Continuously supporting junior members, developing leadership and mentoring team members internally is really hard. At the same time, it’s an essential part of retaining great talent and building world-class tech teams. Without a culture that fosters career growth, companies can’t scale because they continue to lose talent – especially people of colour and women.
OfferZen Foundation’s Project Thrive Mentoring Program provided the framework, coordination and reporting to help companies avoid that. Here’s how.
Understanding the talent opportunity gap
We established OfferZen Foundation in 2018 as a not-for-profit with the mission to help people from underserved backgrounds thrive in their tech career. Talented people don’t always have access to great jobs or learning opportunities. At OfferZen, our mission is to close this gap by helping people unlock their potential. But, in order to do this, we realised that we need to better understand why the gap between talent and opportunity exists.
Since then, our work has been to uncover what the barriers are. That’s why we:
- Talked to a lot of experts in the tech space that have done a lot of the work
- Launched the Tech Inclusion Report in 2019 to share our findings, and
- Established a community group of companies to help us identify the challenges and opportunities that existed in this space and come up with solutions.
What we’ve come to understand is that tech skills alone are not enough to enter into or thrive in a tech career.
Getting young people to succeed in a tech career isn’t so much about teaching them to code. There are other, intangible barriers to address that can generally be grouped together as ‘soft skills’.
Getting diverse teams to thrive
In order to be successful, everyone needs help. Mentoring can help develop the ‘soft skills’ required to be a great team member. The challenge with help is that it’s difficult to track and it’s undefined. It requires access to a network of people without whom it’s incredibly hard to grow.
This isn’t just a challenge for individuals from an underserved background. Within tech teams, opportunities to access people who will help or guide juniors aren’t equally available to everyone.
From cultural barriers to power dynamics between team leads and direct reports – the reasons for diminished growth opportunities aren’t always obvious. That’s why there are so many ways in which well-intentioned company initiatives can fall flat. Some common reasons we’ve seen are:
- Lack of trust: Companies randomly match senior developers with juniors without understanding whether there is enough common ground between individuals to get them to trust each other and form a relationship.
- Lack of buy-in: Mentoring is too broadly implemented as a policy in the company and individual buy-in hasn’t been established, so relationships start without the buy-in of individuals who are bought into or trained for the relationship.
- Lack of coordination: After matching people together there isn’t a central coordination function that is dedicated to making mentoring happen, including helping both sides overcome common pitfalls of mentoring. As a result, mentoring pairs lose momentum or don’t even get started.
Through our collaboration with our community of companies driving diversity and inclusion in their tech teams, we’ve found that companies lose without a longer-term investment that fosters growth and leadership from within: They lose hard-sourced and trained team members and especially people of colour and women they’ve previously worked hard to get to join.
While workshops and training sessions are easier to track, they don’t help juniors and seniors practice the skills that are essential for growth and leadership: Empathy, a learning mindset and self-awareness.
That’s why we launched Project Thrive Mentoring.
The Project Thrive Mentorship Offering
Over the past year, we took more than 150 individual software makers through our initial mentorship program to find out what makes mentor-mentee relationships tick. The feedback on the impact was very clear:
- Tech leaders told us how the structure of the program helped them develop their own leadership skills and improve their communication.
- Junior developers shared how they learnt to ask for help and to handle conflict at work better.
This feedback helped us understand that, in order to help individuals even more, we needed to find a way to support them within their own companies.
This paid-for service allowed us to help companies to develop leadership and mentoring capabilities internally and empower junior software makers. We adapted our mentoring framework so companies could run their internal development function sustainably. Our process for running mentoring was to:
- Align our offering to your business objectives
- Prepare leaders and juniors with pre-mentoring training
- Match mentoring pairs based on tested criteria to make sure people have a good experience
- Manage the day-to-day running of the program with our dedicated mentoring coordinator
- Report back to the business on program engagement and tracking against overarching goals
- Connect mentors and mentees to the peer-learning community that encouraged learning and sharing with others through social meet-ups
Charging companies for this service helped us to align our goal of empowering people from underserved backgrounds with the scaling and development goals of a company. We worked with each customer to build the package to suit their needs and charge per mentoring pair. As a non-profit, 100% of the money we made went right back into running the program