AffinityGroups-5As I wrote in my last blog, mentoring programs provide myriad benefits to mentees, mentors and organizations. There’s a specific type of mentoring program I’d like to discuss this time – Affinity Groups.

A workplace affinity group is a group of employees with similar backgrounds, characteristics, or life experiences, such as: women, people of color, or Veterans.  The purpose of an affinity group is to provide diverse populations within an organization the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. Often these groups are under-represented in a particular career path and/or leadership. Matching experienced mentors with mentees within the affinity group can help break down barriers and enhance mentees’ personal growth. For example, matching a Veteran who’s been back in the workforce for several years with a Veteran who’s just re-entering it. Their shared experience accelerates rapport, and the mentor can provide insight that a non-Veteran might not be able to.

In the affinity group mentoring program I worked with, we created what we called “mentoring circles” for the groups that had fewer than 10 people. Two mentors met with the groups twice a month. We encouraged the groups to schedule group activities in addition to the meetings, and to broaden their knowledge and exposure to different parts of the company so they could identify potential opportunities. Participant feedback indicated that getting input from mentors in the same affinity was very helpful.

Whether you create a general mentoring program or one based on affinity groups, best practices for your mentors and mentees are the same. Both mentor and mentees should be reminded of basic relationship skills: open and honest communication, active listening, being accessible, building trust, sharing knowledge and ideas, and working together to resolve differences. Here are some additional tips.

Mentor success tips:

  • Handle the awe factor. Make the mentee feel comfortable. Share times when you’ve made mistakes. Be enthusiastic and patient. Invite feedback.
  • Set expectations. Share your availability, preferred ways of communicating, and what you expect from the mentee in order for them to get the most out of the partnership.
  • Help with specific goals and plans. Encourage the mentee to develop a personal vision. Help them think of concrete goals based on their vision and a plan of how they’ll reach those goals.
  • Give feedback. Provide the mentee with frequent feedback, both positive and constructive. Help them measure progress.

Mentee success tips:

  • Ask questions. Ask for what you need in terms of knowledge, advice, guidance and information.
  • Keep your commitments. Arrive at meetings on time and prepared. Complete your action items.
  • Build trust. Communicate open and honestly. Respect confidentiality. Demonstrate a willingness to learn. Follow up and follow through.
  • Make the experience count. Keep a mentoring journal. Capture and reflect upon what you’ve learned and how you will apply the learning.