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Tilting the balance through mentoring

30% Club and IMI programme helps hundreds to advance in their careers

The Irish Management Institute (IMI) 30% Club Mentoring Programme dates back to 2015 when the 30% Club Irish chapter was established. "We focus on three things," says Gillian Harford, country executive with 30% Club Ireland. "They are engaging with chairs of boards and chief executives, influencing for change at a national level, and enabling talent. The mentoring programme falls within the talent pillar. We started the mentoring programme in Ireland in 2015. We looked for a partner for the programme and the IMI came on board very early. It has now become a flagship programme for us."

The overall aim is to help people succeed and achieve their full potential in their careers. “It gives people a chance to pause and think about their careers,” says Harford. “It also helps people acquire new business skills, but it is as much about reflection as it is about skills. It helps people think about issues they face in work, where they want to go as a person, and the challenges they face generally.”

The programme works by participating organisations putting forward two mentors and two mentees to take part in the year-long programme. “We ask them to nominate emerging talent as mentees and we want most of them to be female but not exclusively so,” Harford continues. “We ask them to nominate senior leaders as mentors. It can be very easy to get mentees, but not so easy to get mentors. That’s why we look for an equal number of both. The IMI goes through a detailed matching process to put the right mentor together with the right mentee. We want mentees to get matched with mentors from different organisations and different industries where possible.”

‘External cross-matching’

The programme is unique in Ireland, according to IMI head of sales and corporate membership David Magee. “When people think about mentoring, they tend to think about internal mentoring in an organisation which is aimed at helping people move up the ranks through personal and professional development,” he says. “In this programme we match senior, experienced leaders who have been around the block a few times with mid-career, high-potential employees. The real difference in this scheme is the external cross-matching.”

The mentor and mentee meet every six weeks. “The engagement is very much private and confidential,” Magee points out. “You can’t get that with internal programmes. Both parties get a huge amount out of it and learn from each other.”

“For example, a mentee from a retail background can be matched with a mentor from a professional services firm,” Magee continues. “Apart from the operational delivery, the IMI implements a detailed matching process to ensure the right fit and match. So far, this robust process has yielded positive results and, maybe more impressively, we haven’t had any no-fault divorces between mentees and their mentors.”

Six companies took part in the first programme in 2015 with two mentors and two mentees each, a total of 24 participants. By 2019, that had grown to 90 organisations, many of which put forward more than two mentors and mentees resulting in more than 500 people participating in the programme that year.

“We stipulate that one of the mentees has to be female, but the statistics show that about 80 per cent of all mentees have been female,” says Magee. “In terms of mentors the balance is more or less 50:50.”

‘Exceptional experience’

Eibhlin Johnston, co-founder of the Resiliency Hub which provides mental health and resiliency coaching for young people and their parents, was among the 2018 group of mentees. “I was working in JP Morgan when the programme came up,” she recalls. “The people in HR thought I would be a mentor, but I thought I was still a rising star even though I was approaching my 50th birthday so I asked to be a mentee. I found it an exceptional experience and was delighted to be part of it. I believe in reverse mentoring where you get people from different backgrounds to mentor each other. The mentor I got was completely different and allowed me to explore what I wanted to do through a different pair of eyes.”

She says people should open their minds to mentoring. “People think there is something broken that needs to be fixed if you need to get a mentor or coach. There isn’t. It’s just a way of having an external person looking to help you explore how to better your life. We do it in so many other areas where we want to do better. If we want to get better at a sport, we go to a coach. Why don’t we do it in our careers and the rest of our lives?”

The benefits go beyond the mentoring relationship. “Participants get access to IMI resources and invited to events like training workshops and seminars,” says Harford. “The mentors also get access to IMI masterclasses on mentoring.”

Johnston has no hesitation in recommending the programme. “I would 100 per cent recommend it to others,” she says. “You can’t see inside your own mind impartially. We create problems in our heads through our own thinking and then we try to fix them with the same thinking. We shouldn’t be surprised when that doesn’t work.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times