Mentoring is an on-the-job educational process that provides opportunities for professional development, growth and support for both the mentor, or teacher, and the mentee, or student, involved. Individuals planning or advancing their careers receive information, encouragement, and advice from their mentors, who are experienced in the career field of the mentee. Mentors get a first-hand look at the mentee’s abilities while serving as trusted counselors or teachers. Employees in the workplace benefit from the positive dynamic created by all individuals involved in the mentoring process.
Why is Mentoring People with Disabilities Important?
Individuals with disabilities continue to face attitudinal barriers in employment. The mentoring process can help break down employment barriers by encouraging individuals with disabilities to take a more active role in planning and pursuing their careers. Conducting mentoring programs provides employers with access to new talent and an often underutilized workforce. It also promotes greater awareness and understanding of disability in the workplace.
Rod Holter, Director of Manufacturing for Cessna Aircraft Company, describes mentoring people with disabilities as “giving someone a chance who may not have otherwise had the opportunity.” Holter says, “It is the right thing to do.”
What are the Benefits to your Business?
- It is an investment in your future workforce.
Mentoring individuals with disabilities builds human capital. Mentoring experiences prepare individuals for advancement by strengthening their skills and providing them with confidence. Employers groom employees for current and future positions. In today’s labor market, this is an advantageous strategy. “Mentoring has to be one of the most important aspects of any business because it builds your next generation of employees,” says Michael Dunbar, Vice President of Public Relations for the Greater Columbus, Georgia, Chamber of Commerce. At Cessna, “We have had really good luck with the people we have mentored, and in today’s tight labor market, they really fill a void,” Holter says.
- It sends employees a message that you care.
Mentoring represents a commitment of time and energy to staff. It demonstrates that a value is placed on professional development and growth. According to Holter, “Mentoring [people with disabilities] sends a message to our other employees that the company really does care about people.”
- It creates positive attitude changes in your corporate culture.
Numerous individuals who have participated in mentoring experiences can attest to its impact on organizational culture. “Mentoring is an eye-opening experience for employers. In some cases, employers are not sure how to deal with a person’s disability. Once the employer starts working with a person with a disability, he or she begins to see the person’s capabilities rather than the disability. The experience can also have an impact on everyone in the office,” says Donna Mundy, who is the Florida High School/High Tech Program Project Director. Mundy adds, “It’s a positive step for all concerned.”
Promoting a greater appreciation of diversity in the workplace is another benefit of mentoring. Dunbar notices that “Mentoring individuals with disabilities has helped our organization broaden its understanding of disability. You learn that disabilities are not limiting.”
Anyone can be a mentor. It is important to have positive role models, whether the individual has a disability or not.
Here are some suggestions for starting a mentoring program in your organization.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy sponsors programs offering mentoring opportunities. If you are interested in mentoring youth with disabilities, please contact the Office of Disability Employment Policy at 202-693-7880 to see if there is a program in your area. Also, the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Business Leadership Network (BLN) represents companies throughout the United States who are committed to hiring qualified job candidates with disabilities. To learn more about the BLN Networks in your state, visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy Web site or call ODEP at 202-693-7880.
- Make sure that you have senior management’s support of your program.
Work with staff to ensure that they understand the concept of mentoring and are committed to it.
Hold training sessions for staff to make sure that they understand the commitment they are making.
- Provide disability awareness training for staff who are working with individuals with disabilities for the first time. Many people, although happy to mentor, have questions about disability.
- Appoint a mentoring coordinator who can serve as a resource for both the employee and the individual mentor within your organization (perhaps someone from Human Resources).
Provide incentives for people to both mentor and receive mentoring. For example, hold special recognition events for individuals participating in mentoring.
Have the mentor and the individual being mentored agree on expectations up front, including how long the mentoring will last and how frequently meetings will take place.
Encourage participants to work together on an individualized development plan as a mentoring activity. Have the plan approved by all those involved, including senior management. Individualized development planning helps define expectations and the plan can be used to measure progress.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disabilitiy Employment Policy, July 2000