The Importance of Mentorship

This post is written by an anonymous guest blogger

Starting a new job is one of the biggest challenges we face, no matter what stage of our careers. 

When we enter a new workspace – whether within academia, adjacent, or outside – we most likely will need a navigator to help us find our way. This can be an individual (or a group of individuals) who guides our way and helps us to understand exactly where we are and what we need to do to thrive and succeed. Supervisors, line managers and/or experienced colleagues all play the role of a mentor. Mentors don’t have to be formal and acquired through a scheme, they can be informal too – those we meet by accident, on social media, through colleagues, or at an event. Having multiple mentors who fulfil different needs can be  really helpful, and ensures that we get support in different areas of our professional life. 

New workspace environments bring new people, new protocols and processes, new cultures, new team dynamics and new spaces to figure out. If you feel different to those in your team, the start of a new role can feel even more isolating, especially if you’re the newbie joining a well established team. Starting remotely makes things even harder, because you can’t work things out just by watching folks around you and listening to what’s happening. You have snippets of your environment broken down into multiple short video calls. Constant video calls are tiring. It’s stressful not knowing if new colleagues will respect your time or working hours, or their reactions if you make a mistake. However, remote working has had many benefits for many, particularly those from historically excluded groups and caregivers and this should not be forgotten as a lesson of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has revolutionalised the way we work and the way we view life – and in this sense it has been a positive development and hopefully organisations will adapt and keep this new way of working. But settling into a role – remote or in-person – can only work well if the current staff make an effort to describe and demystify their environment, offer tips, communicate regularly, check in on new team members, and introduce them to other colleagues. Hidden curricula exist everywhere within all environments. Office politics aren’t obvious. Not everyone enjoys answering questions – some even go as far as sounding annoyed when you ask “why? or reprimand newbies for taking up their time due to asking questions.  Promotion criteria aren’t always transparent. Opportunities to get folks into higher positions aren’t always allocated equitably. Stretch work isn’t always highlighted or offered. Senior mentors in particular play a role in highlighting these types of things. 

Mentors are essential and imperative for everybody – at all career stages. They are particularly critical for those who are from historically excluded groups who are at higher risk from not being allocated progression opportunities. Effective mentors demystify the hidden curricula which permeate professional environments, make sure opportunities are equitably distributed and advise on where to find opportunities if they themselves can’t offer them.  If you have the ability to be a mentor, you are in a position of seniority, and/or see someone in need – please be that person who lights their way. Remember what you had to know to get to where you are now, and tailor your approach to ensure your mentee thrives (mentoring approaches are not a one-size-fits-all). You could change someone’s life in a positive way and help them reach their full potential by providing advice and opportunities. Only once you start being a brave and transformative leader and mentor have you reached a point of being successful in your career. There is no point generating knowledge if you can’t pass it on, and share the excitement you feel in your environment and work with others. 

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