When it comes to success at work, as with most things in life, it takes a village.
The way we work has changed, with many of us working in isolation from home or remotely from our teams, so connection with our colleagues and peer support is more important than ever before.
For women in particular, who are still often in the minority as they progress through the ranks of corporate leadership, support from other women can be central to illuminating the pathways to leadership, and feeling less alone in pursuing career ambitions.
This is where the power of mentorship comes into play.
I might hold the title of CEO today, but I got here thanks to the formal and informal mentorship I’ve had throughout my career, and the trusted mentors I still turn to on occasion when I reach a challenge or roadblock that needs their wisdom and advice to be solved.
Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal or arduous process. It can be found in unlikely places, and can help shape your career journey and your success – both personally and professionally.
Here’s why I believe it’s so important for women at work.
First, let’s be clear on what I mean by mentorship.
Generally, mentorship is a supportive relationship between two people – the mentor, who is generally more experienced, and the mentee, who is generally less experienced and looking for guidance and advice.
Both formal and informal forms of mentoring have their place and, when looking for your mentor, that person won’t necessarily be found in your organisation or even your industry, so it’s important to keep an open mind.
My mentors have been found through both formal programs at work, and informally when I’ve connected with someone who I admire, or who I know I can learn a lot from.
For example, earlier in my career I worked with an amazing female leader who taught me so much and became an informal mentor to me. She showed me how to be a powerful communicator, how to be solutions focused when faced with a challenge, and how to get the outcomes you want.
We never had a formal mentoring relationship through our workplace, but I learned so much from her and she definitely shaped me as a leader today.
Why mentorship matters for women
I believe diversity in the workplace is incredibly important, as it ultimately improves a business’ capability and its ability to innovate and embrace creative ideas.
When women support women at work through mentorship, we’re empowering other women to rise through the ranks.
I’ve seen firsthand how mentorship can result in:
- Career advancement: By giving women knowledge about how to progress, how to find opportunities, and the skills they’ll need as they become more senior in their workplace.
- Better networks: A good network can help you connect with their network, and advocate for you among their peers, helping with positive reputation building.
- More confidence: A recent piece of research by Women Rising found that confidence and self-doubt are the biggest challenges for women at work, with 53 per cent impacted. Mentors can help you when you’re struggling with a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome, and share their own experiences and learnings to help you feel less alone.
- Professional clarity: Often we’re so close to our own professional development, that we’re distracted by the details and can’t see the big picture. A mentor can help with ideas, questions and ‘been there, done that’ wisdom to help you find direction.
Finding a mentor
If you’ve never had a mentor before, knowing where to start can feel daunting.
If your workplace has a mentoring program, put up your hand to take part and stay open-minded about who they might pair you with as a mentor.
If you’re seeking a mentor for yourself, try to look for someone who you feel has the skills you need, someone who might be able to help you develop your ambition, or someone who could help solve the specific problem you’re facing.
When you make the ask, be clear about why you’re approaching them and what you’re hoping to learn. It might feel a little uncomfortable to ask someone out of the blue about being a mentor, but you’ll probably find they’re flattered and excited to help.
Both of you will need to commit time and energy to make it work, so be clear upfront about the structure of the mentorship and how much time you can both commit to it.
Ask whether your work will let you have time in your workday for mentorship, or if you’ll need to carve the time out elsewhere.
Being a mentor
Whether you’re in a leadership position already, or have work experience that someone else could find valuable, then you’re in a position to help other women develop their own careers and leadership pathways.
Mentorship is a mutual exchange. I’ve been both a mentor and a mentee and found that learning goes both ways. Being a mentor to younger people has helped me understand different perspectives, and the problems they’re facing are different from the ones I was facing at the same age and stage.
Acting as a mentor to other women has helped me stay curious and become a better leader. It’s about listening to people, staying open-minded, and understanding what motivates people at work.
Women helping women
As women, we often feel like we have to do it alone and prove ourselves and our worth through hard work and striving. But no woman is an island.
Mentorship is a way to connect, grow, learn, ideate and innovate. You never know which doors it might open, which ideas it might unlock, or which career corners it might help you turn.
Women make exceptional business owners. At Craveable Brands we have a great cohort of female franchisees and continue to invest in creating pathways and providing opportunities for mentorship for women to own their own restaurants.
We hold annual Team Member of the Year awards, which recognise and celebrate excellence in providing customer experience across our restaurants. This year I was incredibly proud to award a female franchisee and crew member from the same restaurant. Their relationship is a great demonstration of mentorship in which the franchisee consistently exemplifies ambition to her crew members, encouraging them to one day own their own restaurants.
At its core, mentorship about women helping women, and the rising tide of female leadership. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?