August 24, 2016

Programs harness the career-building power of mentorships

The potential of mentorships to advise, inspire and build confidence and leadership skills is being harnessed within the education sector.

Mentorship can give broader experience and knowledge to individuals and organisations. In the education sector such programs are proving invaluable in helping people develop their careers and skills by providing mentoring and leadership advice and much more. We find out about two programs and the benefits they deliver.

Mentoring is widely recognised as helpful and inspiring to individuals and organisations. It takes many forms, from one-on-one industry-based mentoring to out-of-sector interaction — and can be undertaken at different career stages.

Business View takes a look at two such partnerships in the education sector, one designed for female Master of Applied Finance students, and the other for leaders in NSW schools.

Getting off on the right foot

The NAB/Macquarie Applied Finance Centre (MAFC) Women’s Mentoring Program matches a female Master of Applied Finance student with a senior mentor from within NAB. As Dr Anne Cooper, Director of the MAFC explains, it began with the idea of redressing gender imbalance in the finance industry. “There’s been so much written in the space of women in finance and it’s very well known that banks might capture a number of women at the start, but lose them quite rapidly,” she says.

Dr Cooper says most mentees join the program with the expectation that it will provide broad career advice, or specific technical skills, but it offers much more than that.

“They’re all smart, they’ve got the technical skills from the Masters degree,” she says. “What they don’t necessarily have is the confidence to think about, ‘How might I start on my journey and where is it likely to take me?’”

Dr Cooper’s role is to interview the applicants and match them with the NAB mentors; everyone involved sits an external assessment, after which the mentors join the mentees for an hour debrief. “They start to realise very quickly that in order to think about their career, they also need to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses,” says Cooper. “Then they can start to think about what sorts of options are open to them in finance that play to those strengths.

“I think the single biggest thing they learn from the mentors is that it’s okay not to have the perfect plan. You’ve got to be adaptable – not everything you do will go to plan and it’s what you do next that matters when something does go wrong.”

And it’s not just a one-way benefit. For the mentors, contact with young people who have a very different view on life is interesting. Dr Cooper has found it makes her consider how she teaches.

“For the individuals involved, I think the program has been a resounding success in the sense that they’ve now got a different perspective,” she says. “When you have role models, people who started off at the same place you did, who have worked through issues that confronted them, and you see how successful they are, it builds your confidence to stay in the sector.”

Corporate shadowing

The Association of Independent Schools (AIS) is the peak body for independent schools in NSW. As part of the AIS NSW Leadership program, senior school leaders considering a principal’s position are given the opportunity to shadow a corporate senior executive from NAB for a day.

Jennifer Davies, Associate Dean at The AIS Leadership Centre, explains that they don’t describe the experience as ‘mentoring’, as the day is “designed to enrich an understanding of a senior executive leader’s role in a different context.

“Each participant observes the similarities and the differences of a corporate leader’s role compared with that of a Principal and interprets the experience in relation to both the rationale for the day-to-day interactions and the broader structural and cultural contexts.”

The link between the corporate sector and the school environment is stronger than might be obvious at first: just like senior executives in the corporate world, school leaders are response for a strategic portfolio; they lead one or more teams; they control a substantial budget; and they report to a Principal (like a CEO).

Davies says the evaluations all affirm the success of the program and that “many participants observe that the similarities in leadership practice between the two industries are greater than the differences; the influence of culture, the importance of relationships and strong communication are of shared significance.”

The exchange of learning can be two-way. “One Flagship program participant worked alongside the NAB senior executive they shadowed to collaboratively develop an approach to a difficult situation [at NAB],” says Davies.

Feedback on the program has shown that organisational culture and meetings have been of most relevance — the importance of having a people focus within a service-oriented culture, and how to lead and develop more structured and robust approaches to meetings.

At its simplest, mentoring or shadowing is about connecting people and ideas, and allowing greater understanding of leadership and success, and it’s clear that both these programs are doing just that.

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