To celebrate International Women’s Day, task group member Judith Rennie shares her thoughts on mentoring, her relationship with her mentor, Susan Gordon, and the role mentoring has to play in breaking the bias for women in the workplace and creating a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. Susan is a Professional Coach at Leith Gordon Ltd. #iwd #breakthebias #Leith Gordon Ltd #Axis Network
I have always been aware of mentoring and various mentoring initiatives but coming from a discipline where formal mentoring isn’t typically offered as standard, the idea of mentoring was such an amorphous one that for a long time I couldn’t clearly picture what a mentor might help me with or what the benefits might be in doing so. The Axis Network mentoring scheme is a diverse one and participants at different stages of their career with a wide range of needs seek support. Traditionally, formal mentoring has mostly been focused on technical roles, geosciences and engineering, therefore women in support service roles are less likely to receive support or offer of mentoring through graduate trainee schemes or similar, and are less likely to be aware of the benefits of it to seek it out in the first place. Whilst there is absolutely a need to support women into STEM and in their subsequent careers, there is also a need to support the many other professional roles that encompass our industry and the Axis Network programme supports this.
Mentorship can create a sense of belonging and engagement by recognising individuals’ unique strengths and working with them to shape their environment and role to utilise and maximise those strengths. I believe mentoring is not about reshaping the person to fit the role but working with the individual to recognise what processes and systems work for them and creating a space for that to shine. Workplaces increasingly recognise the importance of diversity of thought and mentoring people in this way nurtures that invaluable quality.
Mentoring can also empower individuals to advocate for their unique needs within the workplace. Women can often feel their professional and personal lives are in conflict and they increasingly value remote working as it creates windows in their workday for other obligations and a better work-life balance overall. Working with individuals to advocate for these needs to their employer can be life-changing for the individual but also workplace culture in general.
Mentoring can also be a springboard to seek other mentors where there are identified knowledge gaps. We know that women can often miss out on informal mentoring when it comes to business, strategic and financial acumen needed to progress into leadership roles, a great mentor can either educate their mentee on these subjects or encourage them to find someone who can.
Mentorship is not always synonymous with sponsorship. Mentoring is about sharing knowledge and providing guidance whereas sponsorship is about expanding that person’s visibility with the organisation and directly involving the individual in opportunities for career advancement. Better transparency of internal processes both for mentoring and sponsorship is needed to eliminate bias on who gets identified for mentoring and sponsorship. The Axis Network scheme makes mentoring accessible to everyone, rather than focusing on technical roles or the most obviously promising candidates and eliminates the bias of only being selected for mentoring by senior management. This scheme supports unconscious bias reduction in what skills are most valued in the workplace.
We know that successful mentoring can act as a buffer during a crisis by increasing organisational commitment and satisfaction and therefore both in terms of the Energy industry itself and the wider political climate more people than ever are reassessing not only their careers within the Energy industry but also where work fits in the broader scope of their lives. Great mentoring is needed now more than ever.
My mentor has also given me a new perspective to think differently and consequently, do differently. With the many challenges we face as an industry the need to do things differently, from recruitment practices to digital transformation, to the challenge of technical competencies in our environmental performance we cannot do as we’ve always done and thinking differently is critical. This scheme supports thinking differently by not only offering a new perspective but by exploring how I can shape my environment and role to my needs and strengths and crucially, how this benefits everyone to do so. My mentor has:
- Taken me through a process utilising the GROW model: goal, reality, options and way forward to baseline expectations, generate specific goals and objectives, create an appropriate structure with a beginning, middle and end and establish a process to give two-way feedback.
- Encouraged me to think about taking responsibility for my own career goals by allowing me to drive the mentoring agenda.
- Spent time relationship building with me to understand communication styles and our backgrounds. This was great for establishing trust and given we weren’t from the same organisation, understanding each other.
- Encouraged me to be vision-based and explored various exercises to help come to that vision.
- Offered me professional guidance regarding my personal and professional strengths and career opportunities. This has allowed me to better understand what I’m good at and even more critically, why. This facilitated looking for opportunities to either do more of those things or reframe things in those terms to suit me better. In the short term, this has given me tools that mean I’m less likely to procrastinate on tasks I find naturally less appealing. In the longer term, it’s given me insight and confidence to seek out tasks I know I’m likely to enjoy and do well in.
- Offered regular times to meet to suit my schedule and goals and been available for last-minute ad-hoc requests when more urgent advice was required.
- Suggested and facilitated a safe, non-job setting to do something I had identified that I enjoyed and gave me the confidence to do it. I found this hugely rewarding.
- Practice role-played an upcoming scenario I was anxious about and wanted their help and guidance with.
- Offered support for day-to-day challenges within my role. Gave objective and practical support for dealing with work relationships successfully by helping me understand another’s perspective and gave suggestions of different approaches for navigating work relationships successfully.
- Given me endless suggestions of resources, tools and approaches for understanding myself, understanding my work relationships, further reading on specific interests of mine and different tools for personal and professional development.
I believe that great mentoring has an important role to play in breaking systemic conscious and unconscious bias by building workplaces that are responsive to individual needs regardless of gender. This mentorship has also given me a sense of belonging to the wider industry I think I didn’t know was missing. With young people, ethnic minorities and women in particular feeling like this industry is not a place for them, this mentoring scheme and my mentor says otherwise. It says you are valuable and valued to those who perhaps are most likely to feel that’s not true. That is critical in our industry right now, of incalculable benefit to us all and me personally, invaluable.