No matter what industry you are in, there is growing competition for top talent. The financial services industry is no exception; now more than ever, the need for attracting diverse talent is clear.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, just 10.5% of those employed in business and financial operations identified as Black or African American. Like many others who don’t have friends or family working in the business, I didn’t initially focus on a career in financial services. One thing that made the difference and kept me engaged and on the path to leadership at a financial services company was mentorship.
The business case for nontraditional talent is well established: A diverse workforce brings varied perspectives, aids employee engagement, and enhances a company’s performance and profitability. It is also the key to unlocking and addressing the needs of underserved markets.
Mentorship helps employees master skills that are required to prevent career plateaus and plan for the next level and also helps newer employees come up with potential career options. Research conducted by the Nationwide Retirement Institute confirmed what many diverse professionals have felt for years: 'If I can’t see diverse executives in roles at every level of the corporate ladder, it can be difficult to realistically see myself advancing.' Mentorship is one way to facilitate the kind of career development that will help diverse professionals scale the ladder—and future job candidates and the marketplace will take notice.
It’s also important to remember that mentorship can be through company-sponsored formal programs, but it can also encompass organically formed mentorship relationships. Our study found that about 4 in 10 Black financial professionals currently have a mentor. That’s not bad—but there is room for improvement. And advisors of color in mentoring relationships see the value. These individuals were more likely than white financial professionals to “strongly agree” that their mentors are important to their success.
Clarence Knox, SVP of premium finance and advanced sales for Miami Life, recently shared his thoughts on the value of mentorship for diverse professionals with me:
“I was fortunate to attend Florida A&M University, a Historically Black University that provided exceptional education and supported and nurtured us through dedicated mentorship. When I reflect on my career in the financial services industry, I can attribute much of my success to having great mentors at every stage. Being part of the FARE Alliance allows me to complete the circle of mentorship and help other young professionals navigate and succeed in our industry. The individuals directly affected by this initiative will also serve as future mentors and leaders.”
It’s important to note that the benefits of mentorship programs go both ways. For companies, an established mentorship program not only can help to decrease turnover, it also can help to improve job performance and create an overall commitment to the company culture.
However, establishing a mentorship program is not as simple as pairing experienced employees with new ones and telling them to “go mentor.” It is not a short-term relationship with someone who acts as “mentor for a day,” or a week or even a month. Rather, mentorship requires commitment on the part of both parties, although it can certainly be time bound in other ways.
So how should you think of it? A mentor is someone who has the expertise in a given field or experience to offer advice and support for a mentee. It's more than a mere sounding board or a place to vent. A mentor has skills that a mentee aspires to gain, and the result of a successful mentoring relationship should be to find ways to help the mentee grow, learn and build demonstrable skills.
There is not a one-size-fits-all mentorship relationship. A mentee will need different leadership insights at different seasons throughout their career journey. For example, political mentorship offers insights on managing relationships within your firm, if that is an applicable situation, while mental/emotional/spiritual mentorship can provide advice and support on managing oneself. There are different mentors for different skills. Because of this, mentors need to identify the areas in which they feel confident offering support and development. They need not be all things to their mentee.
Mentors should hold their mentees accountable for their own development plan. They should also identify what they personally want to derive from mentorship engagement.
The organization plays an equally important role by creating a support infrastructure to help mentees effectively identify the areas in which they need guidance and for mentors to identify their areas of strength and interest. The company can then facilitate the introduction of mentorship relationships, particularly among diverse entrants. But organizations also need to be careful not to overindex on successful diverse financial professionals. An important point: Successful mentorship does not require alignment on demographic characteristics.
Personally, I have benefited from many mentoring relationships throughout my career, from both ends of the spectrum. Those relationships were invaluable, and I’ve gained perspectives that I may not have considered otherwise. Because of various mentors in my professional career, I’ve been inspired to do the same for others, and it is my mission to pay that forward and to lift as I climb.
If you would like to become a mentor or establish a mentorship program in your organization, consider starting by identifying diverse talent that may benefit from a mentorship relationship and make meaningful connections.
Kristi Rodriguez is senior vice president of the Nationwide Retirement Institute.