Why mentorship is more important than ever

What is mentorship? Why are mentors important and how do you find (or become) one? These are all questions we debated at an event held by Demandbase’s Women in B2B network, hosted in our Bloomsbury office.

After a glass of wine or two, guests heard from keynote speaker Elham Fardad, who heads up the Migrant Leaders programme. She’s also a former senior manager at Ernst & Young (EY) – and an inspiring speaker.

Elham dicussed her personal experience as a first-generation immigrant who found great professional success – thanks in part to her own persistence and ambition, but also to a few people who guided her in the right direction, or who provided support in one way or another.

After finding her way in accounting, she wanted to give back to people from a similar background, so she set up a charity that would help first- and second-generation migrants get into professional careers. Now, Migrant Leaders has around 300 mentors on its books, and it has broadened the scope of the people it helps to include any young person from a low-income or otherwise disadvantaged background.

Elham shared a couple of mentorship success stories: one person who was the first person from their school to be accepted to study medicine (at UCL), and another who’s just been offered an EY graduate role a year before graduating. He’s currently completing an internship, and Elham said that, as his mentor, she was nudging him to strive for greatness: ‘Don’t settle for a 250, go for a top four firm!’

When it comes to selecting beneficiaries for the programme, she said: ‘It’s not about your academics – it’s about your potential.’

Speaking about the lack of diversity that still prevails at the top level of business, she added:

‘We need to do more, and we need to do disruptive things.’

After Elham, a panel that included Octopus Group board director Nicola Pestell and Marta Lia Requeijo, Money Laundering Reporting Officer at GoCardless, continued the discussion, with more of a focus on mentorship within corporations.

Nicola said: ‘Mentoring should be mandatory… it’s part of your job.’

Marta added that mentoring within a business also upholds the values of the company. And, she said, it just makes life easier. Why attempt something alone, or ‘reinvent the wheel’, when you could enlist the help of someone who has already done what you’re trying to do.

Elham, who also joined the panel, spoke about varying levels of company mentorship schemes. There’s the first level, she said, which is to have a mentorship scheme. But then there are two more levels: do you approach and encourage employees to take part in the scheme? And do you have a culture that allows mentorship to thrive?

There was also a lot of discussion around whether or not mentorship should occur organically. The panellists veered towards more naturally occurring partnerships, with Marta saying: ‘In my experience, you can’t match a mentor and a mentee.’

It was also agreed that people looking for a mentor should decide first on their direction, and then find someone with the relevant skills and experience: ‘The mentorship has to have purpose for that point in your life and career.’

And what makes a great mentor? There needs to be a desire to grow the mentee so that they enjoy even more success than their mentor, the panel said. ‘You’re not doing it for your own self-satisfaction,’ stated Nicola. And Elham agreed: ‘Mentors love sharing knowledge.’  

Migrant Leaders are looking for both companies and corporate mentors to partner with. Get in touch with Elham Fardad for more information.