Time and time again we hear business leaders, career advisors and academics wax lyrical about the benefits of mentoring. Not only does a mentor help elevate professional capabilities and confidence, but they can help guide people through some of life’s most difficult challenges.
Mentoring for women is particularly valuable and can also include overcoming gender bias in the workplace, developing professional relationships and increasing confidence in abilities.
My discipline area is mathematics and when I was first appointed as a mathematics lecturer I was the only woman in the Department and also the youngest. I found this quite difficult and I was too shy to speak at meetings. People who know me now will find this astonishing!
My first head of department understood (even though I didn’t at the time) and gave me opportunities to make formal presentations at meetings so that I was not competing with the others for airspace. Gradually, with his help, I realised that my contributions were valued. The great thing about the situation was that he did this without me really noticing. He also assisted with my research plan and my career for the future.
I have used his example often in my career to assist those who are shy and new because I know how important it is to allow those with different backgrounds and experience to feel they have a voice and to be able to contribute to an organisation. Organisations will benefit from the diversity of opinions and ideas.
It is because of my experience, I believe there is real value in re-evaluating when mentoring starts. Typically people find mentors once they have started their professional career, but what if such support started before then, possibly before they had even finalised study?
Giving students, particularly female students, access to professional mentors while they are still studying and considering their career options means they can be steered in the right direction before they even graduate.
There is also the opportunity to assist women from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have the personal support networks to help them begin and flourish in their careers.
Arming mentees with the skills for life
The most obvious benefit of having a mentor for women is learning from real-life experiences in their career. Like it or not, women face a number of challenges in their career which men simply don’t face, and having a strong female role model and mentor can provide personal tips for overcoming these challenges, making business decisions and breaking through the glass-ceiling.
Macquarie University Faculty of Business and Economic’s Lucy mentoring program has shown us how valuable matching female students with a professional mentor (both female and male) who is a senior executive within the public, private and not-for-profit sectors at organisations such as Pfizer, Deloitte, ANZ and the City of Ryde.
Given the right opportunities and guidance, these mentees are developing skills to become our future leaders, with their proud mentors cheering them on from the sidelines.
From what we’ve seen with our programs, students who engaged a mentor while at university identified countless skills that have helped them get a head start in their career, including tips on writing resumes and applying for graduate positions, mock interview experience, greater self-confidence and networking skills.
For example, one Macquarie University Bachelor of Commerce graduate who was matched with a senior bank executive had her eyes opened to the corporate environment within an industry she had not considered beforehand. As a result she now has greater clarity in her career goals and has developed her personal brand to ensure others see her as she wants to be perceived.
Networking skills are something many professionals struggle with throughout their careers. However, mentoring at university level can help to build relationships before they are needed in the workplace. Not only does this build confidence with speaking with professionals from a range of backgrounds and industries, but also reinforces the importance of empathy as a vital ingredient for leaders.
Mentees also benefit from their mentors vast network of contacts. Mentors are personally invested in the success of their mentees and subsequently go above and beyond to ensure they get to where they need to be. This includes opening up their little black book of contacts and giving advice when they don’t have the experience to help mentees deal with a problem they are facing.
Mentoring is not just for mentees
Mentees are not the only ones who benefit from mentoring; mentors often take away a broad range of skills which have helped their careers, including developing skills in coaching and listening, enhancing leadership skills and self-esteem through recognition of professional abilities, and increased job satisfaction.
For example, one seven-time Lucy mentor and Deloitte director says she approaches her role as one of giving back for the mentoring she has received throughout her career. She imparts knowledge she wishes she had early on in her professional life, but also pushes her mentees outside their comfort zones because she knows that is where the major personal and professional developments happen.
Another mentor, who works as legal counsel for AON, helped his mentee map goals around knowledge and skills gaps in preparation for her step into professional life. He says he felt energised and privileged to be around such motivated young leaders because he knows he will be watching his mentee succeed throughout the course of her career.
Starting a mentoring relationship before their professional career has even begun has put these women ahead of their peers in their understanding of how business works and how they should conduct themselves in such an environment. These mentees enter their professional careers with connections and guidance that will support them throughout their lives.
There are many challenges facing students when they finish university, and it is can be a daunting time when faced with the decision of what path to take your career. Engaging a mentor while at university – particularly as a first year graduate – can help students to maximise the many wonderful opportunities available and help guide them on the right path for their professional career.
About Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business & Economics (FBE)
Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in addition to strong academic research in the fields of accounting and finance, actuarial studies, business, marketing, economics and corporate governance.