Mentoring is a voluntary, developmental partnership through which a person with relevant experience (the mentor) shares her knowledge and skills to support someone else (the mentee) in achieving her career objectives.

Why it is important? Mentoring plays a critical role in the progression of women professionals in all sectors. Lack of mentoring, exclusion from networks, and absence of women role models are continually cited as the key barriers to career advancement for women.

In our program at PWA Milan (www.pwa-milan.org) the emphasis is on professional development. Mentors are matched with mentees to support specific career or business-related goals.
Peculiarity of PWA mentoring program is that is a woman to woman relationship and that is cross companies with no hierarchical implications.

I am happy to share with you the first hand experience of one of our Mentors and one of our Mentees who developed a successful partnership with their mentoring partner and met their development objectives.

Paola Mercante, 2011 Mentor
“I liked the idea of sharing life and professional experiences with young women facing new challenges.” Current position: Independent Management Consultant with 15 years of experience as a Managing Director of two multi-national insurance companies
. Based in Milan.

What was/were your specific reason/s for wanting to work with a mentee?

Being a little bit ‘older’ – both in terms of age and professional experience, this was a natural decision for me. My only specific reason was to use my capabilities and experience to help other women with their problems. Three years ago, when I left the corporate world, one of the things I most sorry about was no longer being able to continue couching with my team. Nonetheless, since then, many of my former co-workers turned to me for personal or professional advice regarding important moments in they career (e.g. changing jobs, a promotion, sudden changes at work, problems with their boss, colleagues etc) It was very gratifying for me to be able to continue this ‘tutoring’ for people with whom I had worked so well for many years and seen grow under my guidance.

This is why I really appreciated the PWA Mentoring Program, and I liked the idea of being useful to younger women about to take important steps in their lives.

What did you gain out of the relationship? Did you meet your objectives?

Indeed, for me the best part of this experience was meeting other women and being able to exchange ideas with her, and where possible, try to offer help. I was very lucky because I met a very positive and interesting person, with good values, ideas, plans and full of life.

At first I was worried when I realized my mentee worked in a field with which I was not very familiar. In fact, we both wondered how we would reach her objective, which was linked to her work. Then I thought I might be able to help through ‘lateral thinking’: I would analyze her problem as if I were her client. We liked this idea and were able to get a better focus on her goals.

Goals reached? Hers was a rather specific plan; perhaps, considering the amount of time we had, I’d say rather than achieving objectives, we reached a milestone: we laid out a clear path to take over a longer period of time, but that would obtain better results. This means that while the 2011 mentoring program is over, my relationship with my mentee is not. And I am very happy about that.

Was there a benefit from your mentoring relationship that positively surprised you? If so, what was it?

Two things surprised me positively. One is that I realized that we can be helpful also in areas outside our own fields or in areas where we may be lacking ‘technical’ expertise. Having a broad view and way of thinking can be more useful than specific know how.

The second thing that surprised me was that by seeing things through my mentee’s eyes and via ‘lateral thinking’, I, too, received ideas, stimuli and suggestions for my career and especially my personal path.

Sobana Nallaiah, PWA Mentoring Program 2011 Mentee
“My mentor and I managed to meet once a month face-to-face. The great thing about our pairing up was that we lived close to each other and so notwithstanding our busy schedules we were always able to arrange some kind of meeting.”
Current position: Philanthropy Manager at International Baccalaureate, a non-profit organisation that aims to create a better world by educating students. Based in The Hague, Netherlands.

What was/were your specific reason/s for wanting to work with a mentor?

I was rather unhappy with the way that I was handling some aspects of my work and was seeking ways to manage and improve my performance. Looking back over my previous work experience, I had noticed that there was a definite pattern that was emerging in terms of how I reacted to certain kinds of situations. Armed with this awareness, I felt that a mentor would help me to learn how to deal with this revelation and further deepen my self-awareness.

What did you gain out of the relationship? Did you meet your objectives?

What I thought was really well done with the PWA Mentoring Programme was the matching up of mentor and mentee. My mentor Laura, was very knowledgeable about many things and also had experienced many of the issues that I was living through. I found that having a sounding board helped, as being able to articulate events, helped me to start teasing out solutions to some of the issues I was facing. Further, Laura always asked me questions that helped me to put things in perspective. She was very skilled at sharing pertinent stories that illustrated the ideas that she was trying to convey well.

My objectives were to start looking at how to improve myself and also seek ways of improving my career prospects. I started the process with one job and midway had been offered another job in another country. My mentor helped me to rationalise my decision to take this new job and opportunity.

Was there a benefit from your mentoring relationship that positively surprised you? If so, what was it?

Four months into my new job, I value the Mentoring Programme even more, as I know that having the support of my mentor helped me make the transition from one job and country to another, in a manner where all the reasons and need for this change had been well thought out. In the past, whilst I took decisions, I had not really stepped back to examine the “why”. I feel that the Mentoring Programme allowed me to take that step back and see why I was reacting (or planning to react) in a certain way. It has helped me to better understand what my motivations are for doing things.