Fiona Irvine, HR director, First ScotRail: my mentor

My mentor was someone with whom I worked – he was the managing director. The actual relationship came about not when we worked together, but afterwards.

I mentored him initially, through a really difficult period at work when he was leaving the company after a long time. We became quite close. Being close and understanding each other has really helped. I kept the relationship going because I felt I could really trust this individual, and his judgement. I also felt that his working style was very different to mine – he had a real commercial edge, which complemented my style.

We’ve had this relationship for about three years. I work in a completely different industry now, so it’s great – I can bounce ideas off him and, equally, he comes to me for career advice, because he trusts me.

It works really well on both sides. We meet every two or three months. It’s mostly informal. We tend to have a proper meeting in a meeting room, but often then go out for dinner to continue the conversation informally. I think it’s important to have both.

It was a massive decision for me to move into this industry – it’s heavily unionised and very traditional – and I was able to sit down with someone who is very objective, and get him to take me through the pros and the cons. He was able to say ‘You’ve got concerns about this issue, but I have actually seen you doing this…”, so I knew I could do it. His experience really helped me. A lot of my deciding to take this job was down to having these conversations with him.

I also mentor a woman who came to me on placement, as a mature student, 12 years ago. One of the things we have in common is that we are both now in senior HR roles, but have children. A key aspect of our mentoring relationship is discussing how to manage that. Being able to discuss juggling family life and work has been really helpful for both of us. I’ve also given her advice on dealing with difficult colleagues.

Our relationship is a really strong one – we meet three or four times a year, but keep in touch through e-mails and phone calls. We just get on really well, and have really similar ambitions. People often talk about how women succeed at work – I think a lot of it is about having someone to talk to.

Fiona Irvine, HR director, First ScotRail

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