Mentoring is a way for individuals with disabilities to enter the workforce. Mentoring programs within companies create a stronger, more inclusive workplace culture. For employers, mentoring can enhance organizational diversity, reduce turnover, and promote employee engagement. Employees that partake in mentoring programs have better transitions into the workplace, increased leadership abilities, improved technical skills, and other benefits. For employees with disabilities, mentoring provides extra benefits, including a sense of belonging with the opportunity to discover abilities and challenges in a working environment while gaining real work experiences.
Employers that want individuals with disabilities in workplace mentoring should consider the following:
Develop inclusive or accessible material – Employers should create inclusive material for workplace mentoring programs. For example, showing a visual representation of individuals with disabilities, print, and web resources should be accessible and clearly state that the companies mentoring program are disability-inclusive. Moreover, applications should request information about accommodation needs.
Mentees and Mentors Training – Before starting a workplace mentoring program there should be training provided for mentees and mentors. This will prepare them and answer any concerns preceding to program implementation. During mentor/mentee training it is an important highlight that an employee’s disability is not a barrier to participation.
Define Goals – Mentors and mentees need to define goals to work toward. This can encompass both personal and professional goals. In developing goals, mentors should focus on the needs as well as the interests of mentees, not their personal expectations.
Provide open communication – Communication is essential in building and maintaining relationships – including mentoring relationships. Mentors and mentoring program organizers should have structure and model solid communication through consistently connecting with mentees through written and verbal communication. Mentors need to communicate when there will be periods when they will not be available. Participants can become frustrated and/or withdrawn when there are gaps in time between communications.
Encourage Trust – Mentors need to show value and respect for their mentees, by respecting their time and personal choices. This builds trust among mentees which will make them feel comfortable when sharing their needs or concerns. Mentors should also put emphasis on confidentiality, so mentees will feel to share openly in a closed meeting or conversation.
Provide opportunities for feedback – Mentoring programs should create opportunities for participants and offer areas for improvement. This can be accomplished by sending an online survey to both mentors and mentees mid-way through and/or after program conclusion can enhance the program.
Empower Possibilities aims to support companies to create real inclusion within the workplace for employees with disabilities.