We are hearing first-hand from the organisations and guest speakers involved in our Women in Leadership programme about the powerful support which mentoring can provide when developing aspiring female leaders.
If you are in the process of examining your organisation’s progression pipeline and looking for ways to help address any gender balances, we recommend introducing a mentoring scheme. This should be open to both sexes, but because research shows that women are less likely than men to seek out mentors for themselves, a more formal policy could help encourage more women to benefit from this valuable form of coaching and support. Mentoring is proven to help build confidence, encourage people to step up to the next level, speak about their ideas and to work collaboratively to help address any areas where unconscious bias may exist.
The business benefits of achieving a more balanced progression pipeline are significant. Organisations with an equal gender balance at senior levels are more likely to take a more collaborative and creative approach to problem solving, make better decisions and be more considerate as to how business issues will impact on their people, as well as to the bottom line.
Mentoring can take many different forms and the relationship is often cultivated uniquely between the mentor and mentee. This quote from American politician John Crosby sums up the foundations of successful mentoring well: “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” Here’s our seven steps to how this can translate in practice if you take on the role of a mentor.
1. Establish goals and expectations:
Make sure you spend time at the outset discussing the interests and goals of your mentee so that you fully understand their aspirations and their particular strengths and passions. It’s also important to establish expectations of how and when you will be available to help. Your mentee must feel comfortable in being able to approach you for advice but remain aware of your own time constraints. Set parameters from the start about how and when you want to keep in touch whether it’s a simple cuppa and a catch up every now and then or more formal, scheduled meetings.
2. Actively listen:
Many women avoid talking about work-related problems with their peers, but finding a mentor who will listen to them without judging is an invaluable way to help to unlock leadership potential. Concentrate on actively listening to your mentee, not just paying attention to what they are saying but also to what they may be conveying through body language. Are there any signals that a particular challenge or problem is proving especially difficult for them to talk about? If so, look for ways to gently prompt and encourage them to open up.
3. Open doors for them:
Help your mentee to build their own circle of contacts by actively finding ways to introduce them to people in your network, especially to those you think possess particular skills or experiences which they could benefit from. Also look for opportunities to nominate them for particular projects or tasks which could help them to either actively demonstrate existing skills or enable them to gain more experience in areas of interest.
4. Exchange experiences:
A successful mentoring relationship involves an exchange of knowledge and experience. You need to be prepared to talk neutrally about your own experiences and challenges, how you overcame them at the time and if there’s anything you would have done differently now. Be open to sharing any mistakes that you’ve made along the way, as this is often where you learnt your own biggest lessons. One of the main benefits of acting as a mentor is that it is a two-way exchange. Discussing each other’s experiences can also help to give you a new perspective as well.
5. Guide them to their own answers:
The role of a mentor isn’t to solve the problem, it’s to help guide the mentee to reach their own decisions. You don’t have to have all the answers, just the time to talk through the situation with them, offer any similar experiences of your own and be the non-judgemental sounding board they need to reach their own conclusions. People learn more when they ultimately solve a problem themselves.
6. Be their cheerleader:
It has been identified that some women may have a tendency to be modest and are not confident in talking about how good or talented they are. Be a cheerleader for them and remind them of their successes and strengths. Help them break down any doubts and mental limitations and encourage them to venture out of their comfort zone in order to progress. Also look for appropriate opportunities to champion them to others within the organisation.
7. Give honest feedback:
Establish a relationship where you can have an open and honest conversation. While being a cheerleader to your mentee is important this needs to be balanced with providing diplomatic feedback and constructive criticism. Make sure you say what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Encourage self-reflection not only on what they’ve done well but also on what they could be doing better.