Navigating a career path can be daunting no matter who you are, but women and other employees from underrepresented groups face unique challenges along the way. Mentoring offers employees from minority groups an opportunity to overcome disadvantages through the support and expertise of their peers.

Many people secure their first professional roles, and often advance through the ranks, at least in part because they had a connection to someone at the company. However, for many individuals, especially people of color, this is not a possibility. They simply don’t know the people who can help them get ahead, regardless of their intelligence, education, skills or knowledge.

There’s another disadvantage of entering the workforce from an underrepresented group: It can be difficult to develop the confidence gained by seeing those like you around you, as well as in senior roles. When the entire C-suite looks different from you, it can be hard to imagine yourself in an executive role. Likewise, it can be hard to speak up in meetings and in conversations with colleagues when you are hyper-aware of your differences.

Peer mentoring offers individuals from underrepresented groups exactly the connections that they may not otherwise have, essentially democratizing the corporate ladder. It also serves as a confidence booster, helping people gain the confidence they need to participate in strategic conversations and envision themselves in senior roles.

Peer mentoring is different than traditional mentoring in that the mentor and mentee roles are less rigidly defined, allowing more of a give-and-take dynamic. Both traditional and peer mentoring are essential in helping individuals grow professionally. Peer mentoring is often overlooked, but is frequently more powerful because people — especially if they are in a peer group of similarly underrepresented employees — feel psychologically safer, and will be more authentic about their challenges.

Mentoring programs can benefit everyone but can be especially helpful in developing and supporting minorities who have historically struggled to advance professionally due to systemic challenges. Generally, these programs pair a more experienced employee with a junior employee. The mentor provides guidance and advice and even some coaching in navigating crucial conversations.

Beyond providing suggestions, mentors may teach their mentees skills that are vital to their professional development.

Peer mentoring, which differs from traditional “top-down” mentoring, increases a sense of safety for deeper sharing during the learning process. It also allows for more connections outside of one’s immediate work community, which can help build culture across the organization. Ultimately, peer mentoring helps the learner to see their contributions and strengths from multiple perspectives.

How Peer Mentoring Benefits the Business — and Individual Learners

Peer mentoring helps build strong professional relationships and also creates a learning culture in which employees are encouraged to improve their skills and, as a result, their performance. Companies see benefits ranging from improved business culture to decreased turnover.

Mentoring programs can help ensure that all employees have access to the development opportunities they need to both advance their careers and help the organization remain competitive.

Creating a diverse business culture where all employees feel that opportunities are open to them improves employee morale. Companies that create a positive workplace culture find that employees are more productive and work more efficiently, they feel less stress, they collaborate more, they feel greater company loyalty as well as a host of other benefits. All of these things are good for business!

As much peer mentoring benefits the business, it also benefits learners from diverse backgrounds. Mentees gain skills, knowledge and insights into the culture of the company they are working for that they might not otherwise have access to. Beyond the practical benefits, having the support of a more established employee can boost confidence and morale for someone who is attempting to climb the corporate ladder. Mentors, on the other hand, benefit from being of service to a novice learner, gaining self-esteem and confidence from helping others succeed.

Engaging in a peer mentoring program is beneficial during all phases of one’s career, whether you are an intern or a chief executive officer. At the start of your career, a peer mentor can help you understand a business environment that may feel foreign. It can help you decipher the career path you would like to take, and they can begin to teach you the skills that you need to achieve your goals. A mentor can help you feel secure and confident as you navigate the daily ins and outs of corporate life.

Mid-career, a peer mentor can help someone from an underrepresented group break through the “glass ceiling,” overcoming hurdles with insights and knowledge one might not otherwise have access to. A mentor can make introductions to people in key positions and offer suggestions for making oneself a more attractive candidate for senior roles.

Later in one’s career, when you are secure in the senior role that you once only dreamed of, you can benefit from the experience of helping someone else who is just starting out or is struggling to advance past a certain point where they are stuck. In turn, your less experienced mentee may offer fresh insights into your role and industry that you might not otherwise have access to.

Peer mentoring is beneficial to anyone looking to advance their careers, but especially for those from underrepresented groups, who may lack certain advantages afforded to others. By adopting a peer mentoring program, you can ensure that all employees have access to the development opportunities they need to succeed, throughout their entire career journey.