June 04, 2021 2 min read

Remote work has been an adjustment (to say the least) for everyone, and its effect on our professional relationships has been just as significant as the impact on daily tasks. For early-career employees, the lack of casual conversations at work poses a considerable challenge. How does one learn best practices to succeed in one’s career when you’re working alone from home? How does one build the professional relationships that are critical for survival and advancement? On the organizational side, how does the business build a culture that supports diversity and inclusion initiatives in the middle of a pandemic? Based on our recent experience leading organizations focused on online mentorship, we believe an organizational commitment to mentorship can address all of these issues.

At America Needs You (ANY) (where Marianna serves as CEO and Michael served on the board), we fight for economic mobility and inclusion through a rigorous one-on-one mentoring and career development program for first-generation college students. We had to make a significant shift to our mentoring programs when they suddenly went virtual. At The Data Incubator (TDI), which Michael founded, we train the next generation of data scientists and have shifted our in-person training and mentorship to online programs. This moment of disruption has been the right time for us to build and support diverse talent from internships to the C-suite, and we’d like to share what has worked for us as we moved our mentorship programs from in-person to virtual programs.

Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to employee retention and satisfaction — especially for people of color and women, both of whom are more likely than others to report mentoring as very important to their career development. On the retention side, mentorship supports employee development and progression. On the recruiting side, involvement in undergraduate mentorship builds talent pipelines and provides access to students who are often excluded from traditional recruiting, such as students from a community college. Hiring mistakes and poor employee support are always costly, but the stakes are even higher in today’s environment. Mentoring helps us avoid both.

Decades of research have given us strong indicators of what works. Researchers David Megginson and David Clutterbuck, cofounders of the European Mentoring Center (now the European Mentoring & Coaching Council) point to two components for effective mentoring: building rapport and creating clarity of purpose.

Building Rapport
Rapport is what makes mentoring truly transformative and more than just an organizational responsibility. But it is also particularly challenging to build in a virtual world. We define rapport as mutual trust and respect, a shared understanding of one another’s values and perspectives, and strong communication. The quality of this human connection is critical to retaining employees, especially for those who are underrepresented in your company or industry. A study conducted by Gartner and Capital Analytics at Sun Microsystems found much higher retention rates for mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than other employees who did not participate in the mentoring program (49%). Here’s how to go about building rapport:

To read the full Harvard Business Review article, click the link below:


Authored by Marianna Tu and Michael Li.

Image by Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

Alex Waddell
Alex Waddell

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