Across the country, 20 men and 20 women are currently taking part in Bloom’s first-ever mutual mentoring programme – The Exchange. The aim? To close the gender divide in the advertising and communications industry, one conversation at a time. Jackie Scully caught up with Bloom President, Stephanie Matthews to find out what you can learn when your mentor sees the world through different eyes…
When we think about what makes a great mentor, we’re often drawn to people who think
like us, approach work like us and have a career path that looks not dissimilar to the one
we’re trying to carve out for ourselves. But, as Stephanie Matthews discovered when she started working with mentor Roger, the best mentoring relationship is not about searching for the more experienced and polished version of you.
In fact, it’s sometimes the exact opposite.
‘My driver for seeking a mentor was my career path,’ says Stephanie. ‘I’d fallen into advertising research when I moved back to London from Australia in 2016 and wanted to get back into marcomms, yet wasn’t quite sure how. When looking for a mentor, I purposefully chose an older, white male as I wanted to understand how they viewed the world. If they created the societal structures we co-exist in, I wanted a front-row seat on how to navigate it.’
‘He lived up to that and more,’ she adds. ‘Working with Roger turbo-charged my confidence as I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone. He encouraged me to find my voice – both in person and online. I found that I enjoyed writing in areas passionate to me around gender and LGBT+ equality. He gave me the confidence to pursue that and not be shy about sharing my views with the world. Roger helped me formulate a plan and also quickly deduced my real long-term goal was around finding a path to work in the US.’
From the early days of calls and emails (they met for the first time after a year), Roger is now firmly in Stephanie’s ‘personal boardroom’ as an ‘inspirer and/or nerve-giver, depending on the situation’. ‘I feel lucky to have been matched with Roger,’ says Stephanie. ‘I found him at a pivotal point in my career where he helped me grow and fulfil my professional goals. I feel grateful we’ve created a partnership where I can show my insecurities and he’s got my back. I’m fortunate to have that level of support in life generally – he’s basically my work dad.’
What started as a search for career direction quickly became a fascinating insight into how men interpret the workplace and their place in it. So, when Stephanie was appointed Bloom President this year, she was determined to both engage men in the agenda of the organisation and ensure members get the opportunity to learn from a male mentor.
‘For me, having a male lens has had a huge impact on the way I approach my career,’ says Stephanie, ‘and it was something I had to share and pass on. Victoria Brooks, Bloom’s Vice-President ran with the idea and developed this from a one-way relationship into a cross-mentoring programme called The Exchange. In an industry first, senior industry men are
matched with Bloom women, and each partner benefits. There’s no hierarchy. Both are equal. Both are teachers. Both are students. Both are mentors. Both are learning from each other. We have created a safe space to challenge, learn and educate both genders in the workplace.’
With the scheme still underway, it is too early to draw conclusions, but what we do know is that Bloom women are already mentoring senior men on how best to retain female talent and men are already helping Bloom women overcome the barriers to leadership in their own career. ‘I’m
hoping to have seen open and honest conversations between the pairs, that challenge the way both look at gender stereotypes in the workplace,’ adds Stephanie. ‘I’m hoping to have seen new ways of thinking with a genuine empathy and understanding around each others’ challenges.’
‘Partnering with senior men means The Exchange has an opportunity to impact real culture change from the top down. I want to see new programmes and initiatives implemented by our male mentors at their companies, that support not hinder women throughout their career
journey. I’m also a realist though and know this change won’t happen overnight as many of the barriers faced are the result of ingrained ways of thinking. But we can start with small steps to subvert that thinking and educate.’
There’s still time to grab your ticket for Bloomfest to hear all about The Exchange. And, if you’d like to be considered for the next mentoring programme (and are not yet a Bloom member), sign up to the mailing list to be the first to hear when the 2020 applications process opens.