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Why do you mentor?

By Karen Blanc


Two weeks ago, I packed my baby's bag, and took him along with me on an overnight work trip to the judging sessions for WICE Mentor of the Year in London. I wasn't going to, but realised that if one of my mentees suggested that having a bottle-refusing baby was reason to miss out on an opportunity, I'd tell them to think again. And for me, that's why I mentor: because it makes me a better person. Not in a "better than you" kind of way; in a way that being a parent turns you into the kind of person you want your kids to be. It encourages me to give my best in life, to go for the things I want to do, even if they're a stretch. (And how would I have ever known that my baby sleeps better on the train?)

“Why do you mentor?” was the question posed to us during introductions at the Women in Construction and Engineering awards interview day in London last month. It’s a good question. Why do we mentor? Not to be the best at it, that’s for sure (though the recognition is of course very nice). Mentoring is all about other people, but of course there’s something in it for the mentors too.

As a mentor I talk candidly about my own experiences, because my experience, my perspective, might help others. I’m often surprised when a mentee tells me something made sense to them because of what we’d spoken about. Of course I should know how this works by now, but it is still funny to think that just by talking, I’ve helped somebody with their own perspective. I learn more about myself by doing this, and I also consolidate my own knowledge – is there a better way of checking you’ve understood something than by explaining it to others?

Are you convinced yet? If you want to mentor, be open, be available. As a mentoring scheme coordinator, I still think the best relationships are organic. Mentoring just clicks better if your mentee has sought you out. Of course, there are ways to get started until that happens. Volunteer to become a mentor on a formal scheme (such as those for chartership). Contact your university and ask if they have a scheme you could join as a mentor and they’ll match you up. Tell your colleagues you’re interested in mentoring and see if they know someone in search of a mentor who you’d be a good fit for.

Finally… Do you have a mentor? We don’t outgrow mentoring, so in the same way you have much to offer through your own experiences, gaining someone else’s perspective on your own challenges can add so much to your own development. Is there someone who has a particular strength you admire? Ask them to be your mentor, offer to buy them a coffee, and I guarantee you they’ll say yes!

Why don't you mentor?:

I don't have time to mentor.

How much time could you spare? 30 minutes? 15 minutes? The time it takes to eat your lunch?

No one mentored me.

Really? Not even a cub leader or a rugby coach? Well, maybe that's an even better reason to do it. Be the change!

I don't know how.

If you've ever asked a question and listened to the answer, you've started.

I'm an introvert.

So might your mentee be!

No one else does it.

How do you know? Is that a good reason for doing / not doing anything?