Recently, a new research study found that African American men do not receive the same benefits as whites from corporate mentoring programs. The study, conducted by the University of Georgia, examined data on 250 college-educated African American men to determine what factored into their professional success. And according to the results, education, training, and eagerness for new opportunities were the leading factors–not corporate connections, especially ones due to prior mentorships.
Deborrah Gilbert, executive director, Moretta Economic Development Corporation, was not surprised by the findings. “I agree with the study because mentoring programs are unique by the design and quality of the mentor facilitator-exchange of the mentoring opportunity. No mentoring program is the same across the board, as the outcome measure of success is more accurately based on the measure of talent, time and knowledge shared from the mentor. Mentoring programs are the technical structure. Quality impact is more directly related to the actual “people-factor”. In my experience, good mentoring programs are only as good as the programs that implement a screening process to ensure the best selection of mentors to help transfer knowledge to the mentorees. This is at the core of any competent mentoring exchange,” she says. “The African American male experience is unique, by the attitudes and life experiences he brings to the mentoring experience. This includes the method of access to quality opportunities, minimal distractions to the learning experience and focus beyond studies and stated research statements that focus on his race and gender alone.”
But while Gilbert, who herself mentors, agrees with the findings, she is wary of the methodology. “I’m always concerned about studies framed outright by issues of race. Starting conversations squarely framed on race tethers the outcome to potentially false assumptions for the larger community of African American men and worse, creates the false assumption that African American men can’t be successful without mentoring programs in general. Isn’t it far more empowering to address equality, access to quality resources and business opportunities?” says Gilbert.
According to University of Georgia professor Lillian Eby, a co-author of the study, African American men tended to look for mentors who were also African American. But for Gilbert, the success of a mentorship isn’t solely dependant on your involvement. It also depends on how the program is organized. “Mentoring programs are beneficial to Black males when the design of those programs take input and deliberate effort to understand the cultural and linguistic needs of its participants. Programs that include frequent conversations, and specific, targeted, relevant steps directed toward educational and business opportunities, over time, create greater successes,” she advises, adding that African American men should participate in mentorships as often as possible. Concludes Gilbert, “African American males should get involved in mentoring/networking programs. The African American man brings a unique experience to the mentoring opportunity; an undeniable perspective, insight and rich context that any mentoree could learn from – regardless of race.”