and smaller social networks lacked the access I enjoyed.

After securing my master’s degree, I had access to experienced professionals of color in my field. Mentors in substance abuse training and social work positioned me for consulting opportunities, and these early opportunities strengthened my clinical skills. When I hit a ceiling, I explored fresh opportunities and learned new skills.

On the whole, the young Black and brown professionals I coach today are less experienced than I was at their age and have fewer opportunities. They shy away from networking, are reluctant to approach C-suite professionals, and oftentimes don’t engage in conversations on platforms like LinkedIn. The difference does not stem from a lack of talent but a lack of mentorship.

The Need for Career Mentorship in Communities of Color

Representation is an essential aspect of mentorship for professionals of color. Mentors from diverse backgrounds inspire and provide relatable experiences, empowering mentees of color to navigate their professional journey confidently. Representation combats imposter syndrome and boosts a sense of belonging, showing that people from similar backgrounds have succeeded and paved the way for others.

Mentorship for Black and brown professionals goes beyond individual guidance—it involves building a broader support network. A mentor introduces their mentees to other talented professionals, creating opportunities to form connections and build relationships within the industry. A supportive network provides access to resources, job opportunities, and valuable insights. Mentorship expands the professional network of professionals of color, opening doors that may have otherwise been closed.

Finally, mentorship empowers Black and Brown professionals to develop leadership skills. By observing a mentor’s leadership style, a mentee learns how to navigate the complexities of leadership roles.

Mentors provide guidance on developing leadership qualities, such as communication, decision-making, and relationship-building skills. With the support and guidance of a mentor,  professionals of color gain the confidence to step into leadership positions, creating a positive impact in their organizations and communities.

How to Encourage Diverse Mentoring Programs

In many industries, diversity within mentorship programs remains a challenge. To actively promote diverse career mentorship initiatives, start by collaborating with established professional mentorship organizations, corporations, and universities. Discuss the importance of diverse mentorship programs and propose collaborative efforts to create initiatives.

One of your greatest assets is the stories of successful mentor-mentee pairs within the Black community. Highlighting these achievements inspires others to participate in mentorship programs and showcases the benefits of diversity.

To make these stories happen, utilize social media platforms, online forums, and mentoring apps. Embrace technology to break geographical barriers, connect mentors and mentees from diverse backgrounds, and make mentorship accessible to a wider audience.

How Professionals of Color Can Find Mentors in the Absence of Diverse Mentorship Programs

Today’s lack of diverse mentorship opportunities poses a distinct challenge. However, Black and brown professionals still have ways to thrive and succeed.

In situations where formal mentorship programs are lacking, find allies within your organization who can support and advocate for your career growth. These allies can be individuals with a vested interest in diversity and inclusion or influential individuals who recognize your potential. Build relationships with these allies and seek their guidance and support as you navigate your career.

Networking plays a significant role in career advancement. Actively seek out networking opportunities to connect with professionals who can provide guidance and insights. Attend affiliate events, join professional associations, and engage with online communities. While the lack of diverse mentorship programs may limit direct access to mentors, a robust professional network can fill that void by offering advice, career opportunities, and valuable connections.

Employee resource groups are communities within organizations where employees with shared interests, backgrounds, or characteristics come together. ERGs are excellent resources for Black and brown professionals looking to further their careers because they provide networking opportunities, career development initiatives, and a supportive community. Engaging with ERGs can help you connect with like-minded individuals, learn from their experiences, and find allies who will advocate on your behalf.

Take ownership of your professional development by seeking out relevant training programs, attending conferences or workshops, and pursuing additional certifications or degrees. Staying proactive about expanding your knowledge and skill set with determination, resilience, and dedication will play a pivotal role in your success.

Moreover, be willing to invest your time and income in mentorship. Find mentors through podcasts and LinkedIn, learn all you can about them, then offer to buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brains for 20 minutes. Attend corporate events, bring your digital business card, and start scanning the QR codes of the people you will engage on social media.

Sometimes, you find incredible mentors outside your industry and grow through feedback from coaches and people in your circle. Start by asking the five nearest people to you professionally and personally about your strengths and areas for growth—a large part of your professional growth springs from this type of feedback.

Be Willing to Mentor Others

Mentorship programs may be lacking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mentor others. Build relationships with junior professionals in your organization or industry and offer guidance and support. Being seen as a mentor and leader raises your visibility and enhances your reputation, and mentoring others provides a fresh perspective and strengthens your skills and knowledge.

Additionally, use your voice and influence to advocate for change within your organization. Share your experiences and concerns with your superiors or HR department, highlighting the importance of diverse mentorship programs. Use data and research to support your case, emphasizing how these programs can benefit other professionals of color and contribute to a more inclusive workplace culture. By advocating for change, you pave the way for future generations of Black and brown professionals.

Career mentorship is essential. Representation, guidance, support, networking, and leadership development are all critical aspects of mentorship that can help professionals navigate their career paths. By investing in mentorship programs and promoting diversity and inclusion, we create a more equitable and inclusive professional landscape where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and grow.




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