By Sylvie Thrush Marsh.
In June 2016 we are delighted to be launching the inaugural Professionelle Mentoring Programme, targeting women at the beginning of their careers to develop, support and connect them with other like-minded women at both similar and more advanced stages of their working lives.
The Professionelle Mentoring Programme is a group mentoring programme that connects up to five mentees with one mentor, with comprehensive training provided to mentors to prepare them for their role as facilitators within their mentoring groups. As well as having the opportunity to become Professionelle Accredited Mentors, those who participate as mentors will be able to develop their coaching and facilitation skills while giving back to women and developing their own networks. Mentees will have the opportunity to learn from a senior woman and develop relationships with their peers, leading to ongoing networks and informal relationships.
Mentoring is a central tool to personal and professional development, but women are underrepresented both as mentors and mentees despite being in a unique position to benefit from mentoring relationships. Why is this? What can we do to address the situation? How is Professionelle positioned to help?
The benefits of mentoring to both mentor and mentee are well understood in both academic research and business practices. As well as being an opportunity to give back, mentors report high levels of personal satisfaction through facilitating the development of their mentees, and it is an opportunity for them develop their coaching skills as well as their networks. Mentees are eager to learn from the experiences of their mentors, and participation in mentoring relationships correlates with longer term job performance, as well as retention in education and feelings of support and empowerment at work.
Mentoring can be formal or informal, structured or unstructured, traditional or relational. Different models of mentoring have different benefits and pitfalls (with more on that later), but a consistent observation is that in New Zealand, available mentoring tends to be either:
- organisation-specific e.g. large law firms offering internal mentoring to their top talent, or
- industry-specific e.g. industry organisations facilitating mentoring between junior and senior members.
There is a dearth of mentoring available to women that is either gender-specific, non-organization-specific, or non-industry-specific. By connecting women from multiple industries, from different backgrounds and with different work-life structures, the Professionelle programme is ideally positioned to fill this gap.
Women and mentoring
An online poll conducted by Professionelle previously found that 100% of respondents agreed that mentors play an important role in women’s careers. Women are positioned particularly well to benefit from mentoring, both formal and informal. Research has demonstrated that mentoring relationships:
- provide women support and encouragement in a professional context
- improve their confidence in their skills and abilities
- strengthen their commitment to their chosen field of work or study
- build support networks that extend beyond the mentoring programmes they participate in, and
- are explicitly linked to positive performance and career outcomes.
One example of mentoring in action is in a study conducted in 2013 in the USA. The researchers found that women and minorities who secured their first board appointment received less mentoring than white males who secured their first board appointment – this despite having more experience and being more highly regarded by their peers than the white men! This access to mentoring helped the white men secure subsequent and multiple board appointments, as they learned the social and cultural norms more quickly and effectively than did their female and minority counterparts. Mentoring, in this instance, is a clear mechanism in which in-group favouritism by and towards the majority comes into play and excludes the minorities from accessing the same opportunities.
Despite the centrality of mentoring to effective personal and professional development, studies have indicated that women feel uncomfortable pursuing mentoring relationships. It may be that women feel excluded from the informal networks where mentoring relationships take root, or that they feel explicitly seeking out mentors is pushy or aggressive behaviour that they are uncomfortable with. Informal mentoring can be hazardous to navigate, so more formal mentoring programmes may be easier for women to access. Our aim with the Professionelle Mentoring Programme is to make high-quality mentoring relationships accessible and successful for those involved.
An oft-repeated mantra is that you can’t be what you can’t see, and women in male-dominated industries struggle to find role models and mentors who can support them as they pursue professional and personal goals and balance. Professionelle is uniquely positioned to connect women from different industries, walks of life and backgrounds, to facilitate the relationships that inform, connect, support and motivate women to achieve personally and professionally.
Why group mentoring?
As mentioned earlier, mentoring has tended to follow a model where a wiser, more experienced mentor imparts hard-won wisdom to a younger mentee. This format can be less than ideal and hard to sustain, for reasons including: the difficulty of finding available mentors, the power differential between mentee and mentor as a result of the hierarchical relationship, perceived pressure for mentees to become “clones” of their mentors, and so on.
The influence of peers (on all aspects of our lives), on the other hand, is well documented in the literature. Peer mentoring leverages that influence by connecting individuals with others at similar career stages, allowing them to draw on experiences of others facing similar challenges. Building strong peer networks is linked to higher retention rates in education and feelings of empowerment amongst peer mentees, so peer mentoring is an excellent alternative to the more traditional master:pupil mentoring models.
Group mentoring, in turn, leverages both the strengths of peer support and the benefits of having a more experienced mentor to guide and facilitate discussion. Mentors can model solutions and approaches to problems, which in turn empowers mentees to consider alternative solutions and approaches for their own difficulties, and peer contributions open up discussions in ways that traditional mentoring is unable to. Group mentoring also has demonstrably higher attendance rates than traditional mentoring, which increases the value for both mentors and mentees.
Structuring the Professionelle Mentoring Programme in a group format means that mentors can work with a larger number of mentees than they could if the programme was one-on-one, and mentees are able to draw on their mentor’s experiences and advice as well as building those support networks that are so crucial to retention and success.
Trackbacks and pingbacks
No trackback or pingback available for this article.