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  • Writer's pictureKatie Lopes

Anthropological Lens on Mentorship

Photo taken at Chicago HRHotSeat event, January 10, 2019

Anthropologists conduct field research to understand what influences human behaviors in their communities. Research helps define the social hierarchies, the key members of the community, and social rules to navigate within the group. A common relationship dynamic identified in research is the "student-teacher" relationship. In workplace settings, this dynamic can be referred to as a mentorship, the transfer of knowledge from an experienced individual to a less experienced individual.

Business mentorship relationships can have formal or informal structure, depending on the company's resources. Larger employers may offer a mentorship platform as an employee benefit where you are paired with a compatible mentor to coach you through your defined goals. In smaller organizations there may not be enough resources for such an official program therefore you rely on your department leader to teach you through on the job training, almost as an apprentice. Regardless of whether you participate in an official or unofficial mentorship program, the guidance from an experienced leader is imperative for your professional growth.

As a rising Latinx HR leader, my mentorship relationships provide me spaces to voice questions in a safe space, free of judgement, to formulate actionable plans that further develop my skills. In my current role, I have a trusting relationship with my department leader to provide me learning opportunities as they come up and who quickly provides feedback on initiatives I lead on my own. Although I have a supportive mentor inside my company, I continuously seek external mentorship resources to have diverse coaches with different perspectives. Every mentor has different knowledge and skills to share, and my goal is to continue learning from all those who are willing to teach.


Throughout the progression of my career path in human resources, I've sought guidance from various HR professionals. I am fortunate to work under the guidance of an experienced HR leader who advocates on my behalf in the organization. In addition to my internal leader, I have developed external relationships with other HR professionals from various resources:

  • Professors: If you're still in school or plan to go back, make time to chat with your professors. After all they are the subject matter experts. Connect with them 1-1 during and after the program to discuss how their courses have impacted your professional development.

  • Chicago SHRM Mentorship: This 6-month structured mentorship program introduced me to a strategic mentor. Through a combination of goal-setting and monthly meeting check-ins, we developed a natural rapport that focused on identifying short term goals that aligned with my long-term goal of stepping into HR Management. The program is free of charge but it does require you to have a Chicago SHRM membership (P.S. there is a student membership rate).

  • Networking groups: HR folks quickly learn to build a community outside of the organization for objective feedback. One of my favorite groups is HRHotSeat, a mastermind meetup of HR professionals who seek to help other HR pros facing challenges in their organizations. Erich Kurschat is the brilliant mind behind this concept, which has created ten chapters of the group. Take a look to see if you're near one of the chapters, or reach out to Erich if you want to start your own.

  • HR media: With media channels expanding communication efforts, it should be no surprise that HR professionals have an imprint in podcasts and writing communities. Although I don't have formal ongoing communications with some of these media channels, I have learned much from their shared resources. I would recommend the following free media resources to find HR leaders you can learn from: Hostile Work Environment, HR Social Hour Half Hour, Latinas In HR Facebook community, Twitter community (follow #HRCommunity or other HR related tags).


Hope these resources help you in your path.


The HR Anthropologist

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