How ALL future leaders should embrace Women’s Mentoring Programmes and pay it forward.


5 min

The history of mentoring:

The original definition of Mentor goes back to Ancient Greek Trojan War. Odysseus so entrusted his young son, Telemachus and the rest of his family into the care of Mentor.

Two things to note here – Mentor was actually Athena (the Goddess of War) in disguise – so there females were, stepping up, even at the beginning. Equally, mentoring is not just for the young! It is for everyone who has the foresight to understand its original definition – a sustained relationship between mentee and mentor, an experienced and trusted advisor.

Public Sector:

When I excitedly joined a British police service at 22 years old, females represented about a third of our proud cohort but these numbers would diminish further, as we progressed through our training and out onto the mean streets, as it were. I arrived on my first team and found myself the only female officer – doing the job of my dreams – in a world of men. For a time I even preferred being teamed with a male colleague because I felt we were prepared for any eventuality. Brains and brawn. Good cop, tough cop. We could go from a Public Order incident, to a missing child, to serious assault and have the right mix of emotional, physical and professional presence.

Despite my strong working relationship with several male coaches, the main down side was adopting these seemingly male characteristics as a leader myself. I had fantastic male role models so why wasn’t I satisfied modelling the behavioural attributes and leadership styles of my male counterparts? If I couldn’t see other female’s in leadership roles, I didn’t have an accessible role model to help me picture myself in that same role some day. I was young and figuring out my own style of management based on a culmination of styles I had seen. As such my approach became more task than people focussed; more bark than bite. It is important to understand that this is not necessarily how I or my colleagues were treated but it was how I regurgitated my own unconscious-biased view. It made me look and feel inauthentic. I felt I lacked credibility because I was adopting what I believed were credible traits as a leader. These traits were not mine, not my own and I lost a little of myself during this time of self discovery.

The turning point:

One day I attended a seminar on behalf of Engage which represented female officers. There was coffee, tea and a a lot of high ranking officers in the room. I listened to the first speaker, a Chief Inspector and her words hit me like a thunder bolt. Even though she was here, speaking on this platform and had obviously found success – she talked about having the right attitude; being authentic; don’t be invisible and that we ALL feel a wobble from time to time no matter how far up the ladder you climb.

The Wobble:

I later learned that the ‘wobble’ referred to a term I now know as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It used to follow me around, akin to Peter Pan’s militant shadow; there in the background, waiting to rip away my confidence and certainty when I least expect it. I learned several valuable lessons during my first ever Engage conference. I am not alone and I needed a mentor for several reasons; not least because the women in this room understood what I was thinking; feeling; saying and doing (or not doing) because they had been there too. I now know it is very common and we often support people to overcome it at Shinesmith Academy.

What I took away that day was the power of men, supporting female leadership in the workplace and acting as advocates to true Diversity and Inclusion across an organisation – not least for the cross fertilisation of ideas but to represent the community I was policing.

I left that day, really appreciating not only the female officer who had agreed to be my Mentor for the next six months but also filled with gratitude for the coaching I was receiving from my fantastic male colleague.

Mentoring means different things to different people. From personal experience, I had to be open to becoming a mentee in the first instance and not intimidated by openly exposing my in-experienced self in order to benefit from someone who wanted me to grow and succeed.

Think back to a time when you’ve joined a new team, organisation or have taken on a management position. Did you need or benefit from a mentor to help you shine a light on exactly what you should be doing. I need a solid 6 months of guidance in a new role before I feel confident, competent and comfortable. Once you have mastered these roles, what is the next stage of development? There are two and they can run independently or concurrently to one another. Seek out a cross- industry peer that can extend your knowledge, experience and expertise to a new field.

Paying it forward:

What then, is the natural progression of the mentoring evolution? You have reaped the benefits of female leaders bestowing and sharing their pearls of wisdom. You are expertly growing your list of ‘phone a friend’ options to cover every eventuality, you may face in your professional (and personal) future. You are then bound by the mentoring code to pay it forward and offer up the learning that has so graciously been invested in you. Now, with respect, the onus is on you to put your self forward again and seek out that person; the person who may not know, that they need to see what you have to show them – to hear what you have to say.

I have paid this forward in a number of ways. Being a coach; mentor; spokesperson and advocate for female leaders and the importance of Diversity and Inclusion at every business level here at Shinesmith Academy and with our Women In Exhibition Network.

Go now, seek to become a mentor or mentee. If you build it, they will come.

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