Faculty Scholarship 1994 - Present

Challenging Corporate Mentoring Programs: Alternative Employment Practices and Mixed Motives

In a prevoius paper, the authors aruged that corporate mentoring was vulnerable to challenges of employment discrimination. Mentoring involves both career functions, such as sponsorship for promotional opportunities, and psychosocial functions, such as counseling to assist the protege in coping with the demands of his or her job. Of particular risk are "informal" mentoring programs, in which the organization makes no organized effort to match mentors and proteges. When top executives act as informal mentors, and if top executives are homogeneous in terms of race and gender, then informal menoring can be expected to cause disparate impact and/or disparate treatment. This paper outlines in greater detail a strategy for challenging informal mentoring by top executives, based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The "alternative employment practices" argument relates to the career functions of mentoring. It is based on a 1991 amendment to the Act requiring employers to consider alternative employment practices that cause less disparate impact. A case can be made that employers should switch to formal mentoring plans in which objective criteria such as cognitive ability tests are used to identify proteges, and that the benefits of making this change would exceed the costs. The "mixed motives" arugment relates to the psychosocial functions of mentoring, and is based on another section of the 1991 Act, which prohibits protected group membership as a motivating factor in an employment practice. For example, if a female plaintiff can prove that informal mentoring took place in areas where women would feel unwelcome, such as a men's locker room, the defendant must pay the successful plaintiff's legal costs in addition to other remedies.