What do most successful women have in common?

By Holly Addison, Partner, Odgers Berndtson

Diverse women in a meeting featuredDrive and determination? Tick. Passion, commitment and a sense of purpose? Absolutely.

But dig a little deeper and in many cases, you will also find the seeds of self-doubt, a surprising lack of confidence and in all probability a reticence for self-promotion.

In 25 years of talent consulting, I have rarely encountered a woman comfortable promoting her own achievements, unless for the sake of a specific project or greater good. Another prevalent common denominator is the desire for constructive debate and challenge, feedback and endorsement.

Enter the ‘Mentor’

Almost without exception, every board or female executive I have met, when sharing their perspectives on the path to success –usually anything but consistent – has highlighted the importance of having had a mentor, coach or trusted confidante.

Mentoring is, by definition, a confidential relationship where the focus is on the mentor helping the mentee to achieve certain career-related objectives. Mentors can help to bridge the chasm between knowing and doing by sharing their own knowledge and experience, but there are a multitude of other benefits.

Supportive, non-judgemental and reciprocal relationships are formed. A good mentor will give objective advice and constructive criticism, offering alternative paradigms and new perspectives. They can become a reliable sounding board – there not to ‘rescue’ or fix a problem, but to offer valuable advice and assistance on how to deal with tricky or new situations.

Mentors should be authentic and honest. They will tell you straight if you should consider changing your stance or attitude on a certain topic.

Importantly, mentors can often become the mentee’s strongest advocate and supporter, giving them the confidence to venture beyond the boundaries the mentee may have imposed upon themselves. A mentoring relationship can be inspiring, thought-provoking and uniquely motivating.

Mentors are usually well connected within their field and can help mentees broaden their own networks, opening up new avenues and opportunities. Fundamentally, mentors will want their mentees to succeed and achieve their personal goals and ambitions.

And it isn’t a one-way street – Mentors usually find the process hugely valuable and often learn a great deal from their mentees.

Industry-wide mentoring programmes

In 2018 I was part of a team that founded the Plan B programme, having acknowledged mentoring as an ideal conduit and a practical way to help get more women onto boards. The initiative centres on speed mentoring events which provide the platform and environment to mentor and mentee to connect.

In October last year, based on an overwhelmingly positive response to Plan B, we launched Rebus, a sister programme for women in Technology, bringing in industry partners in the form of Avanade, Google, Sage and BT.

The aim is simple – to provide women who aspire to senior leadership roles with outstanding mentoring, advice and motivation, from objective and supportive mentors.

In developing the structure of these programmes, we were careful not to overcomplicate the recruiting and matching process of mentor and mentee, not to demand too much time commitment from mentors and to ensure it was scalable and reached a wide enough audience to make a difference. Importantly, we also wanted to ensure the mentees took ownership of their own development and that there was an opportunity for mentors and mentees to establish a connection and ‘choose’ to work together.

What emerged was a programme that was flexible, focused, reached a much wider audience with minimal time commitment from mentors and could be tailored to suit the needs of each individual.

Rebus – mentoring for senior women in tech

Rebus is designed specifically for women in management positions in technology-enabled businesses or in functional technology leadership roles in any sector, to help them move successfully into senior executive and board level positions. So it has a broad sweep.

At Sage, one of the industry partners of Rebus, female leaders are already encouraged to seek out mentors and sponsors as part of their career development.

Debbie Wall is EVP of Sage Foundation, Diversity & Inclusion and has seen the benefits of mentoring first hand. “Within the business we have seen a number of key positive outcomes from mentorship and sponsorship. There have been changes in perception, and mentees are often seen as more valued leaders and have a closer relationship with the business. Career development has been clearer, and confidence has been built which has allowed female leaders to identify and achieve career aspirations.”

Google is another organisation committed to supporting the initiative. Hugh Dickerson, Senior Industry Head, explained, “Google understands the importance of ensuring that a business’ senior team best reflects the diversity of the consumers they serve and how supporting women to reach their true potential is a critical component in this endeavour”.

Over 50 leading technology employers in the UK have now pledged their support and we have recruited a broad base of mentors from across the sector.

Rebus will kick off with its first speed mentoring events in central London on 25th February and 4th March 2020, with around seven more mentoring events planned this year. The focus is firmly on women working in the technology sector who are already in leadership roles, looking to make the next step into top executive or board positions. Around 150 mentees will benefit from Rebus Mentoring in its first year, and we would love to hear from any potential mentees or mentors wishing to take part.

As a team, we want women to believe in themselves and their ability to contribute, at the most senior levels, to the success of their organisations. Having the confidence is often half the battle.

Holly AddisonAbout the author

Holly Addison, Partner & Head of Consumer Digital at Odgers Berndtson is co-founder of Plan B and Rebus Mentoring

Working at the intersection of Technology, Consumer and Lifestyle, as a partner at Odgers Berndtson, a leading global executive search firm, Holly specialises in senior and board-level appointments with a focus on transformational leadership within the marketing, sales, digital, operations, customer experience and commercial functions.

She works for a wide range of clients from global corporations to founder-led businesses and private-equity backed SMEs, often building out entire leadership teams.

Holly is a passionate supporter of inclusion and diversity; She holds a Level 5 Certificate in Coaching & Mentoring in Management from Leeds Metropolitan University and is a founding member of the Plan B and Rebus programmes. She is a member of the UKH Diversity and Inclusion council and a mentor for Springboard UK. She is also a Director of The PM Trust charity which supports young people into work and training in London.

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