Sheryl Sandberg devotes a whole chapter of Lean In to challenging the desperate pursuit by young women of a mentor. Sandberg posits that an entire generation is convinced that finding a mentor is the "fix-it" needed to propel us up the corporate ladder so that we can live happily ever after. Sandberg's issue is not with mentorship, a relationship "crucial for career progression", but with the difficulty women seem to have cultivating the right relationship - due in part to the current lack of women at the top. Sandberg is not the only cynic. Another wise woman, Anna Stephenson, COO at Sinopac and our SteerCo co-chair, once said with refreshing honesty: "I'm really cynical about formal mentoring programmes".
To boldly go where no mentoring
programme has gone before
Virginia Devereux-Wong, Wifa SteerCo member and founder of the programme, had a very refreshing vision. Rather than assigning mentors to mentees and directing strangers to Starbucks for a pastry and some life-changing insights into winning in the workplace, the organisation would supplement the traditional mentor-mentee relationship with quarterly group events hosted and subsidised by Wifa. These events allow all members to meet, share experiences, swap ideas and have fun. In turn the organisation receives live feedback to develop the programme.
Deservedly or not, bosses are often perceived as scary, and female bosses especially so, particularly in Asia where the culture can be very hierarchical.
While most welcome inspirational leadership, a good mentorship relationship requires trust and reciprocity. Accordingly, Wifa sought to design a programme of activities that would be conducive both to bridging the experience gap and building trust. In its first year mentors have swapped Chanel suits for tracksuits and hike in the woods while mentees, empowered in a new environment, have turned the tables and guided their mentors in new dance steps.
Formal mentoring programmes have great potential, but can often falter for lack of chemistry between the assigned mentor and mentee. The Wifa application process sought to identify objectives for joining the programme and in matching members it balanced their goals and expectations as well as industry and experience. That said, the success of pairings is more down to luck than anything else and Wifa has been very open with our members about that. The real science was in designing the group events, where all participants engage with each other, and additional mentorship relationships have developed organically alongside the traditional one-on-one coaching throughout the year. "I am thoroughly enjoying participating in the programme" The programme has been live for almost a year and there are close to 40 members. Like the members, the programme itself is developing and evolving in response to feedback.