Mentoring partnerships that aim to support women’s career progression are not just beneficial for mentees, but also for the mentor, according to the chief executive of Angel Trains who is involved in a Women in Rail mentoring process.
Malcolm Brown has been mentoring Laura Addey, a business improvement specialist in Network Rail for just over a year. Their pairing is one of the first of 56 pairings to be set up by Women in Rail, an industry-wide initiative to support women’s career progression in a traditionally male work environment.
Malcolm and Laura were first introduced last September and have been meeting for one or two hours every six weeks or so, depending on their calendars. The main focus of the conversations is Laura’s long-term and short-term career aspirations. “It’s good opportunity to talk through anything I have been thinking about, any problems or concerns over a specific issue. It’s a chance to get another perspective from someone in a different part of the industry, to have someone to sound off with and talk about the bigger picture of where the industry is going,” she says.
Laura joined Network Rail in 2008 on their graduate scheme. She did one year on the scheme getting an overview of the organisation then worked in a variety of different central functions. It was because she was keen to move out of those central functions that she joined the Women in Rail mentoring scheme.
It’s been effective. Six weeks ago she started her current role and says her move was influenced to a significant extent by her mentor. “Discussing things with Malcolm clarified what I wanted. It was a real stepping stone for me to this more senior position being able to interact with someone on a more senior level. It gave me the confidence that I had the skills and ability to do the role,” she says. Laura adds that having regular time set aside to think about her personal strengths and to get an external perspective was vital in her decision to apply for the role. HR managers often say that women fail to apply for jobs unless they have all the criteria on the job spec whereas men will apply if they have only a few. Laura says Malcolm pulled out the skills she had which didn’t exactly match the wording in the job spec but were relevant to the role.
A symbiotic relationship
For his part, Malcolm says his role was “to shine a light on the aspects of her career to date and to help her take the next step”. “She is extremely capable and confident,” he states. For him it is about “providing an external, objective perspective”. But he adds that he really benefits from their discussions on what is happening in the industry and from getting another perspective. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. Working with people like Laura energises me. I am always looking for different interventions that challenge me,” he says, adding that it builds his management skills. For instance, since he has been mentoring Laura he has used this experience to further help discussions with two new recruits to his company about their career progression.
The mentoring partnership will carry on for as long as Malcolm and Laura both feel it is useful. They see each meeting as a building block, building on the previous meeting. The next one will be an opportunity to talk about how Laura is settling into her new job, for instance. It is likely to take place in London. Laura is based in Milton Keynes now, but is fairly flexible and she greatly values face to face meetings, as does Malcolm. “They add colour to the discussion,” he says.
Malcolm says he has benefited from a number of mentors in his career, some of whom didn’t even realise they had been mentors. “I understand the value of them,” he says.
Malcolm, who has supported Women in Rail since its inception, says the organisation’s mentoring scheme is one initiative that helps to address the difficulty the rail industry has in attracting and retaining women at all levels and in supporting their progression, but he stresses that this is based on merit. He has mentored women in the past and says he doesn’t distinguish between men and women. What is important is identifying potential. Asked about issues such as flexible working, he says he is trying to create a family friendly culture at Angel Trains for both men and women.
Laura has taken part in other initiatives and events run by Women in Rail and says they allow her to get a cross-industry perspective. “It has opened my eyes to what different companies are doing and allows me to make new friends and contacts,” she says. For Malcolm it covers all areas of the industry and enables people to discuss issues including flexible working in a non-threatening way because it is not company specific. “Customers and suppliers, employers and union representatives can sit at the same table. There’s a real mix,” he says.
On 18th November Women in Rail hold their annual conference. It will involve a lot of positive role models and one aim is to involve more men. “We are an inclusive organisation. Women in Rail is about inclusion and diversity,” says Malcolm.