Knowledge Center: Publication

Leadership Development

Creating a culture of mentorship

12/27/2017 Cynthia Emrich, Mark H. Livingston, David Pruner, Larry Oberfeld and Stephanie Page
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When it comes to understanding how mentoring operates—let alone how it could be harnessed to support, develop, and retain talented people—most executives have little grounding in data or experience beyond their own.

To help address this disparity, Heidrick & Struggles recently surveyed more than 1,000 professionals in North America about their experience with mentoring, supplementing the online survey with additional, in-depth interviews of 20 senior executives with particular experience in mentoring.

We found that mentorship is generally a positive and impactful experience—particularly for women and self-described ethnic and racial minorities.1 Moreover, our interviews highlighted the importance of a personal bond and chemistry in forming an effective mentoring relationship characterized by trust and openness—sentiments that can be challenging to promote in formal mentoring programs.

Among the findings:

  • More than half of those respondents who participated in formal mentoring programs at work were satisfied with the experience—yet just 27% of respondents said their organization offers such programs.
  • More than three in four respondents report that their most impactful mentoring relationship was either “very important” or “extremely important” to their career development (Figure 1). Women and minorities were the most likely to say that the relationship was extremely important.
  • Most mentors are mentees’ direct supervisor—though minorities are more likely to find their mentor on their own.
  • Men tend to have male mentors, and women have female mentors—but this is changing as a new generation enters the workforce.
  • Most mentees seek advice on development and career paths: 72% of respondents said their mentors gave them feedback on their professional strengths and development opportunities, 61% said they shared ideas about how to further their professional development, and 60% said they gave advice on different career paths (Figure 2).
  • When we asked what kind of advice was most important, the three answers were the same—strengths, professional development, and career paths (Figure 3).


Regardless of the format, a growing body of evidence suggests companies that offer mentoring effectively have a competitive edge in the fight for talent.2 Based on our survey and interview findings, the right mix of mentoring approaches—both formal structure and informal, organic connections—is a balancing act. Clearly, not enough companies have implemented formal programs, but given the personal nature of mentoring relationships, the clearest call to action is to build a culture of mentorship as an ecosystem to support formal structures. A company culture that embraces and promotes mentorship will provide an advantageous backdrop for a formal mentoring program. Companies that do this right will be well positioned to unlock the potential of mentorship in attracting, developing, and retaining their workforce.

To read the full report, flip through the interactive version above or click the download button for the PDF.

About the authors

Cynthia Emrich ( is a principal in Heidrick & Struggles' Washington, DC, office and a member of the Leadership Consulting Practice.

Mark Livingston ( is the global managing partner of the Natural Resources Sector and a member of the CEO & Board Practice; he is based in the Houston office.

Larry Oberfeld ( is an associate in the New York office and a member of the Private Equity Practice.

Stephanie Page ( is a director of consultant recruiting; she is based in the Houston office.

David Pruner ( is a partner in the Houston office and a member of the Industrial Practice.

The authors wish to thank Hyder Alikhan for his contributions to this report.


1 For the purposes of this report, “minorities” refers to the 17% of survey respondents who said that, in their current organization, the majority of individuals are a different race and/or ethnicity as the respondent.

2 For example, one survey found that 68% of people with a mentor said they intend to stay with their organization for more than five years; just 32% of people without a mentor said the same. See Deloitte, The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the Next Generation of Leaders, 2016.

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