Written by LGBT+ Expert Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW
Why Is Mentorship Necessary?
Mentorship has long been the way in which younger generations learn from the life experiences and professional lives of those who came before them. In many families, this mentorship has occurred from parent to child. In other cases, the guidance has come from supervisor to supervisee. We know though that those who identify as LGBT+ have additional challenges when entering and living within the professional workplace.
So often, LGBT+ people have had to learn to carve their paths through their own successes and failures. As a result, it can be easy to assume that this is the best way for anyone to learn and to achieve. However, mentorship can help to protect people from falling into the same traps or experiencing the same hardships as those who came before.
Alex Capecelatro said, “Unlike gender or race, being part of the LGBT community is not easily transparent and in fact it causes many of us to recede. I struggled with how out and open I could be in meetings prior to getting involved. Seeing examples of role models and seeing LGBT entrepreneurs getting funded while being out lifted my spirits, increased my confidence, and made my professional life a better one.”
Why does Mentorship in the Workplace Matter?
At a time when so many may have questions about whether or when to come out at work, how to handle discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or how to thrive in the face of stigma, mentorship can be the difference between feeling supported and guided and feeling left alone in the world to struggle.
Facing what sometimes seems to be insurmountable odds, LGBTQ teens have higher rates of depression, suicide and homelessness than their heterosexual peers and are more likely to be deemed at-risk. They struggle, and with over 1.3 million of them without mentors, they often do it alone. As these are tomorrow’s work force members, this indicates how many need professional mentorship.
United States Senator Cory Booker shared before a packed crowd of LGBT donors: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” He articulated that, if togetherness is the key to unlocking the potential of our ever more equal and empowered community, how do we connect? By mentoring one another.
How Is Mentorship Happening Around the World?
Different nations are supporting LGBT+ mentorship in different ways. Here are some examples of how different countries are using LGBT+ professionals to support the needs and successes of LGBT+ people within the workplace and out in the community.
What Can YOU Do?
Think about your schedule. Consider what talents you have, either those that occur in you naturally or those you have worked hard to cultivate. Determine what you can offer to someone in the LGBT+ community. Maybe it’s mentorship specific to your job tasks. Maybe it’s mentorship that is general to your professional industry. Maybe it’s simply helping someone learn to navigate being LGBT+ in the professional world overall. Whatever you know, consider how you can share it.
Maybe you’ll want to start with who you are; reach out to organizations for youth in the demographic you fit into and offer to contribute. This may be a way for you to work with those who will remind you of yourself. This can help guide your advice and it can help those you mentor to understand that someone who was once where they are has been able to reach the place where you now are.
In addition, look around your community and spend some time learning, too! If you see that there are programs for gay men but none for transgender people of color, consider where you can learn enough about the transgender community and the community of color to offer your support and mentorship. If you worry that you do not know enough or cannot learn enough, reach out to the leaders of your local LGBT+ organization or agency and offer what you can. Let them decide how they can best utilize your skills and talents for their members.
LGBT+ Leader Jonathan Lovitz says, “If the equality movement is about ensuring that a rising tide lifts all boats, don’t we have an obligation to ensure that every boat’s sails are as ready to catch the wind as possible? Those who reap the benefits of equality must be willing to pay it forward with guidance to future generations. Now more than ever we need leaders who are mentors.”
If each LGBT+ professional offers what they have to those who need it, through in person or online formats, those just coming up and those just coming out will have the guidance and support they need to flourish and thrive. As a result, the entire LGBT+ community benefits; you’ll pay it forward to them and help them to succeed and, in turn, you’ll be helping to prepare them to become mentors once they’ve found their footing in the professional world. Over time, everyone succeeds, and everyone grows through making the effort and taking the time to show compassion and assistance to those who are now walking in your footprints!