Thursday 25 February 2016 4:31 am

Mentoring meaningfully: BoAML's Jennifer Boussuge on how to make your help really count

We're seeing more women than ever serving on the boards of Britain’s biggest companies. However, with only four years remaining to reach the government’s target (women must occupy a third of all board seats by 2020), companies must do much more to create robust conditions that help women fulfil their executive potential.

There are many factors that shape professional success. It may sound obvious, but career achievements hinge on more than just technical know-how. There is a whole roster of skills that can help spur career growth and prepare women for higher positions of leadership.

Strong communications skills, social intelligence and management abilities are essential to helping a woman’s career or business reach the next stage. But how do you learn these skills? One of the most effective ways is through mentoring others. Mentoring can be a rewarding experience, but it must be meaningful for both parties. Time is a valuable asset, so investing it in another’s development must be worthwhile.

Listen, don’t tell

To be an effective mentor requires strong interpersonal skills. You must be able to really listen to your mentee’s aspirations, hopes and concerns. This is not always easy for the mentor, as the temptation may be to reel off advice punctuated with personal anecdotes. But it’s equally important to connect to the mentee’s unique career journey and motivations.

Providing meaningful and useful counsel involves relating to the mentee and actively listening. Mentors must ask the right questions and encourage the mentee to be innovative and independent, and find solutions on their own. Doing so will help mentees take responsibility for their own development and progression without becoming dependent on the mentor. For someone on the cusp of senior management, this is an important quality to cultivate.

Not just a cheerleader

Mentoring can be great practice for leadership, but providing inspiration and guidance does not just mean being a cheerleader or facilitating contacts that may not prove useful. Mentoring is about aiding development, staying on track and making sure goals and targets are achieved.

The process should be managed through constructive feedback and guidance. While it is important to keep a positive, optimistic attitude, the mentor also needs to see situations clearly and be honest with the mentee. Creating an environment where thoughts and plans can be openly, constructively discussed is a hallmark of leadership and mentoring is a great way to improve this skill.

Investing in your business

Organisations benefit enormously from promoting mentoring programmes to employees. Whether it is traditional mentoring, or between peers and cross-practice, it is a valuable tool for skills development at all types of businesses.

At Bank of America Merrill Lynch we’ve partnered with Vital Voices Global Partnership on the Global Ambassadors Programme, which pairs senior executives, including leaders from our firm, with women leaders of businesses or social enterprises from around the world to help them progress their careers and businesses. We have seen fantastic engagement from our employees, who have relished the challenge of guiding and supporting others while also expanding their network. Programmes like this encourage employees to develop leadership and management skills, broaden their global perspective and build lasting relationships with women leaders.