The Berger-Marks Foundation, an organization dedicated to organizing women into unions, has some great materials your local union can use to set up a mentor program including:
- Teaching Guide with a Power Point presentation
You can use this Power Point Presentation to help communicate to others at your local why mentoring programs are important.
- Mentoring Handbook
Breaks down the process of getting a mentoring program going at your local union.
Leaders within the labor movement have mentored their successors—mostly informally—since the movement began. Mentoring in unions can provide a way for current leaders to help new leaders develop and grow.
When done right, mentoring can be especially valuable to help bring more women, people of color, and other traditionally marginalized people into leadership roles by making clearer pathways for leadership development and entry points for meaningful engagement.
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is a professional relationship devoted to developing a person’s career. It involves a “mentor” (trusted advisor or teacher) and “mentee” (learner or protégé). Traditionally, people have understood mentoring as a relationship between an older, more experienced mentor and a younger, less experienced colleague. Mentoring, however, can also happen between peers at a similar level within an organization. And it can be a two-way process between individuals of different ages: older mentors can learn new skills from their younger mentees (such as ways to use technology) and come to see the union from a different perspective. This is sometimes called “reverse mentoring.”
Why Do Unions need Mentoring?
Mentoring programs can help unions thrive over time. They enable more seasoned leaders to transfer their knowledge and experience to younger workers and activists. Ultimately, building future leaders helps to keep unions strong.
Mentoring: Key Points
- Labor unions have a longstanding tradition of informal mentoring.
- Formal mentoring programs are very important as well. They can help diversify the union leadership by increasing the number of women and people of color in leadership positions.
- Mentoring traditionally has involved a relationship between a seasoned leader and a less experienced peer. But it can take place among peers as well. Peer mentoring can create the space for people to feel comfortable talking about their experiences and desired areas of development and growth.
- Mentoring is a two-way process. Older mentors can learn important skills and information from their younger mentees, just as these mentees benefit from the guidance of their more seasoned mentors.
Different Kinds of Mentoring
Mentoring can happen in different ways and take different forms. These different forms include informal and formal mentoring, peer mentoring, mentoring circles, and internal and external mentoring.
Informal mentoring happens when people begin a mentoring relationship with little or no assistance from their organization. The parties involved determine the goals of the relationship, strategies for accomplishing these goals, and how the mentoring will proceed. They decide whether to meet in person, how often to touch base, and what they hope to accomplish with the mentoring relationship.
Informal mentoring is fairly common in unions. It can be done with limited time and resources. People may not always even think of informal mentoring as mentoring. “Some people do [mentoring] informally and probably effectively, but they don’t even think of it as mentoring,” one interviewee said. “They just think of it as doing their job. That can be
While informal mentoring can be helpful, it also tends to reinforce existing dynamics of gender and race present within the organization. Because mentors tend to end up reaching out to others of the same gender and racial/ethnic background, relying on informal mentoring often leaves women and people of color with less access to mentoring.
Formal mentoring is more institutionalized than informal mentoring; the organization helps to set up the mentoring relationship and make decisions such as:
- How often will the mentor and mentee meet?
- How long will the relationship formally last?
- How will the program participants keep track of their successes?
Formal mentoring has traditionally taken place through one-on-one relationships. But it can also happen in a group setting through team mentoring or mentoring circles in which group members support each other’s career development.
Peer mentoring takes place between those with positions at similar levels within the organization. Some organizations use peer mentoring when there are not enough senior-level mentors. Others use it because they believe peer mentoring can provide a different kind of support than traditional mentoring between a more experienced leader and a newer or younger individual. Peer mentoring can offer a different perspective on the issues discussed and a safe space for people to ask questions.
Creating this safe space is important not only for newcomers, but also for more experienced peers. As one labor educator said, “It’s hard when you’ve been the leader of a local for 15 years and are highly respected to publicly say something like, ‘No one ever taught me how to manage people. I don’t know how to be a supervisor and I’ve been doing it for years.’” Peer mentoring can create the space for people to feel comfortable talking about their weaknesses and to discuss strategies for improvement.
Mentoring Circle (or group Mentoring)
A mentoring circle is a group of individuals involved in mentoring relationships who meet regularly over a period of time. Mentoring circles usually involve one mentor working with a group of mentees or peers mentoring each other. Like individual mentoring relationships, mentoring circles help future leaders set career goals and develop the skills necessary
to achieve them. While mentoring circles may not allow mentees as much one-on-one contact with mentors as individual mentoring relationships, they make it possible for mentees to develop a network of contacts and to learn from multiple mentors with different backgrounds and experiences .
Internal mentoring happens between two members within the same organization. It has the advantage of providing a mentor who is familiar with the mentee’s work setting. Internal mentors may act as their mentee’s advocates or advise them on how to respond to specific challenges in their workplace. One disadvantage to internal mentoring, though, is that
appropriate mentors can be difficult to find, particularly if the program aims to develop the leadership and skills of women and people of color. In addition, some mentees may not feel comfortable discussing their weaknesses with an internal mentor if that person has input into their performance evaluation or job standing. In such circumstances confidentiality between mentor and mentee is especially important.
If the organization does not have enough mentors or resources for internal mentoring or if employees would like an outside perspective, external mentoring with a mentor from outside of the organization may be useful.
Having a mentor without influence in the organization may, in some situations, make it easier for the mentee to build trust with the mentor. But external mentoring also has the limitation of providing a mentor who does not have authority within the mentee’s workplace. One union leader who served as an external mentor said, “To have a mentor outside your union was of limited value. I could talk to my mentee and listen to her and give her ideas about how to think strategically. I could suggest other kinds of training. I could connect her to people, but I couldn’t do anything inside her union because I wasn’t inside her union. I had no authority, no clout in her union.”
Setting Up a Mentoring Program
The Berger-Marks Foundation, an organization dedicated to organizing women into unions, has some great materials your local union can use to set up a mentor program, including a Mentoring Handbook to walk you through the process of getting a mentoring program going, and a Teaching Guide with a Power Point presentation you can use to help communicate to others at your local why mentoring programs are important.