I’m a firm believer in having a strong network of female role models and mentors around me.
There are far too few women in top positions in corporations, not enough women serving as politicians and only one fifth of businesses are founded by women and women get shockingly less funding from investors than men.
The way we can smash these inequalities is to support each other. Women coaching other women who have been through similar challenges is a powerful force. Many of our struggles are not unique and sharing our experiences is not only a good way to learn but gives us confidence that it isn’t just us fighting a battle alone.
I run a mentoring platform aimed specifically at career minded women and have been a mentor myself to younger talented women. Here I share tips on getting a mentoring programme underway:
Find a suitable mentor
It sounds obvious but you need women who want to share their wisdom. They should be enthusiastic about helping others avoid some of the hurdles and difficulties they may have faced, rather than guarding their knowledge for themselves but enjoying the glory of being labelled a mentor.
Genuine mentors are aware that it is only through helping and nurturing other women that we will be able to break the cycle of male dominated senior positions. When a mentor arrives with this attitude, they usually quickly build a rapport with their mentee.
Use a networking platform to find one who is genuinely invested in the art of mentoring.
Define your goal
Many people like the idea of having a mentor but can’t articulate what they need from their sessions.
Simply saying that you’re unhappy in your career isn’t enough for a mentor to work with. Identify the problem. Do you want a career change but need a confidence boost to do it? Do you keep coming into conflict with your boss over the same issue but don’t know how to resolve it? Do you simply need support in organizing a busy schedule – an important skill that is under taught!
Focus on one issue for each session
A common reason women seek a mentor is because they want to leave their job and start a business. If that’s the case, narrow the focus. Do you want help with a marketing plan? Raising funds? And when do you need answers to these questions by?
Apply the SMART approach to what you want from each session: Make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
The mentee is as much responsible for the outcome of a session as the mentor.
As with all time-limited meetings, come prepared with an agenda so you don’t drift off into a tangent. Don’t be tempted togossip or use the time to moan about your industry. And remember to stick to professional issues, not personal ones.
You are here to solve problems not identify them. Given that a mentor is likely to be in a senior role or running a business themselves, respect that they are giving time for you so use it well.
Drive the pace
If you have several questions, keep an eye on the time so you can speed things up if you have loads of unanswered questions and you’re only halfway through. The mentor won’t know what questions you have up your sleeve or what you already know and don’t know, so feel free to guide them and move on if they are covering something which isn’t quite what you need help on.
Decide how you will follow up after your first session. Set a time for a call, or a date when you’ll contact them with questions or a report on progress. Keep a written record of what you discussed and if it’s in note form fill in the gaps while it’s fresh and identify the to-do’s and transfer those to whatever to-do system you use.
If you feel you aren’t getting what you want from your mentor, express that and suggest how you could restructure the next session. They will be figuring you out and they can only identify the issues you need help with if you can articulate them clearly.
Seek advice from others before you begin
Ask other people who have gone through mentoring what they got out of it and what they would have done differently. People who have experienced mentoring will know things that you won’t have thought of. They may even have some materials you could use such as templates for goal setting or tools for tracking progress.
Speaking from the heart, don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. A good mentor will recognize that the biggest leaps in learning come from setbacks and challenges. A mentor may seem like an expert in their field, but they, like everyone, will have got to where they are as a result of learning their mistakes.
Women in business have a common understanding that the challenges we confront are different to those of our male peers, but this affords us a unique experience from a mentoring relationship.
Emma Sayle is founder of https://www.sistrapp.com/, a networking and mentoring app for women