Just like how Luke Skywalker had Yoda in Star Wars and Daniel had Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid, professionals in the workplace similarly benefit from a mentor and mentee relationship.
When entering an industry for the first time as a young person, or re-entering the workforce after a hiatus, it can be difficult to know where to start.
However, having someone to guide you in the right direction to make smart career moves can make all the difference.
Holding a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Mentoring, Leadership Consultant Nancy Bonfiglio-Pavisich FAIM said mentoring – a relationship between a more experienced professional and a less experienced or newly appointed person – was a long-term developmental activity.
“It’s important to firstly highlight the differences between mentoring and coaching because these lines are often blurred,” she said.
“Mentoring is an inclusive interpersonal process, whereas coaching is about interventions, which are used to extend knowledge and develop opportunities.
“So, mentoring is about an ongoing professional relationship that can continue for an extended period, whereas coaching is short-term and focused on specific performance issues.
“What works well with mentoring is if it’s part of an induction program.
“It also needs to be a continual process – it’s not something we do when we are first appointed and then it’s stopped; it works best when conducted over a timeframe of about two years.”
How a mentorship can be successful
According to the National Institute of Health’s 2014 research paper, Characteristics of Successful and Failed Mentoring Relationships: A Qualitative Study Across Two Academic Health Centers, a lack of commitment is a major factor in unsuccessful mentoring programs.
The research revealed mentorships worked best when both mentor and mentee wanted to voluntarily partake in the mutually reciprocal process – a sentiment echoed by Dr Bonfiglio-Pavisich.
“It’s so important the mentors want to be mentors in the first place, otherwise it can harm mentees – affecting their confidence, competence and capacity to turn up in the workplace,” she said.
“As a mentor in a mentoring relationship, it’s essential to be empathetic, be able to discern and be able to enquire without judgement."
“It’s about understanding people’s purpose, where they need to be and how they can grow in that space.”
According to Dr Bonfiglio-Pavisich, mentoring is not about handing over the answers – it is focused on guiding mentees to come to the answers and develop their knowledge, skills and understanding.
“It empowers, encourages and enables them,” she said.
“The pivotal component of mentoring is there has to be trust, confidentiality, and mutual reciprocity and accountability.”
Throughout her PhD research, Dr Bonfiglio-Pavisich found among early career teachers, 30-50 per cent were leaving the profession globally – often due to a lack of quality mentoring support.
“For many of the teachers who did have a mentor, it was someone who did not invest in the process,” she said.
“The same can be said for the medical profession – being given a mentor who was not interested in mentoring meant young medical professionals didn’t feel comfortable asking questions that needed to be asked because they were made to feel silly.
“Ineffective mentoring can destroy one’s self-esteem, so that’s why it’s so important to have a mentor who genuinely wants to assist and take part in the process.”
Women in Media
As a not-for-profit nationwide initiative, Women in Media aims to connect women working in all forms of media, marketing and communications.
With a host of programs and events promoting networking and mentoring, Women in Media Founder and Acting Co-Chair Victoria Laurie said the initiative’s programs were driven by findings in the annual Women in Media Industry Insight Report.
“Our research tells us women in the media sector are keen to acquire more leadership skills – this year, the report has confirmed 54 per cent of women in the media industry are unsure or dissatisfied with the progress of their careers and 53 per cent of women in media believe the media industry’s commitment to gender equality is weak or very weak,” she said.
“The report also outlined how middle-stage career women are particularly unsure of their futures.
“Our data showed many are considering leaving their jobs within the next 12 months because they’re unsure where their future lies.
“Our programs are driven by this research, giving women in media the opportunity to seek guidance in their careers.”
Partnering with Google News Initiative, Women in Media’s Relaunch Project is an exclusive series of workshops, mentoring sessions and online training designed to equip and upskill women in media who are returning to the workforce after taking time out of their careers.
“We offer a Relaunch Project where we invite about 18 women from around Australia to take part in a 10-week course over six months – focusing on leadership, media industry directions, new technologies and personal branding,” Ms Laurie said.
“It’s targeted at women who have had to step out of the industry and are stepping back in.
“Often this includes women who have had children and are looking to re-enter the workforce, however sometimes it’s women who have had to go and do other jobs to pay the mortgage or those who have had to look after a relative.
“We offer these 18 women access to the most senior executives at Google who are our partners for the program.”
Women in Media has also hosted a nationwide mentoring program, which expertly matched young or new recruits with experienced older hands.
“We have traditionally used a mentoring match system and we’ve matched about 50 women each year right across Australia, so someone in Queensland might be matched with someone in Western Australia,” Ms Laurie said.
“Next year, we will be focusing on offering executive coaching for senior women leaders in various sectors of the media industry.
“We also run a small, yet very useful, bespoke mentoring linkup between young women going out to their first job in the regions and a more experienced journalist, which is incredibly helpful for a young woman going up to Karratha, Broome or Kununurra.”
Benefits for mentors and mentees
Having been a mentor in the past, Ms Laurie said she found the experience to be useful for connecting with younger women in the industry and learning about the new challenges they faced because of disruption.
“People are having to learn new skills due to disruption and I’ve worked in TV, radio and print, so I can give them my experience of 30-plus years of journalism while I’m learning from them about, for example, what it’s like being a video journalist in regional Australia – it’s a two-way street,” she said.
“We never put the mentors and mentees together in the hopes the mentee will gain a job – we can’t promise that – however what we can do is invite the mentee to think about their career and actually invest in it.
“They can talk to their mentor about approaching their boss and asking for a pay rise or the opportunity to upskill.
“They’re all conversations which can be very useful and, if they’re acted on, they can change a young person’s career.”