One of the biggest challenges to meaningful diversity and inclusion (D&I) in many organizations is that traditionally underrepresented staff often feel like they’re in uncharted territory as they move further up the corporate ladder.
Historically, women and people of color have been absent from executive positions and corporate boards. This means that those making the journey toward the pinnacle of their career don’t always have someone they can talk to and learn from who’s been there before.
Mentorship programs can be great tools for helping diverse talent feel comfortable in their roles. It is certainly not the case that an executive is an executive is an executive. Highly motivated and high-achieving people often have unique backgrounds and experiences, and this can be particularly true for those from diverse or traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
A female person of color might gain a lot of knowledge and experience from another female person of color she simply couldn’t get from a white male mentor, regardless of the sincerity of his efforts.
The same holds true for any measure of diversity—immigration status, socioeconomic background, religious affiliation, etc. Any time a rising star or anyone in the organization feels marginalized or “different,” a mentor with a similar background and demonstrated success can mean the difference between stagnation and long-term engagement, retention, and success.
CDO Jenn Labin Leads the Way
For this chief diversity officer (CDO) profile, we spoke with an executive who has strong experience in D&I and mentorship programs. Jenn Labin is Chief Talent and Diversity Officer at MentorcliQ, a Columbus, Ohio-based mentoring software solutions company, where she specializes in implementing high-impact and high-value employee development solutions, including enhanced corporate D&I programs.
For more than 15 years, Labin has had success working with a wide spectrum of organizations, including large private sector businesses, government/military operations, and higher education institutions. She is the author of Mentoring Programs That Work, a unique approach to building scalable and sustainable mentoring programs. She is a regular presenter at the ATD International Conference, ATD chapters, and MentorCom.
Labin says she ended up in the D&I space by accident. “I was a digital arts student in college when I was offered my first real job teaching career changers and non-traditional students how to use graphics software,” she says. “I knew immediately that I was much better at figuring out what and how to teach than I was at the art itself.”
Since then, Labin has grown her career around mentorship and D&I programs. “I’ve spent 20 years finding ways to tap into the full potential of employees,” she says. “I saw the impact of organizations intentionally building a diverse leadership pipeline through an inclusive culture. More and more, this was the center of my conversations with talent management practitioners. When I joined MentorcliQ in 2019 as the Chief Diversity Officer, I was able to take up that focus formally.”
Labin is the first person in this role at MentorcliQ. A couple of years ago, her consulting practice, TERP associates, joined the MentorcliQ family. The CEO, Phil George, recognized the growing importance of D&I practices in the talent development space and invited her to step into her current role. “It’s pretty rare for a company of our size to have someone dedicated to this work, and we’re really proud of that,” she says.
MentorcliQ’s Commitment to D&I
D&I has been key to MentorcliQ’s success from the outset, says Labin. The company was built to accommodate the needs and leverage the talent of a global, remote workforce.
“Each individual is respected for the unique set of talents they bring to the team, and is encouraged to bring their full, authentic selves to work,” says Labin. “Our culture is built around the idea of helping everyone be successful through supporting their individual needs.” For example, she says, it’s pretty common for someone’s child to attend his or her virtual classes in the background of a video meeting.
Labin also points to allyship as another element of her company’s D&I program. “During Pride Month, customized social media graphics are provided to anyone who wants them,” she says. “We encourage sharing across differences. It’s not uncommon to see someone posting pictures of their cultural celebration to our ‘Water Cooler’ (virtual community room).”
“MentorcliQ has official practices and policies for D&I, but what I’m really proud of is how we strive to go beyond the employee handbook and find creative ways to meaningfully support our diverse workforce,” Labin adds.
Living the D&I and Mentorship Brand Promise
Labin’s and MentorcliQ’s experience with D&I and mentoring is unique in that the company not only provides tools to help other organizations with those goals but also promotes them internally.
“We actively engage our customers in our Mentoring Communitywhere they can learn about innovative and effective best practices from each other,” Labin says. “We are proud of how this community has gained a lot of momentum this year as our customers are stepping forward to both ask the tough questions and share what is working well in terms of D&I.”
MentorcliQ practices what it preaches when it comes to the tools and strategies it provides its customers. “We use our own award-winning platform to give all employees opportunities to join resource groups, which we call Affinity Circles internally,” Labin says. “These groups have helped to reinforce an inclusive culture and give every team member more connection to our community.”
MentorcliQ tracks key metrics in terms of diversity and regularly shares updates on that progress with the whole team. Its team utilizes mentoring circles, town halls, and several resource-sharing tools to make sure diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are part of its daily work.
Labin and MentorcliQ are exceptional role models for the many ways effective mentorship can be used to promote D&I initiatives. The symbiotic nature between their corporate culture and their line of business offers the opportunity to both benefit from the tools and practices they offer to the market and serve as a lab for their own innovations in the mentorship and D&I spaces.
What key takeaways from Labin and MentorcliQ could you put to work in your organization?