As we highlighted last week, ADLIB has thrown its energy into creating safe spaces for groups to get together and discuss specific impact-driven topics. One of these meetups is MotherBoard – a Charter, Community and Event Series designed to initiate positive change throughout our tech sector, with an emphasis on ensuring working mothers are included in the conversation.

MotherBoard emphasises that it is a community open to everyone from mums working in tech to organisations that are up-skilling returners back into work, as well as employers that are consciously looking to create inclusive programmes to attract mums and non-binary parents into their Technology and Data teams. They actively encourage women, men, and non-binary folk to join in and get involved.

At TechSPARK we sincerely support this mission, so we’re featuring one of the discussions the group recently held on mentorship. The conversation concentrated on the journey of mentorship, including the four stages – preparation, negotiation, enabling growth and closure. Speakers weighed in on how a mentor can help you climb the career ladder, as well as drive your personal development, how to overcome imposter syndrome and how to face the career challenges ahead of you. If this all sounds like a conversation you’d like to hear, we got you.

The key considerations of mentorship

Chair of the discussion, Amber Rowbottom, Senior Tech Recruitment Consultant at ADLIB, kicks things off by asking for an overview of mentorship: what is it, who can have one and what is it for?

Shallu Behar-Sheehan, Vice President | Group Marketing & Chief of Staff to Group CMO & EVP – Capgemini, clarifies that firstly, what a mentor will mean to you depends on the stage of life you’re currently in. Defining where you’re at in your career or personal life will help shape what type of mentor you’re in need of.

She underscores that mentorship is all about providing perspective – you need someone who can offer a different approach to whatever problems or barriers you’re currently facing; that is the key to a successful mentoring relationship.

The majority of people agree that mentorship can genuinely help positively shape your career, as Shallu illustrates, “76% of people when they’re interviewed say they believe mentorship is really important. Of that 76%, only 37% actually have a mentor.” Interestingly, many individuals are afraid to make the ask. Perhaps this is due to a lack of understanding of those key questions defining mentorship and what the expectations should be. Undeniably, asking someone to be your mentor is a little scary.

Shallu offers a tangible piece of advice that may dilute the intimidation around the term ‘mentorship’, and that’s to start at the end. One way in which you’re going to maximise the experience with a mentor is to set an end date, as Shallu explains: “I make it really clear that I adopt them for three months. And if they’re really good, I keep them for six months.”

Emphasising how critical is it to know when you will exit that relationship, Shallu says this is to avoid any awkwardness later down the line. If you pick a date before starting, neither mentor nor mentee has to approach the topic a few months later when you ‘feel’ you’ve exhausted the relationship. Shallu adds, “Both of you should be really clear on what you’re seeking, what you’re going into, and the time period.”

Speaking on expectations, Alex Petrova, Marketing Manager UK & Ireland Fluido, an Infosys company, echos Shallus advice on timeframes, adding that an end goal is just as important to decide on. She advises the group to set the way they communicate, the frequency, the mediums they use – and overarching all of this ‘the roadmap.’ In a more general sense, Alex says a mentee should expect transparency, learning, sharing and confidentiality. 

And this ‘roadmap’ is something that should be consistently referred back to during meetings. Alex tells the group that it’s crucial for the mentee and mentor to be preparing ahead of sessions what they’d like to discuss and work through – one example is the mentee sending questions to their mentor beforehand. On top of this, Alex reinforces that the mentee should be proactively seeking feedback throughout the mentorship. 

But what should your relationship with a mentor look like? Alex explains that you shouldn’t expect to get a best friend or a therapist, however, forming a friendship is definitely key. Shallu adds, “Getting to know your mentor and building that relationship is critical. That initial flow and connection is really, really critical. And it has to be based on some common reality between the two of you.”

Carter Davidson – President, Americas & EMEA – AgriWebb, corroborates this by sharing an anecdote about how she’s found the best mentors: “It came really organically. We connected at an event or in the work environment, or in some other capacity, we knew each other slightly before making that more formal relationship.”

Setting an expiry date

When deciding on this cut off date, Shallu says you should start with clarifying the objective you’re trying to achieve, as this frames the timeline.

If you’re struggling with this, she says, “Get a blank piece of paper and write on the left-hand side what it is you want to try and achieve. On the right-hand side, write what are the obstacles – underpinning both columns should be a timeline. It’s really good to get into the habit of saying, you know what, in four weeks, I want to feel like this, or I want to be this, or I want to achieve this.

“Three months forces me to get something out of the relationship; it forces me to absolutely extract value from the relationship. If you give yourself a restrictive timeline or period it forces your behaviour in terms of what you’re trying to get out of a situation.”

Of course, three months is an arbitrary amount of time that won’t work for everyone. Carter adds, “There are going to be situations where you have an acute problem that you’re looking for help on that is going to require weekly or bi-weekly meetings, but then that potentially is going to taper off as the situation gets addressed.”

As mentorship is such a personal experience, you will have to tailor each aspect to what suits you and your mentor. The group also emphasises that there is nothing wrong with extending the length of time if you both feel that would be necessary and beneficial.

Carter highlights that this end date is not as binary as it sounds, and is more in place to establish structure: “If you build a real connection with your mentee or mentor, then you’re just naturally going to want to spend time with that person, and continue that relationship into the future.”

So, how can you find a mentor?

It can be daunting to know where to start if you’d like to give mentoring a try. Who should you ask and where can you find them? Alex tells the group, “One thing that I was sold once was if you’re looking for a mentor, look at a person who is where you want to be, or who has been through where you want to be, which fits your goals.” A mentor needs to be someone who can offer useful pieces of advice, so if you’re seeking the relationship to develop your career, it needs to be someone who has gone through that experience – or is in the know. 

Carter agrees, “I remember looking for mentors when I was thinking about having children and then finding women who were 20 years ahead of me, who had done that, and getting advice from them.

“But I think you also should be open-minded. The universe is an interesting place and you’ll meet people in places that you least expect, who could actually have the most impact on you.”

Shallu believes Carter’s latter point is particularly insightful, adding that “mentoring is also about looking for things or situations or individuals that motivate you to be different, that motivate you to think differently about how you approach things. Don’t ever be afraid to authentically say, actually, I find the way you do things quite inspiring because it’s quite nice to be able to say that to people!”

If your primary reason for wanting a mentor is career driven, Shallu provides some insight on how she approaches taking the next step: “When you’re looking at trying to get to the next stage within an organisation, act like you’re in the role before you even get the role.

“Before I even became a CMO, I was acting like a CMO. I was emulating CMOs that I would watch, I was emulating VPs that I thought, actually, I love the way that you come across. Act it because when you act it, you start emulating those behaviours, and you start radiating that performance.

“When you start delivering in a certain way, people will question why you’re not at that level. Make sure you’re very clear what your value is, and really make that visible.”

Shallu also explains that if this is your motivation, perhaps seeking advice from talent developers could be an even more beneficial place to start – or anyone else who can be a true advocate of your ability.

Tackling imposter syndrome

Amber opens this section of the conversation with a disheartening statistic: “I read yesterday that about 2.5 million women either lost their jobs or didn’t return to their positions during and after the pandemic, a lot of which was due to childcare services and schools being closed. ​​ So why is it so important to include mentorship when trying to retain or gain women in the workplace?”

As expected, Covid has come into play with what we traditionally knew about mentorship. Remote and hybrid working has actually increased the relevance of mentorship as we lost the opportunity to have those serendipitous conversations with colleagues – and as the statistic indicates, it’s women who have the most to lose from this.

If you lack the confidence to approach a potential mentor, the group has some more insights to provide. Carter kicks things off by reminding us, “almost everyone has impostor syndrome.

“It doesn’t matter how far you’ve come into your career, I think you still have a healthy level of skepticism about your impact and how good you are at something.”

And there are ways to dismantle this if it’s proving to be a barrier to searching for a mentor. Carter continues, “If you’re going to reach out to someone that you’ve never met before, reach out with a purpose, and know what value you’re going to bring.”

Shallu adds to this, “I’d go back to that one piece of paper, right? My advice would be, draw a circle, you’re in the circle, and then look at who you touch in terms of a network, so who’s in your immediate circle? If there’s no one there that you think you could tap into, go a little bit further out, start looking at individuals that you’re influenced by.

“Be brave, what’s the worst that could happen? Someone could say, ‘No.’ Hearing ‘No,’ is brilliant because it means that you can survive that ‘No,’ and go to the next stage.

“There’s no better mentor or coach that an individual have than themselves. We are all subconsciously coaching ourselves. When you have those moments where it’s not going your way, your self conscious internal coach will come out.”

Carter puts forward another written activity you can use to overcome these fears and begin to build genuine confidence in yourself. She suggests to keep track of your success to build confidence over time using a journal – so when you’re looking at a piece of paper it doesn’t feel so blank.

She explains, “Any day and every day that you have little wins, write them down. Whenever you experience opportunities for learning, write those down. So then when it comes time to talk about something you’ve contributed, the impact you’ve had and what you bring to the table, you can look back and go through your notes – because you’ll forget those little moments that can actually be very profound.”