Identifying that I could benefit from having a mentor was easy, and so was working out what I wanted to get from such a relationship. The hard part was finding the right person.
I asked myself a number of questions, such as ‘what level should they be within the company?’, ‘should they be from within my field?’, and ‘would choosing a woman cause me to miss out on another point of view, or would it add an extra level of support and understanding to the relationship?’.
Soft issues such as whether we shared a sense of humour, and whether we could communicate effectively on a safe and confidential level, gave me cause for thought and took much longer to resolve than the technical issues.
I realised that I would need to feel safe in expressing my hopes and fears to a mentor, but at the same time I would need to know that their feedback would not scoot around the issue, but be direct and well thought through.
Surprisingly, as I have spent much of my career in male-dominated industries, I chose a woman – Helen O’Byrne, general counsel at The Grass Roots Group.
Helen has children the same age as mine and works full-time at a senior level within my organisation, yet outside my field. She ticks all the technical boxes – she is highly skilled and is very well respected for the work that she does.
She manages relationships over many levels within the organisation, from answering queries from operational staff (as a member of the group board) to managing complex issues globally for the organisation’s chairman and chief executive. She is open and honest about the challenges that being successful – and a working mum – can bring.
She demonstrates an obvious enjoyment and sense of achievement in what she does professionally, yet most importantly for me, she does not give you the sense that her opinions are always tinted by the personal side of her life. She is a professional who just happens to be a mother.
We try to have one formal meeting a month. The format varies but can be lunch or an informal chat.
Things are constantly changing here so I see Helen’s guidance as one big project. She has been most useful, though, in helping me navigate how things are done here during some sensitive employee relations issues. I find her take on things invaluable.