Inspirational Woman: Elaine Thomas | Founder, The Mentoring Lab

Elaine ThomasI am the founder of an organisation called The Mentoring Lab and I thoroughly enjoy my role.  

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I was 15 years old, during a career guidance session at school, the career counsellor said I was very ambitious, yet recommended I do something simple like the new BTec in Health and social care. This was in 1994 and since then, with help from a constant stream of amazing people that became mentors, I have always prioritised reflecting on, planning and sowing the seeds to succeed in my career. In 2006 along with a friend, I mapped out The Mentoring Lab, then spent the next 10 years developing my skills and knowledge of the youth and community sector. At 43, I continue to reflect and right now I’m sowing the seeds for what I would prefer to be doing when I am 55 or 60.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Oh absolutely, without the challenges I sure The Mentoring Lab would be redundant. The challenges I continue to face are the challenges the parents within our community face. It all stems from the structural systems that have not considered equality and equity for all. The main challenges were not having a network of good quality and affordable business professionals to inform me of the correct way to set up business.  I did go to my family but those I confided with said I should stick with my day job. Although I needed guidance and support, I simply could not afford excellent business support. The second challenge was losing a mentee and then a friend of the family, a young person to youth violence. In 2018 I was going to give up, I am still traumatised from their deaths. The third challenge is being a single parent, my son has been on this journey and had to learn to be independent quickly whilst I worked long hours and weekends. I couldn’t have succeeded if it was not for his constant understanding and cooperation.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Apart from climbing Pico Grande that is 5478 ft above sea level, last year, my  greatest achievement has been developing a solid mentoring model and supporting resources that are proving to significantly improve the way people deliver their mentoring sessions and the  impact they are able to make in another’s life.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Two things. One, being able to reframe past trauma to empathise with others barriers and challenges and two being stubborn in my commitment to improving the quality of youth mentoring for young people.  I’ve seen mentoring save lives and I’ve seen the lack of quality mentoring impact the strength of protective factors in a young person’s life, leading to loss of life. Mentoring is a practice, and method that should be valued more highly here in the UK, at the moment I think we take it for granted.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I live for mentoring and have seen how it improves confidence, quality of life, health and income levels for people from all walks of life. I’d class myself as a ‘natural’ mentor. I have a natural set of qualities that make for a ‘good’ mentor. Within my career I have mentored over 2000 young people across the UK and Caribbean. I have also been mentored, the first wsa by my neighbour who widened my perspective and helped me complete my UCas application. I was the first person in my family to go to university. More recently I’ve been mentored by Joseph Williams, Founder Ceo of Includia, a tech recruitment company and Head of Risk at a Santander Bank. The Mentoring Lab now trains others in how to improve their mentoring and understanding of how mentoring can be used as a tool to support black youth in navigating and overcoming structural barriers. 

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If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

It would be shifting the way women of colour in leadership are perceived and included. We are still looked over, and I think with all things once we get past the Gender Race barrier, Equality for all will significantly improve across all current divides.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

It would be to explore. To go outside of my comfort zone sooner, to learn what my strengths were and to surround myself with young people who valued their future. Due to lack of confidence, low self worth and distrust in others I isolated myself for over a decade. Had I had the right network around me, I may have excelled sooner in my 20’s or 30’s.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

This year I am hoping to publish a workbook and resources aimed at supporting others in their mentoring practice. 

However, my next challenge will be to inform on policy regarding the mentoring of children and young people by  corporations within education and youth work. Mentoring does significantly improve life chances and expectations, yet the UK is far behind the rest of  Global North in its value and use of the practice.

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