Why Mentoring Is Essential in 2021

March 16, 2021
Nicola Cronin

In February we hosted a webinar to have this important conversation, welcoming speakers with experience in programme managing and mentoring personally.

The Speakers: 

  • Megan Taljaard – a Learning and Development Business Partner with 5 years’ experience in learning & talent. Megan has an interest in the power of social learning and how people learn through a variety of experiences. Part of this includes the running and management of NTT DATA UK’s Mentoring scheme, RISE. Megan expanded the scheme during lockdown, including launching a reverse mentoring programme.
  • Ivy Wong – a Product Manager at HighQ interested in innovation in legal services delivery through the use of technology. Ivy is an advisor to LegalGeek, the global legal tech startup community, and founded their successful mentorship programme. Ivy was also awarded a TechWomen100 Award in 2018.
  • Dragos Nedelcu – a Software Engineer and established coach and mentor. After recognising the importance of social learning and knowledge sharing in his field, Dragos joined mentoring communities, established mentoring programmes at his organisation, until finally setting up his own business, CodeWithDragos.


The Top Line: 

  • Mentoring is a no brainer in organisations
  • Stakeholder buy in is crucial for business mentoring programmes
  • Use mentoring to support under-represented individuals 
  • There's a disconnect between senior leadership and junior employees
  • Make a start, even if it’s small!


Back in 2017, Ivy had just changed careers and moved into legal tech, a relatively new industry. She wanted to meet people and get a mentor to show her what a career in legal tech could look like. Realising that other people probably wanted this as well, she approached the Legal Geek community and founded a community mentoring programme. 

Since then they have matched over 370 mentors and mentees in over 30 countries. Allowing people to connect and speak with people from across the world who have taken completely different career paths.

Dragos discussed the challenging nature of the tech industry, particularly the pressure and imposter syndrome.

“What I’ve seen personally, is that sometimes you need someone who believes in you more than you do – and they believe in you because they’ve been there themselves”.

A mentor helps you see beyond the obstacles and feel connected to the larger software community. Having seen a number of developers leaving their organisations, Dragos is convinced more human-focused support programmes like mentoring would’ve impacted their decisions. This is where mentoring can really impact business results, and overall happiness of teams. 

“In the software industry in Berlin, on average people stay with their companies for only 1 year and 2 months. It’s so expensive to train these people and it’s a real problem – one of the ways it could be solved is through mentoring”. 

A key learning Megan highlighted was the importance of internal buy in before launching your mentoring programme.

“Buy in from the senior leadership team is really important, because they’re the ones cascading it down and holding other senior leaders to account.” 

Megan also launched NTT Data UK’s reverse mentoring programme during lockdown. 

“When we were talking about reverse mentoring, it was around the time of the 2020 BLM protests. We really wanted to continue having these conversations, and give people the opportunity to ask lots of questions. We realised we needed an educational tool to not only breed inclusivity, but also to educate employees. Research suggests that younger employees are most likely to drive change when it comes to inclusion, so reverse mentoring was a great option.” 

Launching in lockdown was not without its challenges. Megan reiterated the importance of internal buy-in, leveraging networks within the business such as the women’s network. With reverse mentoring, it’s even more important to make sure you have a big group of junior mentors on board before approaching senior leaders to be mentees. Fortunately for NTT Data UK, Simon Williams the CEO said he’d love to be involved, setting a great example.

Why Now? 

With remote working, loneliness and mental health are more relevant than ever within business. We discussed the impact mentoring can have here, and how our current circumstances make it even more important. 

“Employees feel isolated from the business. We need to create touchpoints and make sure we’re connecting with employees. Mentoring now in 2021 goes beyond what it used to, it’s potentially talking deeply about how you are doing, how you are juggling everything and so on.” 

Particularly with new starters, a real challenge Megan raised is sharing the company culture virtually and making them feel a part of the business. Similarly, Dragos touched on businesses struggling with onboarding new employees during this time without the human connection of going into the office. Mentoring schemes have been one of the tools used to help people feel part of something. 

Ivy also reflected on the impact the past year has had on all of us personally. 

“Globally we’re in a period of reflection right now. What are we going to take away from this pandemic? Mentoring is an avenue for you to work through this deep thinking.” 


Diversity 

One of the most important aspects of mentoring we discussed is it’s impact when it comes to diversity and inclusion. 

“If you look at UK law firms from a gender perspective, despite half of all lawyers being female, only 29% of partners are women. From an ethnicity perspective, 8% of partners are from BAME backgrounds, and they make up only 11% of the overall law workforce.” 

Despite this, Ivy is hopeful for the future. LegalGeek is building a community that is inclusive and diverse which she believes will have a great impact. 

“I hope this mentorship programme will lay the foundations so that when the industry grows, we have a diverse talent pipeline ready and waiting. Mentorship will play a really big role helping us achieve that.” 

Similarly, more than half of Dragos’ mentees are women. When women make up only 14% of the software engineering workforce, it’s essential businesses are providing additional support to diversify their tech teams. 

“We’re seeing this disconnect in the industry with the new generation of developers and the senior leaders. Extremely talented individuals are becoming disenchanted with their work, mainly because of this lack of guidance and connection.” 

With more and more diverse coders entering the workforce, senior leaders are losing touch with the people they are leading. Mentoring can solve this disconnect. For executives to sit down with the new generation of employees and understand their perspectives, share their experiences, it can only lead to a more motivated workforce and business results. 


Mentoring Challenges

One of the challenges discussed by Megan was communicating the benefits of mentoring, particularly for mentors. They found while mentees responded to the personal benefits of mentoring, such as increased confidence etc, mentors responded to the wider business benefits such as retention and engagement.

Dragos built on this point, saying a huge benefit for mentors is the ability to share their passion and learnings, and expose themselves to a fresh perspective from the younger generation. 

“You can encourage C-suite to get involved by emphasising the benefits of showing someone the industry through their eyes. They can even gain clarity on the business by explaining it to someone junior. Executives could have been doing the same thing for 20+ years, it’s great for them to communicate their passions to someone just starting out.” 

Another challenge Megan has faced during lockdown is making sure mentoring sessions are happening with everybody working from home. This lack of visibility can be difficult for programme managers to track their programmes, which is where a mentoring software like Guider can help.


Top Tips 

Providing mentor and mentee guidance is crucial! NTT Data UK provides participants with detailed packs on what it means to be in a mentoring relationship, what to do for their sessions, how to get the most out of the experience and so on. 

“This is even more important with reverse mentoring, as you’re asking junior employees to come in and potentially mentor the CEO, so we need to upskill them to have the confidence in that relationship. Particularly with challenging and pushing back, as that can be very daunting. We ran workshops for reverse mentoring mentors before the programme started.”  

Ivy agreed that while the mentoring sessions themselves are valuable, what is often overlooked is the time it takes to prepare for that session. That’s when you’re really working through your thoughts and figuring out what is important to you, or how you can help someone else. It’s vital that we set this time aside. 

Megan also highlighted confidentiality. Mentoring relies on mentees being more vulnerable, and so it’s crucial to remove it from their performance reports and distance it from their line managers, assuring that layer of privacy.

Ivy's advice was to start small, but start...

“Don’t feel like you need change the world – if one pair come out and experience the benefits, I personally think it’s worth it” 


In terms of the benefits for the organisation and approaching that with stakeholders, Ivy highlighted the long term positive effect of mentoring. When mentoring relationships are strong, they carry on well beyond the 6 month timeframe or however long your programmes are set for. So while immediate ROI is hard to prove sometimes, that relationship will continue to grow and add value well beyond the programme, and is likely to even come full circle with mentees helping mentors too. 

Similarly from Dragos: 

“Mentoring is a must in 2021. It always has been, but now it’s in your face. My advice for business leaders is to just give it a shot. I know mentoring doesn’t seem so easy to quantify, but companies are ultimately about people – and if that’s not important to you, you should reevaluate things!” 


Success Stories

 Across all of our panelists, there were plenty of mentoring success stories to share. From promotions and pay rises, to mentors hiring mentees into their companies. 

With Megan’s reverse mentoring programme, they’re already seeing the impact from an inclusivity perspective.

“It’s been so great to see reverse mentoring leading to change in policy within NTT, because leaders are getting exposed to fresh perspectives, they’re getting challenged and being held accountable.” 


It was such a pleasure to have this conversation with Megan, Ivy and Dragos.

If you missed it, you can catch up on the recording here: 


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