Recap: Mentoring as a tool to support social mobility
October 31, 2022 | Social Mobility Commission
To celebrate National Mentoring Day (27th October), we brought together an engaging panel to explore the importance of mentoring in supporting workplace progression and social mobility, and discuss their advice for setting up and participating in a mentoring programme.
If you missed it, you can watch the recording below, and read on for our top five tips.
1. Don’t be afraid to just get started
We began with a great presentation from Eddie Fletcher, Head of Social Mobility for the Ministry of Justice UK People Group, about what to consider when setting up a mentoring programme for your organisation (you can download the slides here). Eddie was responsible for starting the award winning ‘Catapult’ programme, which has now been rolled out across the whole Civil Service, and his top tip for anyone wanting to set up a similar scheme is to just start!
“It’s not just a ‘nice to have’ to have an organisation that represents society, it’s a necessity for us. We could see there was a gap, a need, and the challenge was having the guts to just do it,” he said.
He emphasised that it’s not important to create a ‘gold standard’ programme straight away – mentoring doesn’t have to be complex, or resource intensive. You will create more impact within your organisation by building a simple programme quickly, with limited resources, seeing what happens and continually improving it using feedback from those involved. “We could have waited for it to be perfect, but we would have lost two years of helping people!”
His final piece of advice? “Steal. Steal anything you can.” There are a huge number of mentoring programmes around, all slightly different, and all of them have elements that you can learn from and use in your own work, so don’t be afraid to use these as a starting point to save yourself time and resource.
2. Be open to difference
When setting up the Catapult programme, Eddie made the decision to match mentors and mentees solely on profession, rather than deliberately creating pairings with other shared characteristics such as gender or race.
One of the great successes of the programme has been seeing culture change taking place through mentors. Thousands of one to one conversations are being facilitated between people from different backgrounds and this is breaking down barriers within the Civil Service. “Through that difference we all learn,” says Eddie, “True inclusion is enabled by bringing people together from different backgrounds.”
Mercy Abel, a previous mentee on Creative Mentor Network’s ‘Amazon Bright Sparks’ programme, agrees. There need to be resonance points between mentor and mentee, she says, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be their lived experience. The key is that both people need to be open to noticing differences in their experiences and learning from them.
3. Make the mentoring relationship a priority
One thing all our panellists agreed on was the importance of really committing to the mentoring relationship, and making it a priority.
Rachel Dolby, a mentor on Moving Ahead’s Mission INCLUDE programme, advises mentors to go in with the right mindset, making sure that they carve out space and time to fully focus on their mentee without distractions. She acknowledges that this can be difficult for mentors who may be juggling many competing priorities, describing giving herself permission to make mentoring sessions a true priority, above other business needs, as a real challenge. “I’m really glad I did,” she concludes, describing the benefit not just for her mentee’s professional development, but also her own.
Mercy faced similar challenges as a mentee. Her advice to anyone considering signing up to be mentored is to make sure they are in the right headspace and give it time. “If you’re not prepared you won’t benefit,” she says, encouraging mentees to make sure they engage with the relationship and prioritise conversations with their mentor. “It’s a relationship, and you need to give into it too.”
4. Don’t underestimate emotional support
Both Rachel and Mercy also highlight the importance of emotional support in a mentor-mentee relationship. It’s easy to think that mentoring is solely about giving career advice, or solving work problems, but there can be far more benefits!
Mercy points out that you shouldn’t be discouraged if you don’t see an immediate connection between you and your mentor. Even if the match doesn’t seem like it should work on paper, if you are in very different industries or job roles, it’s not always about expertise. Many mentees, particularly young people just starting out in their careers, can benefit hugely from chatting about ‘soft skills’ or office dynamics. “I’d never been to an office before!” says Mercy, speaking from her personal experience of graduating during the COVID pandemic.
Rachel took the approach of dedicating the first few sessions with her mentee to simply getting to know each other. She describes the importance of building that relationship at the outset, and how connecting as people before discussing what they wanted to get out of mentoring meant that they were able to have more meaningful discussions later as they had already established a mutual trust.
Don’t forget that emotional support doesn’t just have to be between mentor and mentee! Mentoring programmes are a great opportunity to create community between mentees too – each cohort can support each other during the process and can benefit from keeping in touch on an ongoing basis, sharing their journeys and successes.
5. Remember mentoring is two-way
It’s important to remember that mentoring doesn’t just benefit mentees. While it may feel intimidating to engage with a senior leader, perhaps for the first time, mentees have a wealth of knowledge and experience to impart to their mentor too!
Often mentors don’t know what it’s like to be a young person in their industry right now, and mentees can provide valuable insight into what challenges people early in their careers are facing. Rachel says “I would often find myself walking the dog and reflecting on the conversation we’d had.” She found that being matched with people from different organisations and industries gave her a fresh perspective on her own work, and helped her to realise where things could change.
If you’re feeling anxious about putting yourself forward as a mentee, or contacting your mentor, Mercy has one piece of advice – “If you don’t ask, you won’t get!” She encourages people to remember that mentors want to help! By applying to be a mentor they have chosen to put themselves in a position to talk to you, they want to be there, but they can’t help you unless you engage with them. “You both have something to give to the relationship,” she concludes.
For those setting up schemes, be explicit about who is responsible for making the first contact and ensure both parties are aware of this.
We asked each panellist what their one top tip would be for anyone thinking of either starting a mentoring scheme, or taking part in one.
Mercy: “Don’t underestimate yourself and the knowledge that you bring to the relationship. Your mentor is there to learn just as much as you’re here to learn from them.”
Rachel: “If you’re going to do it, commit. Put your all into it. Be really present and make it meaningful.”
Eddie: “Be clear about what it’s trying to deliver.”
Mentoring can range from an informal arrangement to a highly organised, official programme that spans across industries. What all different types of mentoring have in common is the mutually beneficial relationship that develops between a mentor and a mentee, where knowledge exchange helps both parties to realise their potential, expand their network and achieve their goals. Mentoring can bring as much value to your organisation as it can to an individual mentee.
Interested in learning more about what the Ministry of Justice is doing to improve social mobility? Have a look at their social mobility strategic plan, which contains more information on ‘Catapult’ as well as a large number of other initiatives.
About our Speakers
Eddie Fletcher, Head of Social Mobility, Ministry of Justice People Group
Eddie was part of the team responsible for setting up the award-winning Catapult internal mentoring initiative at the Ministry of Justice, and led the delivery of the full scale cross-government Catapult programme. The Cross Government Catapult Programme has grown from having 1,326 participants in its first year, to 1,712 across 32 government organisations in the latest cohort.
The programme is aimed at supporting staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds to achieve their full potential. The scheme is designed to inspire and support colleagues who self-identify as coming from a lower socio-economic background and to help the MoJ (and subsequently the Civil Service) better reflect the communities it serves at all levels.
Mercy Abel, Mentee from Creative Mentor Network; podcast host of gen z careers podcast, Audacity of We
Mercy works with brands, businesses and teams to gather and analyse insights to help make clients’ marketing campaigns and storytelling more inclusive and was shortlisted for the IPA iList 2022. Mercy is passionate about highlighting positive intersectional representation in media through founded platforms: Into A Black Mind and Strong Black Woman as well as improving knowledge exchange between gen z and today’s leaders on her careers podcast, audacity of we.
Rachel Dolby, Mentor from Mission INCLUDE; Head of Legal – Crop Nutrients, Anglo American
Rachel is a qualified solicitor specialising in projects and infrastructure. She trained at a leading international law firm and moved into industry in 2009, working for the investments division of Balfour Beatty specialising in infrastructure projects.
In 2016, Rachel joined Sirius Minerals plc as Senior Legal Counsel, working with the in-house legal team across a wide range of legal issues. Since 2020, she’s led the Crop Nutrients legal support function at Anglo American, responsible for the provision of legal advice, managing the legal risks and opportunities associated with the Woodsmith Project and the Crop Nutrients business and its subsidiaries, operations, and business plans.
Educated at a comprehensive school in an ex-mining industrial town in Northwest England, and having personally experienced feeling like an outsider in her profession early in her career, Rachel jumped at the chance to be a mentor on the Mission INCLUDE mentoring programme. Her invaluable support contributed to her mentee being promoted during that period.
About Moving Ahead and Mission INCLUDE
Moving Ahead’s mission is to revolutionise the world’s workplaces by advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. They do this by designing and delivering world-leading programmes, content and sessions – with structured developmental mentoring at the heart of their work.
Their Mission INCLUDE programme is part of the world’s largest cross-company mentoring initiative and has had over 16,000 participants, across 30 sectors and 220 companies. Instead of focusing on only one diversity characteristic, as many diversity initiatives and opportunities do, Mission INCLUDE does not operate in these silos and is open to any self-identified diversity characteristic, such as introversion, past experiences, and communication style. You can watch a short film about Mission INCLUDE here.
About Creative Mentor Network
Creative Mentor Network was built on the belief that the creative industries should reflect the diversity of our society. Founded in 2014, CMN’s key goal is to create a more accessible and inclusive future for the creative industries, supporting young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds through mentoring programmes. To date, CMN has helped over 1000 young people through their mentoring opportunities with creative partners such as Amazon, Meta, Soho House and Sony Music.
Find out more about them on our Organisational Directory.
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