Learn why mentorship programmes propel women to excel at work during a June seminar in Amsterdam
Industry experts discuss the numerous benefits of mentorship for women in the workplace at a 21 June symposium in Amsterdam and encourage them to seek mentorship opportunities for career growth. [Contributed by Professional Women's Network Amsterdam]
The concept that mentorship is beneficial to career advancement is held as somewhat of a universal truth. Professional people, and women in particular, are constantly told that finding a great mentor is important — but why, exactly? And how?
The Professional Women’s Network of Amsterdam (PWN Amsterdam) will host a symposium on mentoring on 21 June to address those questions, encourage more women to engage in mentorship, and share insights and advice for effective mentorship relationships.
The half-day event, entitled 'Nurturing talent, growing careers', will feature the results from a mentorship project conducted by the PWN City Network from Milan, Professional Women’s Association (PWA) Milan. The presentation is followed by a panel discussion with local business leaders about their views and experiences with mentorship and will be facilitated by PWN Global Executive Director Wendy Mackey Jones.
Finally, the event will conclude with a keynote speech by the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Geoffrey Adams, who will address the ways in which the Foreign and Commonwealth office supports women in senior positions, as well as the UK government’s policies around the world. This is an important subject to him as he confirms, “Globally, the UK is committed to supporting women’s rights including initiatives which promote women’s leadership and empowerment.”
PWA Milan’s project, entitled ME-TOTEM (MEntoring as a TOol Towards EMpowerment), was funded in part by the EU Commission mandate ‘Equality in Economic Decision Making'. In addition to initiating mentorship programmes for MBA students and women executives, the ME-TOTEM project will publish a toolkit of best practices to help empower mentors and mentees.
Women hesitate to ask but mentors can help
Research indicates that women are less likely to seek out mentorship relationships than men. Melissa Raczak, a partner in business consulting at Deloitte who will speak on the panel at the 21 June event, said women are often hesitant to ask for help, stopping them from seeking a mentor.
“The number one issue for women is asking for help, in all respects. It’s learned behaviour that has been carried over to the workplace. I frequently have men coming to my desk saying, ‘I want to get a promotion. Tell me the process.’ I hardly ever have a woman ask me to help her,” Raczak said. “Mentors should be coaching you how to break through the habit of avoiding asking for help until the asking becomes natural.”
Megan Giannini, Corporate Vice President of integrated talent management for Philips, also a panellist for the mentorship symposium, concurred, saying that her mentors taught her how to ask for what she wanted, a skill that has been vital as she’s grown in her career.
“Mentors have encouraged me to be very assertive with what I want and to ask questions about what it would take to achieve certain goals. I learned that all kinds of doors open up when you ask questions. You don’t need to be demanding, but you do need to ask,” Giannini said.
Structure, relationship, and time lead to success
Gini Dupasquier, Vice President of PWA Milan and lead of the ME-TOTEM mentoring project, said their team found that a thorough, systematic approach is key in developing an effective mentorship programme.
“Companies need to approach gender diversity in a structured and rational way, as they would any other change management activity. Gender diversity programmes tend to be much less structured, making them more likely to fail in the implementation,” she said.
Giannini added that she learned the importance of structure first-hand when she launched a mentorship programme for top female talent at Philips. She also said she and her team learned the value of finding the right mentorship fit.
“It just has to be natural from both sides. We tried to do the matching for the whole programme, and it just didn’t go well. Some worked, some didn’t,” she said.
Developing an effective mentorship relationship takes reliability, objectivity, and — perhaps mostly — time, a resource that can often feel in short supply for professional women. But panellist Karina van den Berg, COO of RBS Pension Funds, said the investment of time yields great returns.
“Trust me, mentoring is more valuable than you think, because it expands your horizons and increases your belief in possibilities about how to best advance your career,” she said. “Great mentoring is achieved if the mentee, indeed, acts based on the stories she heard from the mentor, showing how progress was made in her career.”
Finding your own path to success
Hearing and acting on another’s stories can bring great inspiration as you find your own path. Raczak said her goal in mentoring is to help her mentees determine what success means to them.
“My number one focus at this point in my career is to help women stay in their careers and to empower them to do the things they want to do to be successful. It’s not always about climbing the ladder and getting to the top of the role,” she said.
Marcel van der Meulen, panellist for the symposium and CEO of SOS International shares, “Our world is becoming increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) and the rate of change in corporations continues to accelerate. [Leaders] face a lot of challenges ... and there are no easy or straightforward answers to most problems, but tapping into experience of others does help. Especially in senior management levels it is difficult to obtain honest feedback. Furthermore expressing doubt or uncertainty can have a negative impact on one’s leadership position.”
He goes on to recommend that “every professional must create a safe environment where issues affecting success can be shared" — which a good mentor should provide.
"Unlike coaching, where a specific task or problem is addressed, mentoring is about the long-term development of the individual, trying to remove barriers that hinder success. A mentor can be found within an organisation or outside. A good mentor is not a teacher, but he or she provides insights and ensures that the mentee reflects on the link between current behaviour and organisational and career goals, so that alternative ways of approaching situations become clear. Most of the time mentoring is about connecting the dots — sometimes it is about defining the dots.”
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