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What to look for in mentoring schemes

Just over three years ago, the group that I started called Rise, created to promote women in the broadcast sector, put out its initial call for its first mentoring scheme. Over 40 women have now passed through the programme and this year we have 36 women in the scheme – it was very hard to say no whilst two weeks into lockdown!

Every year at the end of the programme we have a little celebratory drinks event with the mentees, mentors and sponsors – it’s in November, so we are hoping we will still get to host one this year. The reason I say celebratory is that mentoring, and in particular mentoring schemes, change people; not only the mentees but also the mentors and even the sponsors who participate in certain events during the scheme’s duration and witness what is going on.

Mentoring isn’t just for women

With this and another programme, I have now worked on two different mentoring schemes, mentored four amazing women, and been mentored myself. Whilst the schemes that I have worked on have been for gender-diversity based groups (and we do have male mentors), I should point out that mentoring isn’t just for women and there is no age limit on it – there are many schemes out there for everyone and so this piece is a small guide to what to look for and how to make the most out of them.

First off how do you even find a programme? My advice here is to go through the associations in the sectors that you work with, either the PR ones (including PRCA, CIPR and Women in PR) or if you are in a sector-based agency/business look there – the scheme does not need to be just full of PR people. Alternatively, your company might run a scheme, but if not, ask your manager for suggestions and see if they are willing to work with you on finding you a mentor (it should not be them as you will need that outside perspective).

For me any programme is a great one as they are hard to come by, but things to look out for in particular are:

  • Is there a programme lead? This is crucial for the smooth running of the scheme and someone for you to go to if you are unhappy with your mentor (yes this does happen occasionally), or you have something to raise that you think your fellow mentees would benefit from
  • Training? At the start of any programme you should be given some training on what mentoring is and what you can expect to both put in and get out of it.
  • Do you get to meet your fellow mentees? Clearly this isn’t as easy as it was last year, but one of the biggest benefits of joining a scheme is meeting new people – this not only increases your industry knowledge but creates an amazing network. I am still friends with the 18 women I met on my mentee programme nine years ago
  • Will my mentor be carefully matched to me? On the scheme that I was mentored on I was in the midst of a bit of a career crisis having had my agency for 10 years, a small child, and not knowing whether to grow the business, keep it the same, or jack it all in and go in-house. My mentor, an amazing woman who was head of communications for ITV, was perfectly matched to me. She told me all about in-house PR, had gone through being a very busy working mum herself, and challenged my ideas and pushed my ambitions so that we worked out that growing the agency was right for me. This leads me on to what to put in your application; put in as much information as you can. The more honest you are with either certain career or personal challenges the easier it is for you to be matched with the right person
  • The perfect mentoring scheme should not just be about the time you spend with your mentor. At Rise (yes, I think ours is nearly perfect) we also include: monthly mentee meet-ups where everyone gets to present on who they are and what their job entails – this not only increases everyone’s industry knowledge, but also allows them to practice presenting in a safe and trusted environment. We also have a full programme of guest speakers, workshops and events that the mentees can go to and our famous speed networking with all of the mentees and the mentors (we are just working out the logistics of doing this on Zoom!)

In summary, the benefits of mentoring are huge, you get out what you put into it and if you can’t find a programme contact me and we can talk about setting one up. Oh, and if you don’t want to be mentored please volunteer to mentor people, it’s incredibly rewarding, and you might learn something too.

Written by Sadie Groom, managing director of PR, marketing and events agency Bubble Agency and founder of Rise, a group for women in broadcast

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