Mentoring is a partnership most often consisting of two people in which one takes the other “under her wing” or both support each other to achieve specific goals. Regardless of whether the setting is informal or a more structured mentoring program, this creates opportunities for personal and professional growth and development. Maintaining confidentiality is crucial in a mentoring relationship. Without it, neither the relationship nor the outcome will reach its full potential.

Ethics and Integrity

Mentors and mentees have a responsibility to treat each other with dignity and respect and to behave in an ethical manner. Confidentiality is a component of ethical behavior and part of the best practices for ethics in mentoring guidelines. During the initial meeting, both parties should identify things they want kept confidential and what may be disclosed. Ethics is the reason most mentor-mentee agreements include an information-sharing or confidentiality clause. It sets ground rules for behavior and gets the relationship started in the right direction.


The promise of confidentiality allows a sense of trust between the mentor and mentee to develop over time. Both parties need to develop the assurance they can speak freely and sometimes divulge personal or private information without worrying that what they say will soon be common knowledge. The more trust there is between a mentor and mentee, the more truthful the discussions will be and the better a mentor will be able to help.


The objective of mentoring is to help a mentee develop and grow. Each meeting should aid in this process by focusing on topics that move the mentee forward. Confidentiality removes roadblocks that can hinder success, helps keep the lines of communication open and allows the process to move forward freely. A breach of confidence can at a minimum delay progress and in a worst-case scenario halt progress completely.

Breaking Confidentiality

Confidentiality is not unbending and never absolute. A mentor or a mentee may at some point find themselves in a position where maintaining confidentiality doesn’t reflect ethical behavior, does nothing to foster a sense of trust and is itself a roadblock to productivity. Although opinions and issues such as skills building and self-confidence concerns that can be resolved over time should always be kept confidential, employee theft, divulging trade secrets to an outside third party or unlawful behavior are examples of situations where confidentiality doesn’t and shouldn't apply regardless of whether it involves the mentor or mentee.