Thinking of becoming a professional mentor to a woman entrepreneur through our flagship Mentoring Women in Business programme?
James, our Mentoring Programme Officer, caught up with Emily, an Independent Mentor who started her mentoring journey with her mentee, Irene, in November, to find out her experience of the programme so far.
The much-valued professional mentors on our Mentoring Women in Business Programme dedicate two hours a month of their time to their woman entrepreneur mentee, ordinarily over the course of a year. Through this rich, personal and rewarding relationship, the mentor supports their mentee to set and work towards her business goals, and builds her confidence. Mentors share their expertise and act as their mentee’s thought partner. Meanwhile, mentors develop their own skills, gain new perspectives and insights, and play a crucial role in the development of a small business—often with fantastic impacts. While mentors in the past have come from the workforces of our partner companies, we’re excited to have now opened up this valuable opportunity to professionals everywhere without needing to come through part of a formal partnership.
Emily Quinn is a Senior Product Manager at Reuters, and our first ‘independent’ mentor. She joined the programme in November 2020. Five months in, she has completed the first two phases of the programme, developing a strong connection with her mentee Irene and setting goals for the remainder of their time together. So, how are things looking so far?
Lockdown left Emily with time to think and reflect, and a desire to push herself into new opportunities: “I was asking myself, what more can I be doing? How can I expand my skills in this new situation, and how can I be helping someone else while I do that?”
After seeing that a member of her network had a positive experience on the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Women in Business programme, Emily was intrigued: “I thought it looked really, really good. An opportunity to help someone else and also grow my skills.”
In mentoring, Emily recognised something that could have been a help to her when she was starting out. “I struggled with confidence for a long time,” she told us, “I struggled to put myself forward and to believe in my abilities. Especially as a woman in business; often if you’re not the one shouting the loudest it is seen as a weakness. It can be extremely difficult to navigate through.
Emily’s understanding and belief in the power of mentoring was a real motivator for her: “Mentoring gives you that person to bounce ideas off or just talk through issues with. It gives you someone to provide feedback and guidance, and that’s really helpful in building confidence. It’s really important for women to have networks and links to support that development of confidence. So mentoring is always something I wish I’d had, something that can really help.”
So Emily signed up, and in November 2020 was carefully matched with Irene, a woman entrepreneur based in Lagos who runs a media and publishing business.
“The programme did a great job in matching us up,” Emily recalls, “Both being in the media industry helped us immediately build the connection.” The pair quickly hit the ground running: “The relationship was great from the beginning. Irene has been very open and ready to share everything she is doing.”
Each mentoring relationship takes place totally online, through the Foundation’s newly-redeveloped platform, and with plenty of structure, guidance and support: “I think openness and transparency are so important in a mentoring relationship. Irene and I followed the programme guidelines and spent our first call just chatting about who we are and what we’re doing. I found out a lot about Irene in those early sessions and that really helped us build the foundation of our relationship. It gave us a grounding and a trust, and let us identify where we could help each other.”
Supported to flourish
As Irene’s thought partner, over 5 months so far Emily has supported her to develop goals and workplans to take her business to the next level. This progress has been fuelled by their diligence as well as the help of the Foundation’s Mentoring team: “About six weeks in I reached out for support from the team. A member of the team responded straight away and gave me advice on outlining ground rules and having firm conversations about expectations in the relationship. It can be difficult to transition from getting to know each other to getting down to business and getting the goals articulated, it’s a hard jump but the Mentoring team were very helpful for me and Irene.”
This support has helped Emily provide accountability to Irene as well as flexibility in their relationship. Irene says: “Emily has ensured I have a monthly target and always follows up on my progress. I absolutely love that she is never too busy to have a conversation with me way beyond the expected hours for monthly mentoring.”
Beyond the Mentoring support, Emily has made use of the monthly webinars that the programme holds for programme participants, both mentors and mentees: “I really like the webinars; they make me think outside my day-to-day work and what I could be doing, they give me something else to share with Irene.”
Many participants find the programme highly personal and rewarding, and Emily has been a warm, friendly source of encouragement for Irene, who tells us “she’s been so supportive in reviewing and advising me on my new business website and new business programme, “Business Insights with Irene”. I’ve also just launched an online media network called “Lady Irene David-Arinze” (LIDA) Network on Youtube. I was a bit overwhelmed about what was needed to implement structure in my new business in the media space which she has adequate experience. It was indeed a seamless process for me, all thanks to Emily.”
On top of this, the relationship has opened Emily’s eyes to new and different contexts of business: “I’m used to developing products within an established infrastructure, but Irene is making me think; how would I approach this in a new business? This is helping me in my job as we expand into new areas I’m able to consider factors that previously I had no experience of.”
“I’m learning more about Nigeria and the context of the media business there, and I’ve developed my own confidence in a relatively short amount of time, to get nice feedback from Irene has really helped me.”
Emily feels she has gained as much from Irene as she has given: “Irene’s attitude is incredible- I want mine to be more like that, she’s so enthusiastic and energetic about everything, she’s inspiring me.”
Thinking of following in Emily’s footsteps?
Reflecting on her time mentoring so far, Emily says: “The programme is super convenient to participate in. Two hours a month is a sensible amount, and the expectations the team have of both mentee and mentor is spot on. The team leaves it very much up to us, but make it obvious they are there to support.”
As we look for more enthusiastic and eager mentors to sign up for our May 2021 programme (applications are open now!), Emily has this to say to anyone considering taking the opportunity: “I would 100% recommend the programme. At first I thought: will it be awkward? Can I actually help? But even if you don’t know everything you’re always going to be helpful because you’re additional support, you’re someone to bounce ideas off. Just having that person to turn to and speak to and have the different perspective is fantastic. It’s a two way street and it’s totally beneficial for both parties. The programme is reasonable, super convenient and it works really well.”
We can’t wait to see what they achieve over the remainder of their journey together!
This remote, virtual model stands as a bold example of how women business owners can be supported during the current crisis, and how supporting women entrepreneurs can be centred in a post-pandemic economic re-build. Find out more and apply to be a mentor now!