Mentoring Across Differences:
Learning Pearls for Mentors and Mentees

The “Mentoring Across Differences” module provides an opportunity to discuss sensitive topics that arise in everyday mentoring situations, but are rarely brought to light. Faculty are generally eager both to discuss these issues and to learn concrete strategies to address them as they arise in the mentoring relationship. Learning pearls for the “Mentoring Across Differences” module comprise several categories:

Recognize and identify assumptions.

  • Be willing to explore implicit and explicit assumptions about ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexual orientation and other areas of identity that influence mentoring relationships.
  • Consider identity similarities and identity differences, and how the assumptions made by both mentor and mentee may affect the relationship.
  • Acknowledge and discuss specific identity assumptions about each other (both mentor and mentee).

Learn to create an environment that invites and promotes open discussion about differences.

  • A mentor should facilitate the capacity to talk openly and invite discussion about differences.
  • Some ways to bring differences to the forefront and make them discussable include:
    • Open a dialogue using a statement such as, “Research shows that racial and other differences affect both the mentee and the mentor. Do you think there are examples of this in our relationship?”
    • Move from the impact of differences on the relationship to impact on the organizational dynamic.
    • Mentors and mentee should recognize their roles – differences are not only a mentee issue.
    • Utilize appreciative inquiry –the process of posing questions that generate positive awareness rather than focusing on the challenges of differences

Mentors should take an active approach to creating new opportunities for mentees to explore a wide variety of roles, educational experiences and experiments.

  • Mentors should seek to work with the broadest possible variety of mentees in order to become educated about differences and to better understand mentees’ experiences.
  • Mentors should provide concrete suggestions for mentees and support experimentation with new behaviors.
  • Experiments in changing behavior should be a joint project of the mentor and mentee. Mentors should stimulate and support mentees’ experimentation within organizations, provide guidance and advocacy where appropriate
  • Engaging differences, rather than avoiding them, enhances the learning of both parties and improves their mentoring relationship.