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Establishing a mentor program

Mentoring programs help to develop and prepare employees in preparation for the next steps in their careers. They provide a formal mechanism for valuable advice and guidance to be exchanged between senior leaders and women who have been identified as potential future leaders. This exchange can happen between all levels of an agency and include all genders.

Below are some suggestions for how to establish a productive mentoring relationship.

5 tips for establishing successful partnerships

  • Know your objective. What's your ultimate goal in setting up a mentoring program? Is it just arranging helpful partnerships or is it to assist in the advancement of women in the agency? Make sure everyone understands the end goal and continually check the progress to make sure the program is achieving what it set out to do.
  • Who can participate? Define the eligibility criteria for mentees and mentors. Having suitable participants is important, but be careful not to be too exclusive and miss out on people that are too shy to put themselves forward or might not fit the profile for a stereotypical 'leader'.
  • Make the time. A common challenge in workplace mentoring programs is time. Participants struggle to find the time to meet on top of their normal workplace duties and mentoring risk being crossed off the calendar. Have the agency officially recognise program participation as part of normal working hours.
  • Mix it up. Don't take the easy route of pairing people with similar backgrounds together. Look at gaps in experience and backgrounds and make suggestions for pairing through that lens.
  • Switch out. Taking advice and guidance on career and navigating the hierarchy of the agency can be quite confronting at times. It's important for all participates to feel comfortable and get the most out of the relationship. If it's not working, participants should be supported in requesting a new mentor/mentee. Put clear channels in place to make this quick and easy.

Sophie McCarthy
Executive Director McCarthy Mentoring

Regardless of titles, people want support and advice to progress their careers and lives. Some need inspiration to think big and long term, others benefit from accountability or constructive criticism to make change. Most of us want a trusted sounding board to test ideas and plans before executing them. It is a timeless practice to seek wise counsel on life's big decisions – how to secure a new role, manage personal and professional relationships, clarify a career path, perform a leadership role to the best of your ability, combine work, family and life.

Role of the mentor

  • Motivate. Encourage the exploration of ideas and risk taking in learning
  • Support and listen. Offer emotional support when needed and know when to refer on to a professional when needed.
  • Teach. Provide the skills training necessary for leadership roles.
  • Counsel. Provide appropriate and timely advice.
  • Promote. Be an advocate for mentees within the agency. Put them forward for opportunities.
  • Protect. Oversee career development and call out any bias that may be affecting your mentee.

Role of the mentee

  • Listen. Your mentor is giving you their time and insight so listen up with respect.
  • Engage. When meeting with your mentor, take notes, clarify where unsure, and ask questions.
  • Act. Apply what you have learnt from your mentor into your own workspace.

Get out of the boardroom

Mentoring doesn't have to be 6 x one hour sessions in a boardroom. Here are a few suggestion to make catching up easy.

  • Mentor walks. Grab your flats and hit the pavement. A quick 15 minute walk outdoors will stop you from being interrupted and allow you to stretch your legs at the same time.
  • Coffee catch-ups. Meeting over coffee can lighten the mood and also promote the program.
  • Speed dial. Have an understanding that you can send an emergency SMS to your mentor when you need some quick advice. They will call you back in a timely manner and you can skip the pleasantries and get straight to the matter at hand.

For Mentees

Try not to fear the unknown. Joining a mentor program will give you confidence just from knowing there is guidance at hand.

Be receptive to feedback and coaching. Have an open mind and seize opportunities.

For Mentors

Don't assume that everyone has the insight and access that you do.

Becoming a mentor is a rewarding way to challenge yourself and develop your leadership skills.

For Co-ordinators

Establish clear expectations and guidelines for the partnership.

Provide support materials to as a framework for the program and check-in regularly with both participants.