Dr Zoe Williams is someone who I have known for many years. Although to many she is a TV doctor, to me she is Zoe, an inspiration and someone who I have been in of awe of up close and from afar. She is passionate, efficient and driven. Watching her wear her many professional and personal hats inspired me to be more involved in the industry outside the confines of the 9-5. Although I consider her a mentor, we have never sat down for a mentoring session. Which brings me to the focus of this post, the dynamics of mentoring. In Part 3 of Broke Girls Guide, Sam Hodges recommended getting a mentor, but was also honest in adding that it is not always easy. Women in PR’s mentoring scheme 2019/2020 is now openly seeking to match 15 women in PR with senior women in their network, and I recommend applying. However, demand and availability are unmatched, and there are always going to be those left out in the cold. On the flipside, many will not be able to access these scheme because of various reasons, which are outside the control of the networks who endeavour to do their best. We all have a part to play in nurturing the next generation and ensuring that our leadership is equipped for the future despite what our niche, roles, or sectors.
So I have chosen five questions that I have been asked repeatedly over the last decade.
I have so many issues it would be wrong to dump that on one person. What should I do?
“It takes a village.” This is where you need to adopt the community model. This can affect senior leaders who often can’t be seen to be asking for help because they are expected to have all the answers, which in of itself is a toxic way of looking at leadership. But it can apply to any professional who finds themselves spinning many plates and needs some solutions or help make tough decisions. In my experience, you need to either find a community of peers who will be able to share the burden and provide advice or select different individuals to support you. Imagine designing a list of your own Tribe of Mentors like the Tim Ferris book prescribes, only a condensed version that is tailored for you. Identify the issues that you are struggling with so that you find the right people. For example is it leadership, budget management, work-life balance, conflict, confidence, a skill gap or Imposter syndrome. From there you now have an idea of what the issue is, now you can start to identify people who can help. This can be done via social media, through recommendations, looking at who is talking about what, and please don’t limit yourself to the region or specialism. We are now more connected than ever, so a professional in Wales or Sydney is only a phone call, text or email away. If you find that your issues are not isolated to PR or communications why not try leaders in other industries such as human resource, finance, IT, sport and education. Some of these spaces are the IC Crowd on Twitter and The Comms Headspace on Facebook.
There are no mentors that look like me or understand my struggles.
In February I wrote a blog post for Comms2Point0, titled “We need more Ellens” because as a BAME practitioner I can not in good conscience make the promise to anyone that you will find a mentor who looks like you in our industry today.
BME pros recently concluded their selection process for mentors, and I understand the challenges they face. According to the LGA Head of Communications survey, 2018 figures show that from 116 respondents not a single one was of African / Caribbean background and only one respondent was from an Indian origin. The PRCA Annual report 2018 data revealed that only 2% of respondents identify as Black / Black British and 3% Asian / Asian British. I must note that the LGA sample was senior leadership while the PRCA had respondents from other levels and includes the private sector, so this is of it ‘self raises more issues and questions. That is why the entire industry has a role to play. BAME professionals who sit on the sidelines and watch need to come forward and play an active role in inspiring the future generation. We should collectively use our influence in whatever capacity to pave the way for initiatives and be ambassadors for the excellent work being done. The leaders in our profession need to step up and listen more. We can longer leave it to the few such as The Taylor Bennett Foundation , Creative Equals, and BME Pros because we all have to play a role.
If you are struggling to find a mentor who you are more comfortable speaking to reach out online or at events to practitioners. Speak to the other industry professionals regardless of their ethnic background because they will be able to recommend someone in their network or ask.
I am hopeless at networking and am not part of the clique so how do I find a mentor?
Yes it seems like everyone knows everyone and we spend our evenings sipping cocktails at networking events together, posting snaps in Instagram with the caption #SquadGoals, but the reality is entirely different. Many of the relationships seen online in my experience are either a continuation of an ongoing friendship that started with a nervous “hi" in person, a working relationship or an ongoing online dialogue that began during a Twitter Chat or a thread. There is a place for the introvert and extrovert in PR and networking is not exclusively for the ones with all the confidence. If you struggle with walking up to people at events and asking them for a coffee, ask the organisers or host, as they will be able to identify people for you to connect with. If you read an interesting article or blog post maybe send an email to the author and ask them a few questions. Try asking people if they are free for a phone call to build up your connection, reach out to the professional bodies such as the CIPR, Women in PR, the PRCA, The GCS and the IOIC for recommendations or if you are a member ask what the mentoring scheme is. Build gradual relationships with people, and eventually, you know when it is right to take the mentoring to the next level. People ultimately connect with people, so be authentic.
I have a mentor, but they are too busy for me, what do I do?
While I prefer monogamy in the more intimate relationships of my life, this is one where I would be more than happy for a mentee or mentor to see other people. Life experiences, career progression and personalities are so unique that you often learn different things from different people or connect better with someone else. If your dedicated mentor is busy try and seek out others in the industry that are able to help you. We live multi-dimensional lives and so being respectful of each other sometimes means having a mutual understanding that sometimes you will have to seek solace in another. A personal example is a colleague whose mentor is a senior professional, so he comes to me more often but goes to the senior leader for more significant decisions and this dynamic works for everyone.
Don’t worry about asking for support from new people and a good mentor will understand that you are a period where you need more support that they may not be in the best position to provide at that time.
What is reverse mentoring?
Discovered by C.E.O Jack Welch reverse mentoring, takes the idea of traditional mentoring – which we known to be a 'younger', less experienced professional being taken under the wing of a wiser more experienced leader and flips it on its head. Reverse mentoring is rooted in the principle that senior leaders are looking for new perspectives, a better understanding of younger and more diverse professionals.
Entrepreneur Holly Tucker, hosted Founder of the Dots Pip Jamieson on her podcast Conversations of Inspiration where Pip talked about the reverse mentoring that she is doing with VC’s around issues of gender. While at the European Union I was asked by senior politicians to do a reverse mentoring session and it was beneficial to both parties. KPMG, Virgin, The Civil Service, and FTSE 250 corporations have begun adopting reverse mentoring as part of the Internal communications and human resource strategies since its inception in 2016. They have reported that reverse mentoring has helped them in increasing retention of millennials, enabled them to keep up with technology and improved diversity and inclusion.
Although this post isn’t an answer or solution to all the problems, I hope it provides a starting point for someone who has similar questions.