Many mentoring initiatives fail, many mentors don’t know what they are meant to be doing and meetings between mentor and mentee are often reduced to “having lunch”, suggests research.

Senior leaders working as mentors, and their mentees, reported that most initiatives were not very successful and the results disproportionate to the time invested, according to research by Diversity-in-Leadership among around 50 mentors, mentees and leadership development professionals.

Mentors reported that they often didn’t really know what to do in their role and were unsure how much they were supposed to challenge and develop their mentee. They also expressed the wish to have a coach/supervisor as a sparring partner during the mentoring period to reflect on their mentee’s strengths and development needs and better understand how to coach and promote them.

At the same time, many of the mentees didn’t feel that having a mentor made a significant difference to their career options, or that the time they spent with their mentor was an important investment. Mentors and mentees reported that in many of their meetings the relationship was reduced to lunch, where “small talk” and “hero stories” were shared.

Diversity-in-Leadership co-founders Dr Carola Hieker and Maia Rushby spelt out a number of steps that can be taken to improve mentoring initiatives, including clear objectives, a well-managed matching process and supervision for mentors. The latter was the most important, they said.

“The real difference to making a mentoring programme sustainable and bringing about the desired behavioural change of the mentors is supervision for the mentors. Supervision needs to be provided by a professionally trained supervisor/coach who is independent from the organisation and therefore is able to recognise and challenge unconscious bias in individuals and within the organisation,” they said.

The organisation carried out around 20 face-to-face interviews across sectors, including professional services, finance and FMCG.

Dr Hieker and Rushby will present on this topic at the
5th International Conference in Coaching Supervision at Oxford Brookes University in July.