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Building a diverse workforce starts with mentorship and sponsorship

July 12, 2021, 3:00 PM UTC
"Advocacy, when coming from leadership voices, is powerful, and provides the leverage of credibility that is key for advancement in the workplace," writes Rod Adams of PwC.
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I started my career in corporate America more than 25 years ago. While I’d like to believe that my drive and intelligence alone helped me succeed, I know that my mentors and sponsors helped get my foot in the door and played a huge role in my success throughout my career. While I’ve been fortunate to have that guidance, I know that many fellow Black and Latinx employees in the industry—entry level and beyond—haven’t had the same experience. 

People of color are constantly battling systemic obstacles on their journey to and within the workplace. Fewer Black and Latinx students are employed within a year of graduating than their white peers (75% vs 83%). Unemployment rates among Black and Latinx workers are high in this current landscape— 9.2% and 7.4% respectively in the June jobs report, versus 5.2% for white workers. 

The corporate world has an opportunity to make a meaningful difference that creates lasting change and helps bridge the gaps between those who have access to opportunity and those that do not. One way we’ve seen success is through focused mentorship and sponsorship programs. These types of programs not only attract new talent, but help retain a more equitable, diverse workforce. And there’s no denying that a more inclusive workforce ultimately helps drive better business outcomes. If you’ve thought about implementing similar programs but aren’t sure how, here are three things for organizations to consider:

Building a stronger recruitment pipeline

To reach, prepare, and recruit diverse talent, organizations should present themselves in different ways. One way is through strategic relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other organizations that promote diversity and equity. We recently announced our new brand strategy and a commitment to digitally upskill 25,000 Black and Latinx professionals, with an aspiration to hire 10,000 of them over the next five years. Our longstanding relationships with HBCUs and HSIs are key to reaching this goal.

It’s important to be thoughtful and take time to build strategic relationships with these educational institutions. Begin by identifying a relationship owner, creating regular touchpoints between the school administration and your organization, understanding the culture, engaging with students early and immersing employees in the institution’s events and curriculum. 

We begin to engage students as early as their freshman year through various programs on campus, as well as Career Preview, our leadership program that is designed to connect students in years one and two with mentors and provide insight into a career in professional services. These relationships are strengthened throughout their academic career and often continue into the start of their employment. Through our engagements with HBCUs, including our annual HBCU Faculty Forum and Digital Academies for faculty, we’ve been able to develop programs that help prepare students and employees for the skills needed to be successful in today’s tech-forward job market. 

Encouraging mentoring, celebrating sponsorship

Mentorship and sponsorship programs are only successful when they’re actionable and goal-oriented. PwC aspires to reach 35% Black and Latinx representation among its experienced and entry-level hires, including interns. We’ve been on a journey to foster a culture of belonging— one where we move from awareness to empathy and demonstrate inclusive leadership for all our people.

Being a mentor means you are a trusted resource to help mentees navigate the workplace while bringing their whole self to work each day. It allows each person to reflect on their unique experiences (and privileges) and dig deeper into the challenges that individuals face. 

Start by setting up frequent check-ins with your mentee to see how you can help with their progress. Connect your mentees to a wide range of valuable resources at the organization that will help them stay on track with their career goals. Commit to candid conversations that provide critical feedback on their path to growth while addressing any obstacles that may impede that growth. And always look to advocate on behalf of your mentee. For Black and Latinx employees, this difference can be critical. 

Take, for example, Sammy Miller, a partner at PwC. Sammy attributes his rise through the corporate ranks to an audit partner who took him under his wing when he joined the firm as a senior associate two decades ago. This partner mentored him on the importance of presence and presentation, how to lead, how to command and how to pay attention to the small details. Most importantly, the partner advocated for him and encouraged his growth to partner, eventually leading Sammy to become the first Black male to make partner in our Houston office. Now, Sammy mentors students at the university. To Sammy, being a mentor and sponsor is much more than showing up, doing the work, and clocking out; it also means deeply understanding what individuals face outside of the classroom or office, virtual or otherwise. 

Leaders like Sammy Miller have a crucial role to play in being an advocate to the students and employees who most need support in navigating a career. Advocacy, when coming from leadership voices, is powerful and provides the leverage of credibility that is key for advancement in the workplace. 

Communities that encourage transparency and connection  

Employee resource groups or Inclusion Networks are used to meeting the needs of organizations—from networks for Black and Latinx employees to groups of working mothers and caregivers. These groups help people with similar circumstances connect and share experiences. During the lockdowns and social unrest that unfolded this past year, these types of resources have become more important than ever — they offer a safe space for employees to share, to grieve, and to heal with their colleagues. 

In addition to Inclusion Networks, another unique way we do this at our firm is through a two-year experience for Black and Latinx new joiners called Thrive. The program helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity, and leadership engagement. We also have a digital platform that provides our people a way to craft a profile that’s much more than their name and title—letting them share aspects of their identity and what makes them unique. We group our interns and new joiners in online communities, to meet each other, ask questions, and stay up-to-date with internal events. We’ve seen that these profiles help people make deeper connections and grow relationships and communities in a more meaningful way. 

Finally, remember to cultivate a culture that leads with your purpose and values as an organization. This will help guide meaningful, transparent communications that can foster a true sense of belonging in the workplace.

As corporate America continues its journey to create access and strengthen its culture of inclusion and equity, mentorship and sponsorship should be a core part of it. Over the course of individuals’ careers, we should encourage a culture that highlights how to use power and privilege to advocate for and support people in less advantaged positions. Let’s continue to be bold, intentional, transparent, and unwavering in our commitment to building a more equitable workforce of the future. And being a mentor or a sponsor is one impactful way to start.

Rod Adams is U.S. & Mexico talent acquisition and onboarding leader for PwC.

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