Why mentors are so important in difficult times – especially for diversity

Ruth Blanco, Communications Director WISE

“In the hectic times at the moment, juggling home schooling with a full time job, I must admit I sighed when I saw a mentoring catch up in my calendar, and I almost emailed to cancel it, thinking I just didn’t have the time.

The call, though, was one of the best things I did last week – it gave me space to talk things through, to question my approach to work at the moment and also have a supportive voice. If mentoring is useful during business as usual it’s invaluable at the moment. I’ve increased my mentor calls to weekly at the moment, and they are a lifeline.”

We generally turn to a mentor when we want to develop new skills or learn from their experience to help us progress in our careers. However, a mentor, can in extraordinary times such as we find ourselves in today, help us navigate through new territory, sharing their experience and providing reassurance. This can be even more valuable for women, as they often face an increased amount of work including caring responsibilities at this time.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a mentor for some time but have not quite got around to it, now may be the time to give it some real thought. You first need to understand what you want to achieve and what skills you need to develop to help you achieve it. Once you know that, you can then begin to look around for someone whose experience you can benefit from.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that being a mentee means you can sit back and your mentor tells you everything you need to know. You need to agree a mentor contract, understand what you want to achieve, how best you learn and be prepared to put in the work. Mentors share their experience to help guide you towards finding your own answers.

Many people who volunteer to be a mentor do so to give something back and enjoy the opportunity to watch their mentees grow and develop, even overtake them. Being a mentor helps you to develop too as you build relationships, learn more about people, how to truly listen to people and learn from them.

Whether you’re working from home or not at the moment, now is a great time to learn from and support each other; mentors have a major role to play in this. You are the calm, assured voice of reason that can really help your mentees grow in these challenging times.

Also, if you mentor someone else – give them a ring and check in with them – help them create space to think strategically about their next steps and create a safe space for them to vent, and give them much-needed positive support.

Mentoring case study from one of our team:

“Several years ago, before mentoring was as well recognised as it is today, I plucked up the courage to ask a colleague to be my mentor. Whilst I had no problems managing my team, time and workloads, I felt that there was an opportunity to learn from this person which would help me take that next step in my career.

The person I approached was both surprised and flattered when I asked if they could mentor me. In our initial chat, they gave me feedback on how they viewed me; competent, calm and assured, this was reassuring and helped me further define what I wanted to achieve through the mentoring.

We agreed to work together, and we set out an agreement with a plan of action. We talked about how I liked to learn, and they asked me to be ready to commit to preparing for our meetings and to do the ‘homework’ involved. They made it clear that they were there to guide me to find my own answers; not provide them for me.

We met every couple of weeks initially and we reflected on the ‘homework’, we discussed how I could have approached situations differently, what had I learned and how could I implement that learning in the next two weeks. It was a structured approach that worked for me.

It was a very fulfilling experience, it opened my eyes and mind and helped me build my confidence. While I pride myself on being able to see ‘both sides’ of a situation, mentoring helped me expand that to a full 365 degree view; from the top down, bottom up and outside in. I learned how to take into consideration the motivation that drives people and better understand their preferred communication styles; listening as much as to what is not being said as what is being said. The experience taught me to slow down, listen and then really listen. It has been a very valuable lesson.

When I eventually moved on to a different organisation, I surrounded myself with a group of people to act as my induction mentors – they came from across the organisation, top to bottom. After a few months, I then focused on specific elements that I wanted to develop and worked with people who I could learn from and who were willing to be a mentor.

To my surprise, several people asked me to be their mentor. I didn’t think of myself as a mentor; I was a mentee. However, being able to listen to people, help them identify their aspirations and the areas they want to improve, form an action plan and support them as they challenge their way of thinking, is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.

As children we learn by imitation, as adults, we can continue to learn from each other, and because we are all individuals, we can share our varied views and experiences of situations, the workplace, life and the world, and learn to think differently.”

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