Liz Williams Director, Digital Society, BT Group: Mentoring.  It’s an interesting word.

Mentoring.  It’s an interesting word.  The dictionary definition is “an experienced and trusted advisor.”   But it can mean quite different things to different people.

Mentoring can be a deep, long-term commitment.  For example, @AmyCaton who leads BT’s Work Ready employability programme has been supporting a local initiative run by MAPS Mentoring where she’s been working for a year with a young person she meets weekly. These meetings are a safe space for her mentee to talk and be listened to.

Mentoring can also be much shorter, focused interactions.  It’s important not to let the ‘M’ word be too daunting.  It’s simply inviting someone you trust to offer advice based on their experience.

Writing this blog got me thinking about the people who’ve played a pivotal role in my personal and professional development.  Lots of people came to mind, often situation based.  For example, the senior leader who, when I was pregnant in my twenties, shared with me her insights as a working mother, including the nugget:  “Your kids don’t need you any less when they go to school, they just need you in different ways and at different times.”  Her words stayed with me and helped me shape the kind of working mum I wanted to be.  And the colleagues that challenged me to see myself differently and throw my hat in the ring and apply to be Chair of the Good Things Foundation. Many more examples came to mind, but there’s no-one that I can point to and say: “they were my mentor.”

I don’t see that as a bad thing.  Now I come to think about it in more depth, I realise it also reflects how I approach mentoring with others.  I can’t think of any relationship that has been formally labelled as me being someone’s mentor. I can, however, think of lots of people in whom I take a personal interest and enjoy wonderful conversations on a regular basis about what they are doing and the challenges they face.  I can also think of many one-off conversations where hopefully I’ve been able to add value to someone else’s thinking about themselves.

What’s also striking is just how much I get from those interactions.  I love hearing what others are working on, the things that are on their mind and, if I can offer some additional perspective that they find helpful, then that’s a brilliant feeling.  But it doesn’t only feel good; normally I learn something along the way.

Trusted advisors (or mentors!) are key to schemes run by BT and other Movement to Work employer members. I love seeing the reaction from young people on our Work Ready programme, who may not have had great role models to draw on, when one of our bright, sparky apprentices talks from the heart.   Suddenly they have someone they can identify with, who provides that important source of inspiration and aspiration.    And what I also hear so often is the effect that these young people have on their ‘mentors’, and others around them. Many have been through tough challenges, and yet have managed to set themselves on a positive road to employment.    ‘Inspiring’ is a word that can be used too often, but it may not be strong enough when the very people who are being mentored become ‘accidental mentors’ themselves.

Mentoring – don’t let the word put you off or have some fixed idea what it should mean. You can find mentors – people who will help and advise you – at every turn if you’re open to  the opportunity.


Find out more about BT’s Work Ready programme