Is it time to find a mentor... or two?
Guidance, life-lessons, goal-setting, professional networks, connections, motivation and role modelling. There are many reasons that mentors are valuable throughout our careers. Many of us will have benefited from mentors early on in our careers, but are you enjoying the benefits of a mentor now? Mentors can often play an even more crucial role the further we progress along our professional journey.
What is a mentor?
When we think of mentors, we often imagine someone with years of experience in our industry. A mentor who can help us make better career decisions and open doors for us. This description probably conjures up images of mentees in their 20s; fresh-faced graduates filled with optimism and an eagerness to learn. In fact, you probably had one yourself at the start of your career and now you realise you are the same age as your mentor was back then. It is true that traditionally formal mentor schemes did focus on early careers, however, there has been an explosive focus on mentoring women as the spotlight has been shone on the gender pay gap. While sponsorship is what has been proven to be more of a catalyst for career progression, mentorship also has an important role to play.
Mentors later in career
There are various points in your career during which mentorship would be valuable, but there are some pivotal moments which can make you feel completely unprepared - such as upon becoming a mother. A mentor that’s been there can help you consider and evaluate your options and craft new career goals.
Jane Johnson, CEO of Feel Communications, runs the Careering into Motherhood Facebook group, a community of women interested in navigating their careers through motherhood. Seeing the need in the community she built, Jane decided to start matching women with high-achieving mentors in senior positions. Jane explains that: “if we want to drive change in the workplace then we need mentors for women throughout their careers. Furthermore, these mentors should be championing their protégées, speaking up for them when they see an opportunity in meetings and at networking events.”
The women Jane matches have include those that have had time out of work to raise families, recently been made redundant, or are unhappy with their current employment. These are women who want to feel fulfilled by their careers. Jane is also able to impart practical advice to those that seek out mentors.
“I always tell the mentees that the mentor is not there to sort your life out for you, as much as we’d all love someone to sweep in and do this. It is also important to understand this process is not a quick-win. You’ll meet with your mentor once every six to eight weeks. This gives the mentee a chance to think about what’s been discussed and put some of the activities into action.”
Benefits of a mentor
A UK study by Payment Sense found that almost half of people with a household income over £50k have been supported by a mentor. Whereas only a quarter of people with an income of less than £30k have used a mentor during their career. The link between mentoring and income is clear when 1 in 5 mentees report that their mentor has put them forward for promotion.
When looking at the benefits for women, research by Women Ahead found that having a mentor increased gender equality in the workplace, helped women earn more, and has the potential to contribute between £15-23 billion to the UK economy.
A handful of mentors
Whilst women can benefit uniquely from women mentors, as they will often face the same barriers and hurdles that men may not face, that does not mean that you can’t benefit from male mentors. In fact, in some instances male mentors can be more beneficial as they can open up whole new networks or wield more influence in the workplace. “If we only see senior women standing up and being willing to mentor,” says Jane, “we’ll never crack this as there will not be enough opportunities being opened up for women. We need men to mentor women as well.”
And there are benefits for the mentor. Mentors can see how their input has helped someone else grow and develop while getting the opportunity to reflect on their own careers. Sometimes you can even build a mutual mentoring relationship. Anthony Tjan, an entrepreneur, believes there are five different types of mentor relationships, and you should strive for each. These are:
Mentor 1: The master of craft
The expert in your field. “They should help you identify, realise and hone your strengths towards the closest state of perfection as possible,” he says.
Mentor 2: The champion of your cause
This mentor is someone who will talk you up to others, and it’s important to have one of these in your current workplace.
Mentor 3: The copilot
The copilot is the colleague who can talk you through projects, advise you in navigating the personalities at your company, and listen to you vent over coffee.
Mentor 4: The anchor
This person is a confidante and a sounding board, and could be friend or family. Someone with your overall best interests in mind.
Mentor 5: The reverse mentor
Someone younger to collect feedback from and get fresh perspectives.
Ranu Gupta, a leadership development expert, agrees on having numerous mentors; “I think having more than one mentor is important — then it’s like having your personal board of directors.”
In the day-to-day grind, it can be easy to prioritise the to-do list and looming deadlines, but we mustn’t neglect to seek out the relationships and opportunities which could have the biggest impact on our careers. If you’re now wondering how to best seek out and build those mentor relationships, here are our top tips:
If you know the next career move you want to make, look for someone who is already in the role you want to do or has taken a career path that you admire.
When reaching out to potential mentors think about what you want to achieve from the relationship and the support you might need - remember it is not a quick-fix nor is a mentor a career or life coach.
Ask in your workplace if there is an existing mentoring scheme or research ones outside of the workplace such as those run by Jane.
If you’re approaching someone outside of a scheme, offer to buy them coffee and be upfront that you are looking for a mentor so that they can be honest about their availability - being a mentor is time commitment that someone shouldn’t take lightly.
Be prepared for honest feedback and to do some hard work.