Work & Wellbeing Agency Culture Business Leadership

Here’s how your agency can get mentoring right and stop losing talent

By Alessandra Lariu | Co-founder

April 1, 2022 | 6 min read

The great resignation is real, writes SheSays co-founder Alessandra Lariu, and now more than ever it is essential that employers take steps to protect the talent they already have. Here she shares her advice for making sure your agency does mentoring right.

mentorship helps junior creatives

Alessandra Lariu says mentorship can help address systemic issues in adland/ Image via Icons8

It really is hard to avoid word du jour ‘mentoring’, with seemingly every company offering mentoring rings, all-employee mentoring, reverse-mentoring, speed-mentoring and any other carrot dangling benefit they can think of.

But there’s mentoring and then there’s the right way of doing mentoring. Take it from someone who has done it for over a decade, has mentored over 90 people and started three different services based on mentoring through SheSays, the organization I co-founded for women and non-binary people in the creative industries.

There’s no doubt mentoring is needed. As the Advertising Association’s All In census showed, people are leaving the industry and not feeling as included as everyone should. The great resignation is real. Especially among women. According to the 2021 Pearson Global Learner Survey, a staggering 90% of women are taking steps to alter their career path.

The reasons relate to systemic issues such as bias and discrimination still making the workplace a place where pretty much everyone who is a non-white male feels unheard, underrepresented and unhappy. Even though we are making strides towards addressing big, deep-rooted issues, change won’t happen overnight – making mentoring the holy grail regarding retention.

When done right, mentoring will help retain talent. So, what does ‘doing it right’ look like?

A company’s internal mentoring program is… well, not it

The bad news is that internal mentoring initiatives can only go so far. Company politics is often at odds with professional development, especially for those thinking about long-term career progression. Most people won’t tell their bosses they disagree with their management style or that, truly deeply, they are secretly saving up for a career in SFX for Hungarian horror movies and they need support with that.

Companies should always combine internal with external mentoring programs. Programs need to have structured meet-ups with longer cadence. And, of course, stirring in good mentors is key because having 10+ years of experience does not always equal mentor material.

Great mentors calibrate their advice

Great mentorship must go beyond getting matched and having a nice chat. Mentors ought to make sure they:

  • Listen first. And then help mentees find the solution they feel comfortable with, bearing in mind people’s personality traits. For example, advice about salary negotiations for an introvert will be very different to salary negotiations for an extrovert. The situation is the same yet the support needed is completely different.

  • Co-create goals. Working together with the mentee, both parties need to have a set, pre-agreed framework to be used during check-ins. SheSays’s own mentorship program, Who’s Your Momma, has tons of resource for mentors and mentees on how to structure the conversations.

  • Calibrate, calibrate, calibrate. Understanding and recognizing the differences – and privileges – among mentor and mentees is an art as well as the first step for a successful relationship. Celebrate your similarities, but also check your privilege and your differences.

Mentees run the show

Mentorship goes both ways. When looking for a mentor, a mentee must:

  • Make sure mentors know about their personality, identity and any other things they are comfortable with disclosing outside development goals, so the mentor understands the full person and situation.

  • Have different mentors for different things (eg someone from the same company and someone outside, someone from a different industry even).

  • Own the mentorship journey and take control of the admin of the process. They must also allow time to reflect before taking action on specific, measurable and realistic goals.

Beyond mentoring

And for those who want to take mentoring further, consider a new(ish) concept: advocacy. If you can bear to add action to advice, then advocacy is for you. Advocacy comes with a level of accountability that mentoring often lacks. If mentoring is the talking, advocacy is the doing.

Advocates are personally responsible for making things happen for the people they support.

For example, if someone’s goal is to start presenting or public speaking, the advocate will find them speaking opportunities – or give them the mic, literally. Of course, the advocate needs to be sure they can transform goals into personal responsibility.

When you add accountability, calibration layers and frameworks to mentoring, a ‘quick win’ becomes suddenly complex. But fear not. That’s when technology can come to the rescue and we are now more open to tech supporting our lives than ever before.

When mentors and machines meet

Tools and platforms such as Mentorloop (mentor matching) and CoachHub (which provides a certified coach matching service) are good for non industry-specific, generic topics – such as resilience. But because humans forget about 75% of what they learn after six days if the information is not applied, companies and individuals are better off going for mentoring or advocacy in industry-specific platforms.

SheSays’s career progression platform the WEI (which is currently sourcing further crowdfunding) offers industry-specific knowledge as a personal learning plan, but also advocates on-demand. At the WEI, advocates are accountable for making things happen for people. And, in addition to algorithmic skills matching, it also takes into consideration calibrations such as personality type (eg introvert or extrovert), identity, cultural background and learning style. Simply put, it makes advice calibration – and accountability – smarter.

Whether technology is present or not, calibration and accountability are key components of talent nurturing through mentorship or advocacy. Individuals, through companies and organizations, must move away from ’nice chats’ because ‘nice chats’ won’t retain talent.

Understanding and celebrating the complexity of human beings will. Easier said than done, though.

Alessandra Lariu is co-founder of SheSays.

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