Driving Workplace Equity Through Career Development: Part 2 of Our Black History Month Series

February 19, 2021


In part two and the last of our Black History Month series, we're shining a light on the role mentorship, sponsorship, and support from leadership play in advancing Black professionals' careers. Personally, mentorship has played a vital role in helping me grow my career. Both the mentors and mentees in my life have played a meaningful role in shaping me as a person and I feel a sense of both debt and gratitude for their guidance and friendship. Mentorship and career coaching programs can be a great way to create pathways to advancement while fostering a nurturing and supportive community in the workplace. Water cooler chats, coffee strolls, and hallway conversations served as building blocks to help people foster bonds and ask for advice – but how do you create this dynamic in a remote workforce? With access to our peers and leadership becoming more challenging, formalized programs have become more critical to preserve connections and foster belonging in our new distributed, online workplace.

With the new world of work in mind, we seek to understand the role LinkedIn can play in uplifting Black professionals to thrive in their careers. To do this, we surveyed over 2,000 Black professionals ages 18-69 to uncover challenges faced in the workplace and the importance of access to leadership, mentorship, and sponsorship. Here’s what we uncovered.

Mentorship’s Role in Career Development

In order to improve the workplace experience for Black professionals, companies must increase career development and advancement opportunities. At LinkedIn, we know that our networks are critical, and mentorship and sponsorship help provide access to opportunities that can meaningfully impact the trajectory of a person's career. 

Nearly 1 in 3 Black professionals (30%) surveyed are thinking about leaving their current job, with the top reason being lack of growth or advancement opportunities (45%). We found that over half of Black professionals surveyed (51%) believe that leadership transparency on decisions that impact careers (e.g. promotion, pay, performance, and career management) would be one of the top 3 factors to make their current workplace feel more inclusive and equitable.

Black professionals, specifically, often face a myriad of unique obstacles in the workplace. Nearly half of Black professionals age 18-34 have faced blatant discrimination and/or microaggressions at work, and face obstacles often unseen and unrecognized by leadership and colleagues.  As leaders, colleagues, and allies it’s important to ensure we’re checking in and effectively advocating for team members to continue building cultures rooted in inclusivity and belonging. 

By creating strong mentorship, sponsorship, and career advancement opportunities, companies can help strengthen bonds, foster more growth, and help retain employees. In fact, we found 40% of Black professionals believe mentorship/career coaching opportunities will help lead to more equitable workplace culture. Our research tells us that two key barriers to mentorship are lack of trust of people in an organization (49%) and being uncomfortable asking for help (39%).  Making a mentorship program a prescribed, structured process helps alleviate these concerns and allows employees to see that their growth and advancement is a priority. 

At LinkedIn, we are committed to the success and empowerment of our underrepresented talent. Programs like our ImpactIn mentorship and LEAD curriculum are aimed at engaging and developing  Black and Latino talent in the U.S., to help accelerate career growth and build our leadership pipeline. 

What Black Professionals Want in a Mentor or Sponsor

Having a mentor or sponsor with a similar background can also help professionals build trust and feel supported within their company. 57% of Black professionals prefer a mentor or sponsor that comes from a similar background so they can speak freely about their professional growth experiences (59%) and talk openly about potential racial and equity issues (54%). 

  • 54%

What Black professionals report looking for in a mentor or sponsor:

  • Someone who can help them accelerate career growth (63%)

  • Someone who can act as a sounding board for advice or constructive criticism (53%)

  • Someone who is an ally and advocates on their behalf (51%)

Employees firmly believe in the importance of mentorship and sponsorship, especially as it relates to career growth, investment, and a sense of belonging. In today's remote workforce, this is even more significant as many face new challenges and have less visibility into the day-to-day of their colleagues and managers. Our research found that 66% of Black professionals who currently have access to mentorship programs cite their mentor as being instrumental in helping them get a promotion or pay raise. Employees in mentorship programs feel more supported at work (69%) and feel a stronger sense of belonging at their companies (70%). By creating strong career development programs, companies can authentically showcase the intention to develop and retain employees. For example, we've seen companies like Snap expand existing mentorship programs aimed at Women in Tech to different underrepresented groups, including underrepresented BIPOC.

In October, we made a commitment to developing, retaining, and doubling the number of Black and Latino leaders, managers, and senior individual contributors on our US team over the next five years. Since our commitment, hundreds of our people managers have gone through our global Leading with Inclusion program and hundreds more will be joining this year. With the success we've seen in our initial roll-out, we're building capacity to scale our international manager inclusion program even more quickly in the coming months. Even more promising, through our diverse slates practice, our hiring efforts are paying off where we see a material increase in the percentage of Black and Latino hires at all levels, especially in management and leadership.

At LinkedIn, our vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. We are responsible for intentionally addressing equity and inclusion both within our workforce and for our millions of members and customers. We hope these research insights and recommendations help spark the necessary conversations for change during this time.  To further the conversation, we’re hosting our fifth annual TransfromHer virtual conference which focuses on women of color in tech and paths to professional development and advancement. Register for free by clicking here.