FEATURE13 April 2022

Good advice: the benefits of business mentoring

Features Impact UK

Mentoring, memorably described as “a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction”, is a sure-fire way to fast-track your career to success. Colette Doyle hears how those participating in such schemes can reap the benefits not just professionally, but also personally.

Two bushes cllpped to look like people's heads with birds flying in between, denoting the concept of mentoring

In business, mentoring has long been known as a way for the more experienced to pass on words of wisdom to those starting out. Now, it has evolved to become an important tool in the struggle to achieve DE&I in the workplace. Colour of Research (CORe) is an advocacy group for the inclusion of ethnic professionals in the market research industry that launched the second wave of its mentorship programme last summer.

One of its mentors, Rajdeep Chana, senior manager of business development at Lucid, says the scheme came about because people of colour in the industry felt there was a real lack of mentors who shared their lived experiences.

“By connecting research professionals who were struggling with issues around bias in their organisation, faced microaggressions and, in some cases, serious issues around discrimination, we felt that we could finally provide the support that had been lacking in the industry for too long”, she comments. 

Helping to break down barriers

Nicole Duckworth, head of Europe at PRS In Vivo, recently joined the Market Research Society’s (MRS) mentoring scheme and notes that, while it is generally accepted that inclusive teams are more productive and engaged and diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones, the challenge of unconscious bias has been known to undermine this.

As she observes, “Mentoring provides the opportunity for individuals to explore in a safe space what may be hindering the creation of an inclusive workplace. It also harnesses the people in an organisation to learn and grow together, to share experiences and knowledge, and create the desired culture.”

Eva De Arriba Calero is the director for UK mid-market account sales development at American Express and is also a mentor on the lead advisory panel of Be the Business, a government-funded charity established to help small businesses improve their productivity.

She remarks on how a mentoring scheme can have a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the workplace by “being bold and having the courage to challenge the way organisations attract and retain employees through improving their vision, mission and values and encouraging a more open and diverse mindset.”

Chana maintains that mentoring is vital in order to achieve a more diverse workforce – and has the stats to prove it. “Mentoring can foster equality, it can increase retention of ethnic minority groups and drive greater engagement, leading to a successful thriving business.

“Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations found that mentoring programmes boosted minority representation at management level by 9% to 24% (compared to -2% to 18% with other diversity initiatives). The same study found that mentoring schemes also dramatically improved promotion and retention rates for minorities and women – by 15% to 38% as compared to non-mentored employees.”

Staff retention and wellbeing are additional advantages

Of course, it is not only the issue of diversity and inclusion that mentoring can make a positive impact on, as Duckworth points out. “At a company level, mentoring programmes can have a significant impact on human interaction and are likely to lead to a sense of individual fulfilment through fostering a deeper understanding of one’s colleagues. This understanding is bound to make the organisation a far more rewarding place to work, thereby increasing staff retention.”

De Arriba Calero concurs, noting that mentors can support a mentee confidentially in discussing challenges and offer different perspectives on how to solve them. “For example, how to create career progression plans across teams with a focus on diversity and inclusion.”

Mentoring also has its advantages when it comes to employee wellbeing, according to the Amex executive. “It can raise awareness among management of the various difficulties employees have experienced through the pandemic, as well as encouraging openness around mental health issues and how organisations can best support their teams.”

Georgia Prorok, business development director at Pureprofile, believes that mentoring has helped her flourish in her role after her career was derailed by Covid-19. Prorok was nominated as an MRS Research Hero for her “spirit and positivity” in returning to work after being hospitalised in March 2020 with an extremely serious case of Covid that saw her, at one point, fall into a life-threatening coma.

She participates in an informal mentoring programme with her boss, Pureprofile MD Tim Potter and is enthusiastic about the benefits. “From day one, Tim and I have had a mutual respect and an honest relationship where effective communication has been absolutely key. I feel I have always been able to confide in him and he has encouraged me to make my own decisions and choose my own career path.

“Our work dynamic allows me to focus on what I am good at, but also recognise other areas that perhaps don’t come as naturally to me, such as keeping up with administrative tasks. As a result, I have been able to progress within the company.”

How both mentors and mentees can reap the benefits

The benefits for mentees may be self-evident, but mentors have much to gain too, as Duckworth elaborates. “It is important to remember that effective mentoring not only develops the mentee, but also rewards the mentor. The benefits of involvement are multifaceted and these include both professional and personal elements.

“I welcome the chance to give something back and experience the joy of seeing someone succeed. Mentoring others promotes self-reflection on my own learning path, plus meeting new people with different ways of thinking often provides a new perspective on challenges.”

De Arriba Calero adds her take: “I’ve always had a passion for learning and helping others to achieve their full potential. Seeing my mentees solving their challenges, achieving their goals, making positive changes and grow in their careers, brings a great sense of accomplishment and huge joy to my day-to-day role”.

And it’s not just confined to professional benefits; mentoring can enhance your personal life too, as Prorok explains: “After leaving hospital, I had to enter a rehabilitation centre to learn how to walk and talk again. It was without doubt the most difficult time of my life. Tim allowed me to concentrate on getting better without having to worry about returning to work.

“Having that faith and encouragement helped me enormously in my transition. I was fortunate to have a manager and mentor who cared and took the time to understand my point of view.”

For Chana, the link goes even deeper: “For our members, race is a part of our identity, so personal and professional become one when we are discussing the challenges that we face based on the colour of our skin.”

The right skills set for the job

So, what are the ultimate skills that all good mentors should possess? “I think having faith in the mentee to be able to learn and make decisions for themselves is fundamental to a successful mentorship”, asserts Prorok.

Channa believes that the key attribute for any mentor is their ability to listen, while Duckworth lists some essential traits. “There are many areas that are important in a mentoring relationship, but some of the principal ones are confidentiality, an agreed goal and transparency.”

She concludes: “I have been privileged to have had some wonderful mentors who have had a significant impact on my career trajectory. I now feel in a position to repay that and support others in our industry.”