Diversity Dialogue Broadening Business Perspectives

The Power of Mentorship in the Workplace

How important are mentorship programs in the workplace? These programs are not only critical but also good for business. 

Shirley Laboy

As we become accustomed to our neoteric work setting, we remain keenly aware of the makeup of most law firms and legal departments in the United States. A 2019 American Bar Association report notes 63% of active lawyers are men and 37% are women. The statistics for racial diversity are as grim — only 4.7% are Black, 4.8% Hispanic and 2.5% Asian. None of these race and ethnicity statistics have changed over the past decade, even though the overall populations in the United States have increased over that same timeframe.

One way to improve those numbers is mentorship. Many of our organizations have pondered, reviewed and voiced our opinions and plans to initiate or improve our mentoring programs. But what’s next? The path to moving forward may lie in shifting our thinking to believe our mentorship programs will not only create a culture and environment of camaraderie, but also empower members of those groups who may have been overlooked in the past or — more importantly — felt powerless to move their career to the next level. (Not to mention that empowerment can also have a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.)

So here are a couple of questions: Where is the power behind mentorship programs? And does it reside with the mentee or the mentor? When we look at the cycle of mentorship as never-ending, the simple answer is in both.


A 2020 Forbes article advises mentees to be deliberate in their mentor choices: “Seek out the mentors that you need that will lead you to greatness in your field.” The article suggests a minimum of three mentors to speak with on a regular basis. That can be a tall order, as some of us have difficulty finding one person who will offer nonjudgmental advice.

Many new graduates will find this exercise daunting and perceive asking for help as a weakness. Imposter syndrome can be a long-term detriment to an individual’s well-being and the practice of law. However, seasoned individuals know the power in asking for assistance will generate new ideas and perspectives on how to solve problems in ways they might not have thought of yourself.

“The long-term goal is to transition the mentee, over time, into the mentor role. If that new mentor is from an underrepresented group, they are now empowered to expand on diversity efforts in their organization.” 

Securing the courage to ask for assistance is a great baseline. If the mindset has changed and the courage is there, the mentee should simply pick up the phone to call several individuals they admire who can provide the professional guidance and ideas for further professional development. Under the tutelage of a mentor, the mentee will gain confidence and knowledge and become empowered to reach their career goals. Mentors can also identify and correct gaps in skills that allow the mentee to pivot, if necessary. Meanwhile, the mentee can imagine the next three to five years of professional growth and propel those goals forward with the mentors’ guidance.


Having the influence of a mentor along a career path can be life-changing. In a study conducted at Oracle over a five-year period, 1,000 mentored employees were observed. Of the individuals who participated in the study, 25% achieved a pay raise (compared to 5% of employees who were not mentored) and 72% were retained (compared to only 49% of those who weren’t part of the program), suggesting that mentored employees offered more value to the company in their longevity.

Therefore, the responsibility of taking on a mentor role should not be taken lightly. The mentor is expected to provide honest, constructive and nonjudgmental feedback. Their ability to remain positive and enthusiastic in the professional relationship will allow the mentee to focus on improving their skillset and broadening their network. (Advancement requires commitment to your work as well as connections to those who can and will refer you to the next stage in your career.) A good mentor understands when to lead and when to stand in the shadows, motivating and energizing the mentee.

This may sound like a motivational speech — but that’s the point! The mentor role is invaluable to an organization. With the dismal statistics at the beginning of this column and the summary of the study at Oracle, there’s plenty of evidence of the opportunities that exist to grow the mentorship’s influence in the legal community.

The long-term goal is to transition the mentee, over time, into the mentor role. If that new mentor is from an underrepresented group, they are now empowered to expand on diversity efforts in their organization.

Even with this information, legal workplaces continue to struggle with mentoring programs. Research points inadequate training as the reason so many fall short. Individuals will encounter a scenario where sensitive conversations are necessary or unconscious bias can limit their willingness to engage with someone. Training as a condition of taking on a mentor role can minimize negative experiences and have a positive impact.

As the Oracle study shows, mentoring programs are successful in advancing and retaining talent. If law firms and legal departments address mentoring with the power of intention, we can harness the benefits that come with that effort