Mentoring: is it for me?
National Mentoring Day was launched to recognise the significant benefits of mentoring across the UK and takes place on 27 October each year. Mentoring offers the mentee a supportive and confidential environment in which to discuss and think through issues regarding work and career. Here we try to answer your questions on how mentoring works from both a mentoring and mentee perspective, with expert input from Esther Cavett, Director of Cityparents’ own cross-industry mentoring scheme. This is currently open for applications from both mentors and mentees, with a closing date of midnight on Friday 13th October.
What does mentoring offer a busy City professional?
Mentoring offers the mentee a supportive and confidential environment in which to discuss and think through issues regarding her/his work and parenting role from the perspective of managing her/his career progression and work-life balance. It helps significantly if someone has some familiarity with the city environment and yet isn’t working in the same exact area. It helps to have someone that can relate to the area that the mentee is working in, but it doesn’t need to be in the same exact sector and although some people ask for a specific match most are happy with someone roughly in the same area.
How is a mentor different from a sponsor?
A sponsor is usually someone who is inside the organisation supporting an individual. With the Cityparents scheme we match people from different organisations and therefore it is quite difficult for them to be a sponsor. There are big differences between a mentor and a sponsor. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a sponsor to be mentoring people in the sense of supporting and helping them to develop their skills and so on; rather they would be speaking up for them to a third party.
What are the advantages & disadvantages of having a mentor from inside vs outside your own company?
A mentor inside the company will know the environment and have insight into the specific issues and problems in that environment; in fact, they may change hats and effectively be able to become something of a sponsor for an individual as they get to know them as their mentee. On the other hand, there is potential for the mentor to have a conflict of interest if they are mentoring someone inside the company. If the sponsor is put on notice that there is a real issue with something concerning the mentee or there is concern that they are failing in some way, they then have to work out how they are going to deal with that in relation to their obligation with the firm.
What kind of experience or seniority is required to be a mentor generally?
It is helpful to have a measure of self-understanding and maturity. It is important to note that this does not necessarily come with age. You could have impact because you are a particularly insightful individual and you are there to support someone else, so it is more important that you can be in a position where you are able to step back from your own shoes and look at someone else dispassionately. A mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be more senior than a mentee. We have seen some very good examples when it has worked with people who are roughly the same level of seniority but the deal is that one person is taking time to provide mentorship to the other.
What benefits might the mentor experience in terms of their own development and/or career progression?
We have found it can give the mentor an invaluable experience of the sort of skills that can be relevant when you are in a position of managing people. It doesn’t mean that you are managing the mentee quite the opposite. You are not managing the mentee you are helping them think through issues for themselves; however, you are still in a position of responsibility to another person and thinking about their development. If it is a more traditional relationship where the mentor is more senior it can give the mentor insight into what it is like to be a junior member of the organisation; which works for both levels.
What are the limitations of mentoring? i.e. what does it not provide or extend to?
I think it’s important that people are very clear about what mentoring is and what it isn’t. There are fuzzy boundaries but nevertheless it is very important to think about them. The Cityparents mentoring scheme has a code which is very carefully considered in relation to the various different professional organisational codes. When the code was drafted we looked at other mentoring schemes codes and also the codes of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, the Association of Coaching and the British Psychological Society.
The key thing that came out of looking at those codes was that the mentor needs to be very clear what the limits of their own capability of mentoring are, and that varies according to each individual. It is definitely not counselling and there will be times when issues come up that could fall into either a mentoring discussion or a counselling discussion.
If someone has difficult personal circumstances, that might be mentioned in a session but it would be inappropriate for the mentor to be dealing with something like a relationship breakdown. The definitional distinction between mentoring and coaching is that mentoring is ‘where someone with relatable experience is able to help someone in a similar sort of area’ which is why we put City professionals together who are roughly in the same area of work.
Troubleshooting - what if I don’t gel with my mentor or feel I’m not getting what I want out of the mentoring relationship?
If you can you should talk about the issues; it is very helpful to have a conversation if one can, if the relationship is still ok. If it’s not going the way one or the other person hoped to you can see if it can be raised, which is why the code is very useful. The code includes a request that if it is not working out that people make a deal to talk about any problems and that they have a conversation about it. Very occasionally things can go rapidly wrong and one person in the scheme can be blissfully unaware that the other is unhappy. If that happens there is provision within the scheme to have a conversation with Director of the scheme.
Should mentoring conversations be limited to work-related topics?
It depends what the scheme says, not necessarily. However, some schemes have a very clear aim for example the Cityparents aim is: ‘to help discuss issues arising from career and work life balance’. This doesn’t exclude the topic of home, but the idea is that home topics are referred to in a way in which they have an impact on work. If the mentee purely wanted to talk about home life and home issues then personal coaching or even counselling may be a better option.
I’m interested in mentoring (as a mentor or mentee) but my company doesn’t offer any kind of mentoring to support career progression - what suggestions do you have?
Your company could consider participating in the Cityparents mentoring scheme as a corporate member (details below), or you can join the scheme as an individual which is what many people do. There are also various schemes run by industry bodies in the City.
With special thanks to Esther Cavett, the Cityparents Mentoring Scheme Director
Released On 12th Oct 2017