Advice from the experts at the Global Diversity Leadership Conference at Harvard
Cross cultural mentoring is often considered a crucial aspect of diversity awareness. The topic was one of several that were part of Global Diversity Leadership Conference at Harvard University. "Cross-cultural mentoring is at the center of any effective diversity leadership initiative," according to Martha R. A. Fields, who founded the conference.
A panel of experts and practitioners led the discussion: Dr. Betty Crutcher, Founder and CEO of HOPE (Helping Others Prepare for Education); Phyllis Barajas, founder of Conexión, a leadership and mentoring program for midcareer Latinos; Dr. Sandra Casey-Buford, director of diversity and inclusion for Massport; and Raymond Yu, creative director of Pandamonium Design. The panel framed their remarks around Vision, Values and Virtue Model of cross-cultural mentoring and their own personal and professional experiences.
Panelists unanimously agreed that mentors need to have a personal vision of their own life before they can inspire and motivate others. "Diversity and mentoring work starts with the person that is doing it," said Dr. Casey-Buford. Part of the vision, added Ms. Barajas, must include the mentor's conviction that everyone, regardless of background, is "equally welcome at the table."
The beginning of a mentoring experience could present a delicate situation as each party brings their own principles and ideals to the mentoring relationship. Dr. Crutcher asked the panel to comment on the dynamics between mentee's and mentor's values. Mr. Yu used the Star Wars analogy to emphasize that the mentoring process is about "learning from each other" not expecting the mentor (Yoda) to impart wisdom on the mentee (Luke Skywalker). He discouraged the traditional model of mentoring where the mentee is considered an empty canvass that must be populated by the mentor's ideas and philosophies.
Dr. Casey-Buford captured the sentiment in the room when she said, "Virtue is best displayed by mentor's example." The panel provided several examples about mentoring relationships that went sour due to disparate perceptions and interpretations about honesty and integrity.
During the question and answer period, the audience shared their own stories as mentors and mentees. Although they all had different experiences, they all agreed on the value of a mentoring relationship based on mutual learning and respect.
Several of those in attendance were starting their professional lives, and Dr. Crutcher asked a few to express their thoughts about mentoring. Aaron Wilkins, who recently started a job at Harvard University summed it up: "The opportunity of growth sided by a mentor is such an inspiring concept. Where one may go in life or accomplishments one has obtained in life - I learned - he or she should be accompanied by a mentor."
Anna Giraldo-Kerr coaches, consults and writes about leadership and diversity. She can be reached at