Whether we are giving advice to a friend about their current job or helping a child, or our nieces or nephews in their schooling and career choices, we midlifers are often asked to share our thoughts and wisdom. In this way, we help others to become more effective and we create chances for those we care about to progress and grow. We assume this role gladly and take pride in the fact that we have been asked to help and that our advice and guidance has been taken on board.
But it doesn’t have to end there. This type of help and advice isn’t only great for your friends and family, it is also an asset in the workplace. We have come to know this as mentoring and with the skills and attributes you have already developed by midlife, you too could become a great mentor.
Put simply, the word mentor describes anyone who is a positive, guiding influence on another person. In the workplace, this type of structured relationship between mentor and mentee has a profound and productive effect, not only on the mentee but also correspondingly on the organisation.
As I have progressed through my career, I have been a mentee and a mentor. In both roles, I have blossomed and progressed to the point that I have looked back with a grateful heart on those conversations and pivotal points, where my mentor has listened and guided me, or where I have been able to support others to take a new or different path.
Crucially, right now, when we know that gender imbalance exists and female staff are often overlooked and marginalised in stereotypical roles, we need more female midlife mentors to support women to progress.
In their report ‘The Pipeline Women Count 2020’, authors describe the ‘broken springboard’ where another generation of female talent will be lost if we don’t carefully handle the issue of women progressing in the workplace. According to the study: “fewer than 2 in 10 Chief Financial Officers are women, only 4% of investment managers are women, and just 5% of firms are led by a female CEO. In the FTSE 100, there are more CEOs called Peter than there are women in the top job“.
The report shows that whilst in Retail entry-level jobs are usually taken by women, conversely, they don’t make it to the executive level. Perhaps not surprisingly, the sector with the lowest number of women in executive roles is Construction where stereotypes rampage. All this points to the stark reality that women fail to progress to leadership positions. Yet the research shows know that gender-diverse leadership teams result in greater profit margins and faster, more effective decision making, compared to their non-diverse counterparts.
How can you help?
By becoming a mentor, you can encourage and nurture the talent you see before you; and by taking on this role you will play your part in role modelling and promoting gender balance.
What do you need to do next?
Effective mentoring takes time, effort, skill, and sensibility. Firstly, you need to find a mentee. This may be someone you spot in your organisation who you connect with and who you can reach out to and meet with on a regular and long-term basis. Or, you can put yourself forward for a mentoring role within your organisation, or through a networking group.
You need to be willing to reflect and share your successes and your failures and most critically talk about what life has taught you. The professional nature of mentoring requires effective listening, questioning, empathy, and reflection. In return you should expect to see that your mentee is willing and committed to learning from you, ready to expand her thinking and accept, with gratitude, your wisdom and time.
But what if I want to find a mentor in midlife?
If you are middle-aged and you feel like your career and life is stalling or you are stuck and you need to reposition, don’t delay. Now is the time to reach out to a mentor and start the process of redefining your life once more. Remember, this isn’t therapy or counselling, this is a structured, supportive session where you will be encouraged to set the agenda and create good boundaries. If you admire the work of another female colleague or you feel that someone in your network has a lot of the skills you want to cultivate, then why not ask them to be your mentor?
Having a mentor in midlife will enable you to begin a new path seeing and doing things differently. He or she will give you the benefit of their experiences when they’ve faced up to similar challenges, sharing what worked and what didn’t. They may help you with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources. More importantly, they’re likely to have reflected on why they got the outcome they did, and rather than simply giving you a formula to follow, they can make suggestions about what you should consider when you plan your own approach.
If you are willing to ask for help and able to express your vulnerability and try new ideas, then being a mentee will be right up your street.
In the current climate, the mentor and mentee relationship can be created remotely on-line, just as it would face to face. Right now, the world needs mentoring more than ever. The mentor-mentee relationship does not end once mentee achieves their desired goals. Their paths may go separate ways but it’s the journey that stays with them forever.