Mentoring is turning the gender diversity dial | Liz Dimmock


I’m excited and thrilled to report that our new research, Turning the gender diversity dial, shows that mentoring is making a difference for women, and when done well, it not only can help advance women’s careers, it can create more inclusive cultures.  

This cause is something I’ve devoted my professional career (and during the last five years, my life!) to. Nearly four years ago I founded Women Ahead with a mission – to create positive change for women in business and in sport, which would in turn benefit not only individuals and organisations, but society as a whole. I wanted to use my mentoring knowledge to bring about positive change. Through my experience and by instinct, I knew that mentoring was creating change, but in the spirit of the growth mindset, I wanted to truly put it to the test, so that we can continually develop our work for our mentors, mentees and organisations.

And now after eight months of research in collaboration with Deloitte, and with feedback from more than 6,000 mentors and mentees at 41 major organisations, it’s with great delight that I can confirm – mentoring is working! This is the first research study of its kind in the UK. On the other side of the pond there has been a lot of research into mentoring, but the US definition of mentoring is nuanced more towards sponsorship than in the UK. We felt it was important to contribute to the debate here, and to ensure our work is making a lasting impact.

I wanted the research to bring out the stories of leaders who have stepped into mentoring, I feel enormously grateful to the leaders who have shared their special insights in the report. Dame Helena Morrissey talks about how mentoring enables leaders to become more connected, more empathetic. Michael Cole-Fontayn, BNY Mellon, Chairman EMEA, talks about how mentoring has enabled him to become the leader he is today – and Dr Michael Kimmel, the prominent male feminist, talks about how men need mentors too.

Women who are mentored at work are more likely to stay. They feel more confident. They make bolder moves. They feel invested in the business and are less likely to leave. Our mentees are feeling a profound growth in confidence. This courage to be at your best, apply for promotions, seek feedback, lead and embrace a growth mindset is a fundamental output of good mentoring. Women can take ownership and turn the dial on their development. An externally managed and implemented nine-month formal mentoring programme is now proven to help women put their valuable skills to use. It costs five times less than an average three-day leadership programme in the UK.

Mentoring creates better engagement, retention, inter-departmental working, advancement of male and female leaders, and drives better business performance. It can positively shape the culture of an organisation, fostering inclusion by helping individuals connect.

Women make up 49 per cent of the global workforce, skills and talent, and yet 36 per cent of British organisations have no women in senior management roles. Businesses that fail to maximise the potential talent in the marketplace will naturally see that loss in their bottom line – at an estimated cost of £23bn to the UK economy. Failing to retain women as they progress up the career ladder is costly, with hiring and training replacements estimated to cost the equivalent of six to nine months of their salary.

As Mark Bomer, Senior Partner, BDO says: “If we start off with 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women, invest the same in them, yet after 15 years lose more women than men, there’s a basic financial argument for getting diversity right.”

A proud moment was to hear about the London Stock Exchange Group’s journey. They started with a small mentoring scheme we designed and delivered for their Women Inspired Network (WIN). This is now a global mentoring scheme that is creating positive change way beyond gender. This is a culmination of great mentoring, great leadership and role-modelling from leaders at LSEG, and the sound principles of structured, formal mentoring which we are proud to deliver. I feel enormously proud that the team at Moving Ahead are behind this – designing and delivering this mentoring scheme for LSEG.

I feel particularly excited about the impact of the 30% Club cross-company programme, which has 86 companies and 1,550 mentors and mentees about to join its fifth year. We have helped more than 4,500 mentors and mentees through this scheme which is providing awe-inspiring growth for men and women across more than 100 companies.

Pulling the research lens back further, we found that gender mentoring programmes are enabling a more inclusive culture by teaching leaders the empathetic skills and frameworks they need to support their talent pool. Further, gender-specific programmes are now being used as best practice to develop broader diversity mentoring programmes in major UK organisations. Mentoring is creating dialogue. Individuals are being more open, more curious and seeking connections with colleagues. This is contributing to better inclusion.

Women Ahead’s goals have evolved hugely since start-up four years ago, too. We are global diversity and development specialists, working not just around the world but also across the spectrum of diversity under our Moving Ahead brand. We’re continually developing, expanding, growing as individuals and as a team. If you have a management challenge you’d like to pose us, email me on [email protected] – we’ll do anything we can to help.

About the author

Liz Dimmock is founder and CEO of Women Ahead and Moving Ahead, a specialist development and diversity organisation that works globally to create more inclusive organisations and cultures.

Liz is a well-known leader in the field of gender diversity and was named winner of We Are The City’s Rising Star Gender Champion, 2017. She is a Steering Committee Member of the 30% Club and Women Ahead runs the largest cross-company mentoring programme on their behalf – with more than 80 major companies set to be involved in the scheme this year.

Before setting up Women Ahead, Liz had been working in the fields of consultancy, coaching and mentoring for 16 years, in businesses ranging from 30 employees to 330,000. She has held commercial, coaching and leadership roles at IMG, KPMG, HSBC (Global Head of Coaching), and GP Strategies (Managing Partner). In 2012 she cycled the entire route of the Tour de France, one week ahead of the men’s race, matching them stage for stage, riding 3,479kms in 21 days. This journey highlighted the inequalities in the sport she loves; the fact that there is no women’s Tour de France (despite the clear physiological ability of women to complete it) was a driving factor in the creation of Women Ahead.

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