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International Women’s Day: The value of mentorship

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Rebecca Gravestock

Mar 7, 2021

Today marks International Women’s Day – an annual event that honours the many triumphs of women and our progress towards gender parity. While it’s a day to celebrate, it also acknowledges the gaps in equality, and encourages us to take action where we can – which is exactly what this year’s theme, #ChooseToChallenge, is all about.

In this series, we speak to some of the inspiring Australian female-led businesses from the Xero community to learn about the important work they’re doing to lift women up. 

Lucy and Heidi Holmes founded Mentorloop in 2016 in the belief that the right connection can change your life. Mentorloop is software that organisations use to build tailored programs that match mentors to mentees at scale. To date, the web-based app has helped over 30,000 people build valuable professional connections. Xero, as well as some other big-name companies, are among their clients.

Finding unlikely connections

Of all the wonderful organisations that Lucy works with, she has a special appreciation for those that are fostering participation for women in the workforce. In particular, she mentions the Women Offshore program. ‘As the name suggests, it’s a mentoring program for women who are on oil rigs or huge shipping vessels. They’re isolated geographically, but they can also feel isolated within their workplace because they might be the only woman or the only person that identifies differently,’ she says.

For Lucy, programs like Women Offshore facilitate the unlikely bonds that help women go further in their careers. “The connections that get us most excited are when people who wouldn’t have naturally crossed paths in school, university or even the workplace come together based on a mutual need or interest,” says Lucy. 

She adds, “You can cut through a lot of the traditional pathways and give people an opportunity to meet someone they otherwise wouldn’t in their day-to-day.” 

The benefits of these unlikely connections are backed by research. According to global statistics from Gartner, mentees are five times more likely to be promoted than those without a mentor, while 79 percent of millennial mentees believe mentorship is crucial to their career success. 

Since COVID-19, it’s become harder to build connections organically. Lucy points out that with more companies transitioning to remote working, finding ‘water-cooler’ moments is increasingly rare. But, she says, “mentoring is a way to reintroduce those incidental conversations that don’t have a particular agenda. It’s more about “let’s just talk about you and me, and connect on a human level” – which is so vital.”

The way forward 

Following the arrival of COVID-19, Lucy’s seen a decline in the number of organisations that are prioritising women’s development – and it’s come at a time when women need support the most. According to government research, since the pandemic, women have suffered the largest pay cuts in 11 of Australia’s 19 major industries, and lost jobs at higher rates than men. 

“Unfortunately, with the pandemic, that diversity and inclusion piece has been put on the back burner by a lot of organisations,” says Lucy. “In 2019, advocacy was really important for women. We saw a lot of mentoring programs being launched that were about fostering women’s participation in the workforce and promotion to leadership.” 

Lucy says that although diversity and inclusion might be on pause for some businesses, women still stand to gain from seeking out a mentor. “Mentoring is about setting a goal, working towards that goal, and feeling like you’re moving forward, even when the world seems to have ground to a halt.”

Challenging diversity theatre 

When, in light of this year’s #ChooseToChallenge theme, I asked Lucy what gender bias or inequality she wanted to see more organisations oppose, she called out diversity theatre. 

“When economies are fluffy, when things are going well, there’s a lot of theatre around inclusion,” she says. That’s why Mentorloop is working with clients who do more than show and tell; “we’re speaking to organisations who do things like hire a diversity and inclusion lead, set up a function, and actually allocate a budget,” she explains. 

Lucy says that organisations “should look at the fabric of their culture, bring everyone off the sidelines, and have open, honest conversations rather than performing diversity theatre.” She adds, “it’s never been more important to nurture your entire workforce, and women in particular.”

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