Why mentor programs are smart for business
29 Mar 2022
Mentoring in youth development, schools and the workplace have clear benefits associated with positive behaviour and life outcomes. Organisations stand to gain from mentorship programs but there are risks worth considering when adopting a program to ensure that it will work.
The Warrior Woman Foundation runs a successful mentoring program and are aware of the duty to manage risks when implementing such initiatives. It supports girls aged between 15 and 25 years who are transitioning from out-of-home care (OOHC) and into independent living. Their work makes a significant social impact through mentors that offer guidance and support to women and often during a time of formative growth.
In 2022, a pilot mentorship ‘Young Warrior Woman Program’ is training 25 mentors in unique skills to engage with young women leaving out-of-home care. It’s a commitment to serious investment in building capability and one that is not without risks.
Founder and CEO Jessica Brown outlines the benefits and risk challenges of mentoring programs for organisations wanting to drive social initiatives. She believes mentoring can make a difference socially while also contributing to a healthy business culture if it can be managed in the right way.
The Warrior Woman Foundation Founder and CEO Jessica Brown.
“With more emphasis on workplace wellbeing and self-improvement, investing in development opportunities is a way to nurture and retain the best people. Most people want fulfilment and satisfaction from work so workplace mentoring can add great value to a business.”
Benefits are known to penetrate an organisation as a whole and in the form of personal staff development, good mental health, and employee retention.
“Mentors are likely to increase the self-confidence, self-awareness, and aspirations of employees. This leads to more opportunities for promotion and greater loyalty towards an organisation. The process provides longevity. Historically, many who have been mentored will go on to mentor others and contribute to a vital cycle of learning and development.”
Diversity in leadership, reduced learning costs, and increased knowledge sharing within a stronger work culture are other benefits that build resilience.
“Harvard Business Review research suggests the positive effects for people who serve as mentors experience lower anxiety levels and describe work roles as more meaningful compared to those who do not mentor.”
How to put mentoring into practice
A mentoring program needs a defined purpose and goals. It’s important to identify key reasons for it and what will motivate people to sign up. A business needs to ask what it wants to achieve and how it can measure success.
To design a mentoring program, The Warrior Woman Foundation’s Jessica Brown lists questions for organisational leaders to consider:
- How many spaces are available?
- Is it exclusive or inclusive? (i.e., are you choosing participants)
- If it is inclusive, how can people sign up?
- What is the sign-up process?
- How will you encourage sign ups?
- How will you launch the program?
- How long will the mentoring relationship last?
- How will you match participants?
- What is the commitment expected from participants?
- How will you monitor progress?
- How will you report success?
Implementation that minimises risk
“After delivering successful mentoring programs in the community for almost 20 years, I believe formal mentoring is the best way for an organisation to minimise risk.”
Jessica Brown knows that informal mentoring sounds easier but is emphatic about clear policies and procedures.
“When you are dealing with young or vulnerable people there cannot be any blurred lines…EVER. You must have all stakeholders enforcing risk management plans.”
She says that on-boarding involves thorough screening.
“It requires high calibre mentor training by a qualified RTO, matching, ongoing monitoring, support, and careful evaluation. I cannot stress how important this process is. On-boarding mentors should never be a simple process, especially if you are working with vulnerable people.”
Insufficient training and support can be damaging.
“Poor matching, and lack of monitoring and evaluation will inevitably open you to risk. It could cause devastating harm to the people it is aiming to support. If mentees have a background of trauma, a poor match or lack of adequate mentor training can result in re-traumatisation. No organisation should take this risk.”
Choosing the right person for a mentor role
The Young Warrior Woman Foundation has 10 steps for mentor selection:
- Have a rigorous screening process. It helps to establish the commitment of mentors who have many hoops to get through. Never skip any screening steps here (even if you may have known a potential mentor for years).
- Train mentors through well-established training organisations to equip them with the skills they need to fulfill their roles.
- Give mentors clear and realistic expectations of what scenarios might play out (not all mentor/mentee relationships click straight away). Trust takes time.
- The matching process should be well thought out and involve the role of a mental health specialist/s. Ideally this person/s should be part of the interview process too. Interview both mentors and mentees. Capture as much information about each candidate as possible to assist us with selection process. This includes asking mentees what sort of mentor they might respond best to, and the areas they would like their mentor to help them with. Do not rush this process.
- Give ongoing mentor support by qualified mental health professionals. Weekly group Zoom drop-in sessions can organically create an additional layer of peer support.
- Provide all mentors with a Policies and Procedures manual and a Job Description so that they are clear on what their role IS an ISN’T and who to turn to when the need arises. You can ask your mentors to sign a document to say they have read and understood these documents. Your organisation should have a Privacy Statement, Media Release form if you are sharing images/testimonials, Code of Conduct, Confidentiality Agreement, Safeguarding Policy and Plan, Grievance Policy, Incident Reporting Policy and Plan, Permission to Participate Form (if under 18), and a Risk Management Plan. Check that insurances are in place and regularly reviewed.
- Adopt a “Trauma-Informed” approach. Provide mentors, presenters, and stakeholders with a Trauma Informed Manual.
- Regular communication will help monitor progress during the mentoring program. Regular updates from mentors and mentees are crucial to identify any issues or areas of support needed.
- Regularly evaluate your program. This can be done by combining on-line surveys, mid-program catch-ups and exit interviews and final evaluations. Both mentors and mentees should be part of the evaluation process.
- Have a clear “end” of the mentoring program. This could involve exit interviews and a graduation ceremony.
Screen for safety
Organisations have a duty to protect staff and people they serve. Screening mentors involves the following basic background assessment:
- Working with children checks
- National Police checks
- Reference checks
- Google searches
- Social media checks including LinkedIn profiles
The Warrior Woman Program explores other aspects when assessing the suitability of a potential mentor.
“Their motivation is important and their willingness to embrace our training and follow our policies and procedures. Will they be a good listener and are they non-judgemental? Do they appear to be emotionally grounded and what is their level of self-awareness? Do they have their own history of abuse and neglect which may trigger them? How much time do they have for the program?”
Training a mentor is a unique and considered process
Jessica Brown stresses the importance of helping mentors to feel valued.
“They need to be given high quality training to be skilled in knowing what to say and do when communicating with their mentee. It’s an opportunity for personal development.”
The Warrior Woman Program training includes:
- Communication skills-active listening and calming and effective gentle questioning
- The neuro/biological effects of stress and trauma
- A Trauma Informed approach
- Mentor expectations
- Recognise, respond, refer model
- Learning language, behaviours and strategies for empowerment
Proper training reduces risks
Without adequate training, clear job descriptions, policies and procedures and a clear chain of support, boundaries can become blurred and there is a risk of mentors stepping outside of their role. A mentor may attempt to take on the problems of the person they are supporting, without guidance from mental health professionals for example. Generally, mentors are not psychologists and it’s easy for well-intentioned acts to put everyone at risk. Proper training is a duty of care.
The Young Warrior Woman Program has reported a range of benefits from mentoring.
“After the program, our Young Warriors will have the knowledge and skills to achieve so many positive steps in life. An independent personal identity supports their clear goals for a present and future trajectory of education, training, and employment.”
Jessica Brown says that a safe and stable place to call home enables young women to meet their own basic needs and provides a sense of belonging as part of receiving ongoing support from the Foundation tribe.
“Women gain knowledge and have the ability to manage money and save for a financially secure future. They learn the skills to run a household and to travel independently on public transport.”
Building resilience in young women and providing strong links to health professionals who give them mental health support is one of numerous benefits of the Warrior Woman Program.
“We know women are better able to identify and retain healthy, stable relationships and know their legal rights and where to get support. Confidence comes from autonomy. It helps people to feel they are members of the community who contribute in a positive way. They learn there is hope for the future.”