Professional Mentorship: A Look into the Xerox Women’s Alliance

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mentorWe all know the value in having a personal mentor and the same holds true for our professional lives. Having a mentor and/or support group in the workplace can ultimately enhance your overall experience working for a company. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on now and then, right? Document management company Xerox Corporation would answer yes to that question, and the women at the corporation are offering just that.

The Xerox Women’s Alliance (TWA) is a unique organization dedicated to supporting the professional growth of all the “working gals” within the company. With more than 800 U.S. and more than 300 Canadian members, TWA also offers a mentor program for all members who desire to develop a mentor-mentee relationship to expand their personal and professional growth. Piloted in 2006 with just 35 members, the program has now expanded to 300 participants. had the opportunity to speak with Patricia Hill, vice president and co-chair of the mentoring program, and Beth N. Carvin, CEO of Nobscot, the company that facilitated the program. Check out what both ladies had to say about TWA’s mentorship program and the benefits of professional mentorship:

1. Please define what it means to be a mentor.

Hill: A mentor is expected to create a safe environment for a mentee to set mutually acceptable goals for the relationship, provide open and honest feedback in response to the mentee’s questions and progress towards their goals, and guide the context of the conversation to ensure the mentee understands the boundaries of the mentorship. A mentor is not expected to become a sponsor for the mentee’s career progression, unless and until the relationship has progressed to the point where they are willing and confident in the mentee’s capabilities.

Carvin: Being a mentor means being someone who can, to use Aristotle’s words, “ignite the talent” within their mentee.

Beth N. Carvin

Beth N. Carvin

2. What is a corporate mentoring program?

Carvin: Corporate mentoring programs are an employee development tool used by companies with a wide range of objectives. These objectives include career development, skills building, diversity enhancement, leadership development, work-life balance, new hire socialization and employee retention.

3. How does Xerox implement a corporate mentoring program?

Hill: Xerox has several mentoring programs, which tend to be regionally or functionally focused.  The TWA Mentorship Program is unique in that we provide a service to our members that empowers them to make requests for mentoring relationships that can very well be outside of their job function or their physical location. Our members understand that the mentors in our database have offered their time and areas of expertise to serve as a counsel and advisor to those who take the initiative to identify their goals and aspirations.

Using our web-based tool, a person who wishes to connect with a mentor searches the database of available mentors’ profiles and reaches out with a request that includes a description of why the prospective mentor’s profile is of particular relevance to their goals. The mentor is alerted to the fact that a request has been made, and, after review of the prospective protégé’s profile, can choose to accept or decline the request.

4. Would you recommend all companies institute some type of mentorship program? Why or why not?

Hill: In my opinion, companies should only embark on implementing mentorship programs if they have specific goals and objectives that such a program can deliver. There also has to be a long view on the investment – it takes time to develop the level of credibility and trust that the program is good for the participants as well as the corporation – that it’s not simply a “checkbox” activity or a process that is not actively monitored to validate the desired outcomes are being achieved.

Patricia Hill

Patricia Hill

There are also subtle differences between mentorship or apprenticeship and mentorship or coaching. We make it clear in our program that it’s the responsibility of the mentee to drive the goals and objectives – they are not prescribed as they might be in a corporate program, where there are most likely specific learning objectives for the mentee to gain experience with a specific set of tools or methods under the tutelage and supervision of a mentor (apprenticeship).  In a coaching situation, again, there is an expectation that the mentee is being instructed, one-on-one or in a small group, by an more experienced person on how to perform an activity or deliver a desired outcome.  In both these cases, a more formal program might set specific criteria that a mentor uses to evaluate their protégé and perhaps provide input to their performance appraisal and/or readiness for promotion. A mentorship, as defined by the TWA program, has less direct influence and visibility to corporate objectives. Therefore we define success through satisfaction with the program from the voices of our members, through metrics such as satisfaction via surveys and direct feedback, and achievement of participation metrics (e.g. full utilization of profiles, number and duration of mentorships, ratio of mentors to mentees).

5. Final thoughts?

Hill: It doesn’t always “stick” the first time, or even the second. There could be many reasons for this – goals may not have been clear, one or both of the mentorship participants may have situations where their time is less available than they originally expected, or there have also been cases where expectations haven’t been met.

Sometimes there are barriers to a mutually beneficial relationship, which cannot be overcome or mitigated to a level of risk that is acceptable to both parties. The message here is don’t become discouraged with the mentoring process if the first few times don’t meet expectations. Reflect on what went well and what could have been done differently. Provide feedback to the program team. Ask for and reflect on feedback from your mentorship partner and/or other trusted colleagues. Adjust your goals and objectives for the mentorship, if needed.  And then, to quote Jackson Browne, “…when the morning light comes streaming in, get up and do it again, Amen. Say it again. Amen.”

Carvin: One quick thought — we have seen a resurgence in corporate mentoring programs over the last five or so years. There are a few reasons that contribute to this rise in mentoring, such as the following:

  • Research that has shown proven benefits to companies in the form of employee retention, recruiting, high-potential employee development and improving the composition of diverse employees in senior level positions.
  • Technology has allowed corporate mentoring program to grow from small programs that benefited only a small number of employees to larger programs and/or multiple programs that many employees participate in. Prior to technology, managing a mentoring program was time consuming and cumbersome. Today, with online mentoring technology, the sky is the limit.
  • Younger employees want and expect mentoring and if they don’t see it available in their company, they will go elsewhere. (I have no idea where this comes from and how younger employees even know to ask and expect mentoring!)
  • During the recessionary economy, mentoring was a wonderful low-cost, high-value benefit.

By Shala Marks