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Mentoring as Connection and Empowerment

Looking forward to teaching my short course on "Mentoring for Inclusivity, Connection, and Engagement at Work," through University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies,nstarting next week. 

Especially toward the end of my full-time academic career, being able to engage in mentoring relationships with my students and colleagues increasingly became the best part of my job. The learning always went both ways, and the people I mentored often became wonderful friends who enriched my life, and opened up new ways of imagining the how and the why of our work.

Mentoring also became part of my larger mission of using my privileges and platforms to break down unnecessary hierarchies, and try to empower new generations of diverse faculty, staff, and students who could use their brilliant voices with confidence, even in the face of resistance.


Mentoring is a kind of intergenerational work, even if there aren't many years between mentor and mentee. It’s leadership development. It’s honoring the urgency and vitality of newer colleagues’ questions, ideas, and sometimes challenges to the status quo, while using institutional knowledge to help these newer colleagues find ways contribute their talents.

Inclusive mentoring means using the privilege of being a mentor, and any identity privileges we may hold, to understand and advocate for better workplaces for people who have been under-represented at the leadership tables.


Putting the course together has allowed me to reflect more deeply on the needs of people with marginalized identities in relation to mentorship, both as mentors--who can be involved with a lot of invisible mentoring work--and as mentees for whom the pathways to inclusivity, connection, and engagement are often not transparent. 


In the upcoming course, we'll reflect on how mentors can help mentees understand the hidden rules in workplaces that can block or complicate those pathways, and how to think about building trust and relationships across differences. We’ll talk about how experiences of having to “code switch” and discern hidden rules can create critical perspectives and skills that enhance leadership. We’ll look at the positionality of mentors, including those who are manager-mentors, and of mentees.


The potential rewards of holistic and informed mentoring are multifaceted, for everyone involved. This is especially true if workplace mentors can seize the opportunity to become allies and advocates, and humble learners as well as knowledge and wisdom keepers.

As I write this (Feb. 1, 2024), registration for the UW course is still open! If you're reading this later, I invite you to reach out if a training in mentoring for inclusivity could benefit your workplace or your professional association.

Photo credit: Drew Beamer


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