January is recognized as Mentoring Month, and there’s almost no better way to kick off a critical calendar year than to recognize and amplify the inclusive leader in all of us by spotlighting one of the more powerful and effective inclusive leadership behaviors. Through the inclusive leadership acts of coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship, we can each make an unimaginable difference to our colleagues, to our organizations broadly, and to ourselves. Learn more below and empower the inclusive leader within to make a big difference this January and for months to come!

Happy Coaching, Mentoring, and Sponsorship Month

January has long been recognized as Mentoring Month in US workplaces and increasingly so in companies around the globe. Like New Year’s Resolutions, Mentoring Month serves as a wonderful reminder and incentive to each of us to be even more intentional about talent development and creating cultures of inclusion and belonging for all employees within an organization, especially those who have been historically marginalized and/or overlooked, such as individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike New Year’s Resolutions, mentoring – and its siblings coaching and sponsorship – have a proven track record of success and many replicable best practices to help us make sure our commitments stick and have positive, measurable results. 

This year the benefits of well-managed coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship relationships are more important than ever — to LGBTQ+ individuals, to teams, and to workplaces broadly. Systemic and growing inequity specifically impacting and often targeting the LGBTQ+ community is manifesting as exaggerations in already existing gaps in opportunity, networks, and access to influential relationships inside of the workplace and out. Coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring unites us in response to these issues, while elevating LGBTQ+ talent in more equitable fashion than would be possible without. 

Read on to better understand the important acts of mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship, and learn more about not only what you can do as an individual workplace contributor, but about what your company can do to take these inclusive relationships — and the cultures of inclusion they enhance and amplify — to the next, more inclusive, and more equitable level.

Coaching, Mentoring, and Sponsorship: What’s the Difference? 

Years of research has shown that for a variety of reasons — namely, unconscious and systemic biases held by individuals and steeped into workplace practices and cultures — that while most if not all mentoring and/or professional development relationships produce beneficial outcomes, not all are the same or produce the same results. Depending on the situation and the roles of individuals involved, it’s also possible that we can switch the roles we enact with one another throughout any given day. Before we know which role is best for us to seek out or deliver to others, it’s helpful to understand the different possibilities. At the highest level, it’s straightforward: a Coach talks TO you, a Mentor talks WITH you, and a Sponsor talks ABOUT you. 

Source: Catalyst.org

Everyone Wins!

The benefits of coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship relationships are not one-directional, but multi-directional, with a ripple effect that often has far-reaching impact! Below we’ve outlined some of the well-studied benefits to protégés, leaders, and organizations.

Benefits to Protégés: 

There are a lot of benefits to being coached, mentored, and/or sponsored by someone more experienced, senior, and/or influential than you, the protégé. Rather than learning from your own experience alone, a coach, mentor, and/or sponsor can accelerate your learning and development. Having a coach, mentor, or sponsor, also helps guarantee that LGBTQ+ individuals — folks routinely relegated (again, due largely to unaddressed biases) to outside status inside of the workplace — are more aware of workplace norms and expectations and are brought in on opportunities that often only get shared among more privileged insider groups.

Benefits to protégés (the individual being coached, mentored, or sponsored) include: 

  • Better understanding of the workplace culture: Employees who are involved in a coaching, mentorship, or sponsorship relationship or program are generally more aware of workplace routines, policies (written and unwritten), and expectations than those who are not.
  • Enhanced skill development: Most protégés are looking for someone to help them advance their career prospects or connect to those with valuable opportunities for growth. Through advice, guidance, and occasional advocacy, a coach, mentor, or sponsor can help the employee develop their full potential and connect them to opportunities and influential others within the organization. 
  • Expanded networking opportunities: A workplace coaching, mentoring, or sponsorship relationship or program can be an invaluable way for employees to expand their network of important career contacts. This is especially true for folks that come from underrepresented and historically overlooked employee segments, such as LGBTQ+ populations. It’s also true in remote or hybrid work environments.
  • More effective problem-solving: A coach, mentor, or sponsor can be a terrific (not to mention trusted and safe) sounding board when a protégé comes up against an unfamiliar situation or problem. Having a trusted advisor at one’s side helps enhance the propensity for more informed problem solving, smart risk taking, and heightened innovation. 
  • Better knowledge transfer: Coaches, mentors, and sponsors routinely have a thorough working knowledge of the organization, as well as any programs or training that a protégé can access to help them reach their more immediate and short-term goals and that will help the protégé succeed in the long run.
  • Increased potential for advancement: Most coaching and mentoring relationships require protégés to consider their future direction or goals they hope to accomplish through the process. By asking employees to consider how they can grow through the experience, a coaching or mentoring relationship gives protégés more control over the direction of their careers. Research* has shown that employees who are mentored have a better career track than those who don’t — including receiving higher compensation and more promotions, as well as higher career satisfaction.

* Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14769125/

Benefits to Coaches, Mentors, and Sponsors: 

Being a coach, mentor, or sponsor serves to intentionally give back and is an important development and learning experience, for both those receiving and those giving career advice. Teaching others is often the best way to learn yourself. Coaches, mentors, and sponsors become more competent as leaders and communicators as they guide and help rising talent within their organizations. Inclusively minded leaders go a step further by ensuring that historically overlooked, and/or marginalized talent, such as LGBTQ+ employees, are among those they are investing in.

Benefits to coaches, mentors, and sponsors include: 

  • Enhanced leadership skills: Being put in the position of a role model can help leaders become more skilled and more confident in their talent development and inclusive leadership skills. The responsibility of helping guide someone’s career requires leaders to teach, motivate, and offer honest feedback in sometimes challenging or difficult conversations which routinely requiring skills like courage and empathy — leadership skills we know are increasingly critical to enhancing experiences and overall cultures of inclusion within workplaces.
  • Recognition as a trusted, inclusive leader: Like developing leadership skills, coaches, mentors, and sponsors who are intentional and active in developing diverse talent — those routinely lacking access to influential leaders, coaches, mentors, and sponsors — can become recognized for their communication skills and for their ability to seek out and elevate the most deserving, and often overlooked, talent.  
  • Strengthened communication skills: Reflect upon the last time you explained something to someone, and you’ll probably recall having to think it through and adjust your explanation to make it easy for that individual to understand. Coaches, mentors, and sponsors often become better communicators and listeners by virtue of being in relationships where they are regularly explaining ideas and processes to others. These skills are enhanced even further when those you’re communicating with are from varied and diverse backgrounds. The act of navigating and bridging cultural and background divides strengthens a leader’s ability to meet people where they are and communicate with them, and ultimately all others, more effectively and inclusively.
  • New and diverse perspectives: While the coach, mentor, or sponsor is usually in the position of imparting knowledge to a protégé, these relationships regularly help the more experienced employee learn new skills as well. Similar to the communications benefits above, these developmental interactions are nearly always beneficial to the leader (as well as the protégé), especially when their protégé is from a different background then themselves. And since LGBTQ+ representation remains relatively scarce at leadership levels in nearly every organization, actively seeking out LGBTQ+ employees to coach, mentor and sponsor almost guarantees that the leader will gain remarkable insights from the relationship, while developing talent that might otherwise go overlooked or untapped for opportunities. 

When protégés and leaders win, so does the business! 

In additional to the benefits experienced by individuals noted above, coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship is important to businesses and business outcomes for myriad reasons, including benefits to the business’s bottom line. From identifying and retaining top talent, to ensuring diverse talent is included and valued, to enhancing innovation and improving performance outcomes, developing systems and cultures for more intentional and more inclusive coaching, mentoring and sponsorship matters… now more than ever before. 

Ready to put some of this into practice? Below are some ways Out & Equal Partners are leveraging coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship experiences, programs, and cultures to ensure that not only LGBTQ+ talent is at the table, but that all talent is provided a more fair and equitable opportunity to be their authentic selves and to contribute to their fullest potential, all while strengthening the business today, and for years to come.

CNA Insurance (Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2021)

In this presentation, members of Pride@CNA share their journey in creating and implementing a successful LGBTQ+ reverse mentorship program. Hear from both mentors (LGBTQ+ ERG members) and mentees (ally senior leaders) about their experiences in the program and how they’re using what they learned to drive enterprise-wide cultural change and come away with an understanding of how to implement or enhance your own LGBTQ+ reverse mentoring program and demonstrate its ROI to senior leadership.

Gendercool (Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2021)

This presentation will take you through the process of setting up a reverse mentorship model at your company specifically focused on transgender and non-binary young people. Presented by our friends at GenderCool, view to learn how reverse mentorships will make a profound and measurable impact at your company.

Liberty Mutual (Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2021)

This presentation discusses the design of Liberty Mutual’s mentorship program, explores methodologies to efficiently match mentors and mentees, and examines how they designed the program to maximize the experience for participants while also maintaining a consistent LGBTQ+ and DEI focus.

Accenture (Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2020)

This presentation from Accenture at the 2020 Workplace Summit will help you understand the importance of reverse mentoring as a technique, how mentorship fosters greater LGBTQI+ inclusion, and will provide you steps for implementing a reverse mentoring program at your company.

Wells Fargo (Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2021)

This session from Wells Fargo explores the power of employee resource group (ERG)-specific mentoring programs and the value of creating personalized, one-on-one connections between LGBTQ employees and allies.