I’m white, Jewish and male. If I behaved like sociologists expect, most of my mentors would be “like” me. But I don’t. The lion’s share of my mentors are black, female and of a different faith than I.
Though I’ve never personally been the subject of research on homophily —the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar people— analysts have discovered the trend across a vast array of network studies ranging from work and play habits. In fact, MIT completed a study which concluded that online daters had a high propensity to pair with people of similar racial backgrounds and physical traits, among other things.
Considering the high divorce rates in the United States, it behooves American singles to seek commonalities with the people they date. But when it comes to mentoring relations, you may be missing an opportunity to learn and grow if you pair with “like” mentors, says Kimberly Griffin, an associate professor at the University of Maryland.
“I think it is important for people who have mentors and mentees with different social identities to be open to their unique experiences, and be willing to explore where they are similar, and where they are different,” Griffin said in an interview for this piece.
“Having a mentor that embraces a different social background provides a great opportunity for learning and growth for both the mentor and mentee,” Griffin added.
While a mentor from a similar background has the benefit of meeting the “perceived needs” of both parties because of their similar experiences, similarity may not be enough to forge a strong mentoring relationship.
But by finding a mentor who has a different background than you, you stand to identify resources that someone with a “like” experience may not know about. But you shouldn’t pick a mentor just because that person has a different background than you.
Griffin recommends that together the mentor and mentee should answer the following questions:
1) What will we talk about?
2) Where do you need support?
3) What information can I provide you as mentor?
4) Who can I introduce you to?
Mentors can provide support in a variety of area, but four of them include: role modeling, professional general, professional – institution specific (i.e., trade or technical) and socio emotional.
All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo of Duck, N.C., by Jay D. Krasnow.