Career Conversations by The Careers Company Session 4

May 30, 2024

On Thursday 16th May, we held our 4th Career Conversations by The Careers Company, this time looking at how mentoring can help in making successful career transitions, particularly for those from diverse backgrounds. There was a spotlight on a case study of TCC’s own mentoring programme, Executive Edge which was trialled with NHS London. The aim of this programme was to help get diverse members of the NHS workforce ready for board roles, to address the disparity at present between the ethnic makeup of the general workforce versus board members. 


We set the scene by acknowledging that mentoring is not a new concept. It’s been around for decades. But using it for career transitions is a twist. There are many known benefits of mentoring. Developmentally, a mentor can “hold a mirror” up to the mentee, helping them to see where they are currently and thereby see clearer what they need to do to get to where they want to be. A mentor holds the mentee accountable for their goals and their progress towards their goals. A mentor also offers a more ongoing relationship compared to some other similar roles. 


We had a discussion about what a “career transition” could mean. For example, it may not always come in the form of a promotion. It could, one attendee suggested, be the transition back into work after a prolonged time out of employment for whatever reason. If the individual was moving back to their old role or team after a period away it may be difficult to assimilate again. It was felt by all that what was important for the individual considering a career transition of any kind, was that they gain clarity on what they want before making the transition. 


Having outlined the benefits of mentoring and possible definitions of a career transition, TCC then wondered, how can we take mentoring to the next step? TCC takes a two-pronged approach, addressing issues both at the individual employee level, and the organisational, systemic level.  


From the individual standpoint we asked how can individuals become more proactive in driving their own career success? How can they increase their “career self-efficacy”? Behaviours of someone driving their own career success and being high on “career self-efficacy” could include:


  • aspiring to and applying for leadership positions
  • engaging in ongoing personal and professional development
  • knowing how to “sell” oneself
  • making use of both formal and informal “mentors” in one's personal and professional life
  • having awareness of the different networks within one’s organisation and having the confidence to engage with these


From the organisational standpoint we asked how can the organisation support the career success of the individual? What resources can be provided? On this last point, one resource that organisations can provide is access to a mentoring programme, which is where TCC’s Executive Edge comes in. 


First a little more about TCC in general and its approach. The Careers Company proudly drives the career success of diverse employee groups. Diverse employees bring a wide range of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the workplace which greatly benefits a business. However, the career success of these groups is challenged. They are often under-served and under-represented in organisations. TCC is committed to changing that by working with HR Directors, Careers Leaders and Organisational Leaders. 


Now we turn to TCC’s own client case study - the Executive Edge programme run in conjunction with NHS London. In keeping with the mission of TCC to focus not just on who “gets in” to the organisation, but also who “gets on”, the Executive Edge programme was run to help diverse members of the NHS London workforce who were aspiring to board positions. We looked at why this is necessary and some statistics on the disparity between the ethnic makeup of the NHS workforce in general, compared to its leadership group. 


Looking at NHS London, statistics show that around 50% of the general workforce is from BAME backgrounds. However, only around 16% of NHS boards in London are from BAME backgrounds. One of TCC’s aims in creating the Executive Edge programme was to build equity into the system. One way TCC achieved this was to ethnically match mentors with mentees, so that there was a sense of “psychological safety” on the part of mentees, who could “see” themselves in the mentors. 


Unlike many existing mentoring packages, TCC’s Executive Edge consisted of multiple sessions throughout the programme, looking at different internal and external barriers to progression and how to overcome these. These multiple sessions helped keep the focus of all involved and prepare them for the next mentoring session by suggesting discussion points. These sessions moreover helped in shedding light on gaps in mentees’ confidence and skills. We discussed the importance of “knowing what you don’t know” in order to seek out resources and people that can help fill in the gaps. Participants were evaluated at each session. 


Again, unlike many existing mentoring packages, TCC’s Executive Edge focused on senior leaders and not just juniors. We found that there’s a myth amongst some professionals that their experience will speak for itself and naturally lead to a board role. However, we discussed that their professional identity may have to adapt as they move from their old and familiar role within which they may have great experience and expertise, to a new and unfamiliar role which requires different skills. Becoming a board member brings a need to move from a professional leadership role to a more general leadership role. 


In terms of the feedback from participants of the programme, one subjective outcome was a marked increase in mentees’ confidence, with one mentee remarking that they had started with an attitude of “why me?” and progressed to an attitude of “why not me?” It is a potential area for future research to explore whether and to what degree ethnically matching participants helped this progression from feeling somehow unsuited to the role of board member, to feeling that they are an equally valid candidate for board membership. 


During the open discussion, various other points were raised (some of which may form the basis for future Career Conversations by The Careers Company). These included:


  • the difference between sponsorship and mentoring
  • the rise in remote working which could mean less access to mentors
  • the questions of who is delivering a mentoring programme (i.e. is it internally or externally delivered) and how does this change things? Would an employee feel inhibited to give honest feedback if it was internally delivered?
  • possible vulnerabilities and negative emotions that can be stirred up (e.g. managers feeling threatened by their employee being mentored by another person internally) and how to minimise this such as by putting the emphasis on the mentees’ development
  • how should a mentee utilise a mentor who is not in their day-to-day environment?
  • the pros and cons of ethnically matching mentors to mentees. Although it can offer a sense of “psychological safety”, does it statistically make a difference in terms of outcomes? There may be practical issues in ethnically matching such as lack of availability
  • the existence and benefits of Diversity Networks 


Thanks to all our fabulous attendees, and representatives from TCC for making this event happen. We hope to see you at our next event! 


The Careers Company has a range of products and services to address the issues raised in this blog. Click here and sign up to receive our full product brochure. 

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