glass ceiling

Mentoring women in global development – It pays off!

“There is a ‘glass ceiling’ in the international development sector. It’s not as pronounced as in the Fortune 500 or the tech worlds … but it’s real.”

— Fiona Macaulay, founder and CEO, WILD Network

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in two conferences that dealt with women and leadership. The first, ‘Women Transforming Business’ sponsored by the Rotterdam School of Business in Rotterdam. The second, ‘Women Leaders in Global Health 2018’ (#WLGH2018) hosted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London. Both conferences talked about the importance of mentoring in women’s career progression and subsequent leadership development. I believe that both coaching and mentoring are in fact important leadership development interventions. That said, let’s talk about mentoring women in global development today.

‘Mentorship has been identified as a key foundation for the success of women entrepreneurs and women leaders’ Kelli Rogers, Devex

Mentoring in global development

As some of you may recall, this is not the first time I have written about mentoring. In my first post – Mentoring for Change – Mentoring Exchanges, I wrote about the importance of mentoring. Specifically, to discuss the benefits as they pertain to the mentee (person receiving the mentoring), the mentor, as well as the organisation. Here, I introduced the mentoring program that we have launched called Mentoring Exchanges. This program matches global development professionals (often working in the field) with executives and academics from around the world. The purpose is to have mentoring conversations about management and leadership issues. In a follow on post, Getting the best out of your mentoring experience, I provide some tips for both the mentor and mentee to help you both benefit from the mentoring experience.

Currently there is widespread interest around women’s leadership development in general, and for mentoring in particular. As such, this is a great time to recap some of the key benefits for women working in global development (for the mentee). Now, I would also like to share some tips for getting the best out of your mentoring relationship when you are the one being mentored.

women mentoring - mentoring women in global development

Benefits of mentoring for women in global development

Here are some of the reported benefits of being mentored –

1) Taking control of your career

You’ll feel better able to take control of your career and achieve goals. You can identify or activate your career plan or personal self-development plan to achieve goals and improve job satisfaction.

A mentor will champion you and will offer you advice and support. As highlighted by Wafaa El-Sadr, Global Director of ICAP at Columbia University, mentoring can be

‘offering advice and support, mentors can also help mentees progress their careers through finding suitable workshops, trainings, and networking opportunities’.

2) Developing personally and professionally

Working with a mentor often allows you to work with an experienced professional who is there to assist you in your professional development journey. It is also a great way to grow and leverage your network

  • Are you a technical person who is now interested in managing a team?
  • Are you a new graduate, excited by the promise of making social impact and would like to gain some technical knowledge to round out your skillset?
  • Maybe you are a seasoned development professional, perhaps already a leader, who wants mentoring to ‘up your game’?
  • Interested in reverse mentoring particularly around the effective use of social media?

Your mentor can often help you navigate these paths. They can help you look at where you are, what you need to do to get to where you want to go, including who else can help you on this journey.

3) Learning from an experienced professional

You’ll learn from an experienced professional. They can help you to fill any gaps in your knowledge, behaviours, experience or skillset.

“Don’t be afraid to defy expectations,” says Dr. Joanne Liu, international president at Médecins Sans Frontières who believes that women should seek out multiple mentors in order to gain insight from varying sources. But also providing differing perspectives,‘such as those from different cultural, philosophical, political and professional backgrounds, as well those both older and younger.’

4) Developing your management and leadership knowledge and competencies

Giving yourself the time and space to intentionally work on developing your management and leadership competencies starting with space for reflection.

As someone who may have risen based on your technical competencies, it is now time to add to this by integrating management and leadership competencies which can be learned and practised.

According to the 2018 DDI Global Leadership Forecast leaders need the capacity to meet VUCA challenges. They also need the abilities to: communicate and interact with others, manage and introduce change, inspire others towards a shared vision, and the ability to foster employee creativity and innovation.

Which skills do you need to work on??? The right mentor can help.

5) Changing self and other perceptions – Building more women leaders

You can stretch and  and grow in a safe space. With growth comes confidence and the belief that you can do more, take on more, try more. Similarly, if you fail at something, it is simply a learning (leadership) opportunity.

‘Mentors give women an avenue to practice their skills in a safe environment by focusing on growth and improvement’

By supporting women through mentoring to lead and take up leadership positions we start to build a different picture of what leadership can look like. In global development organisations we start to see changes in individual, organisational and societal perceptions of leadership. Specifically, different conceptions of who can be a leader and what a leader can look like. We already know that positive, powerful, female role models matter.

So, how can we create the condition for successful mentoring…

woman writing in journal - self-reflection

Laying the mentoring groundwork for success

Mentoring like any tool, intervention, or process requires a certain amount of preparation, intention, and attention in order for it to be effective and produce the desired results. It is true that mentoring relationship can take many forms, however, the research suggests that when certain processes and best practices are observed, it increases mentoring effectiveness.

Regardless of how you organise and/or structure your mentoring program or intervention, it generally consists of a number of phases. These include – preparing for your mentoring, building rapport, maintaining progress, consolidating learning, and ultimately parting ways with your mentor.

Whether you are the mentor, mentee or the program administrator, there is some groundwork to do. Here we are going to focus on what the mentee can do to prepare themselves for their conversations in order to get the most out of their experience.

post it - to do list

Tips for getting the most out of your mentoring experience – for women in global development

Whether your mentoring relationship is structured and formal or more subtle and informal, consider these tips to help you get the most out of your experience of being mentored –

– The Golden Rule – BE PREPARED!

Make sure you are clear about your objectives – what you want your mentor to help you with – and discuss how you will measure success.

Bring items that you want to discuss – a new challenge at work, an appraisal or 360 review you would like to discuss, a challenging conversation you want to role play, and of course, your questions to ask.

– Open your mind

You want to be flexible to explore possibilities and find solutions.

– Consider your mentor’s advice

Contemplate your mentor’s guidance, experience, knowledge and expertise but don’t be afraid to question anything.

– Expect feedback – be open to it, and ask for it

Your mentor will challenge you on occasion. Recognise that this is a good thing – it’s only when you step outside your comfort zone that true learning happens.

– Maintain focus

Even if your conversation wanders to other things – make sure you draw attention back to the main issues that you want to resolve.

– Review notes or minutes of previous meetings and actions agreed

You may want to create a simple mentoring log to support you and your mentor.

– Give feedback to your mentor on their mentoring input

Thank them, say what went well, or what would be better/ more helpful.

– Enjoy the experience!

And when you can, pay it back – mentor someone else!

Having a mentor offers numerous of benefits to both the mentor and mentee but also the organisations and communities surrounding them. Mentees can go on to become mentors themselves, building a succession of empathetic and empowering leaders. Mentors continue to develop their skills in developing others and often find personal and professional satisfaction in mentoring. Organisations are able to benefit from increasing leaders’ and employees’ skills, raising morale and increasing job satisfaction leading to improved positive outcomes.

sustainability development goals

Mentoring women to lead and take up leadership positions in development organisations is part of achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality). Specifically by increasing women’s access to, and effective participation in, decision making and leadership. Supporting women to lead is also an important component of meeting SDGs 16 and 17 which talk about the critical importance of creating healthy institutions – which demands diverse and positive leadership. Mentoring women in global development is one way to support this goal.

Stay tuned for the next mentoring piece in the New Year that looks at how to be a great mentor…

Champion women’s leadership – be the mentor you seek.

If you feel that you or your organisation would benefit from leadership development, including coaching and mentoring, please get in touch to discuss how we can collaborate.

Please feel free to download my new coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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