How marketers are closing the mentoring gap

New research shows women are less likely to have a mentor than men, so how are female – and male – marketers closing the mentoring gap?

Lucy Ward Trouva
Lucy Ward from Trouva

Finding a mentor can prove challenging. Does it have to be someone in your organisation or sector? How do you approach them? What if they say no? Many questions can stand in the way of people finding the right mentor to help enhance their career.

In fact, new research from Paymentsense shows 33% of men surveyed have a mentor compared to 28% of women. Of those who do have mentors, men report having more 3.7 mentors on average compared to 2.5 for women.

These statistics do not surprise Lucy Ward, creative brand director at Trouva, the online ecommerce platform for independent retailers, and one of Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands.

“A lot of my female friends say to me ‘you’ve got all these mentors, how did you do it?’. I don’t think any of my male friends have ever asked me that. I think it’s because you have to be quite pushy to find these people,” she explains.

“It’s having that layer of skin where you can say it doesn’t matter if they don’t get back to me, they’re not rejecting me. And I think sometimes women are a bit fearful of pushing that hard and a little unsure of what they’re really meant to be asking.”

What a lot of people don’t necessarily realise is quite how much mentors get out of mentoring others, so it’s not an intrusive ask.

Anne-Lise Johnsen, Arsenal FC

Gavin Sheppard, marketing director at Smart Energy GB, believes that often informal networks of mentors are more male skewed due to the fact there are still more men in the upper echelons of marketing.

“I guess there is a broader problem, not specifically with mentoring, but with the number of women in top level marketing jobs and therefore the number of informal mentors that women have access to in those top-level networks,” Sheppard reflects.

Youth marketing product manager at Arsenal FC and Marketing Academy graduate, Anne-Lise Johnsen, believes that while there should be more mentors in general, it would be good to see more female mentors coming forward.

“I do genuinely believe that in general more people should become mentors and that includes females. It really is nice to meet someone who was in your position 20 years ago, it’s very inspirational,” she explains.

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Johnsen recognises that in general one of biggest barriers to women finding a mentor is the fact there is no established or official mentoring network, meaning it can feel “cringy” to reach out and ask a stranger for their time. However, understanding that the benefits run both ways could break down some barriers.

“What a lot of people don’t necessarily realise is quite how much mentors get out of mentoring others, so it’s not an intrusive ask,” says Johnsen.

“A lot of leaders love to give back and be part of someone’s journey and that type of knowledge about what benefits the mentor gets is not really that common among most people.”

Networking 2.0

Connecting professional women and quashing sexual harassment in the workplace are the twin principles behind Bumble Bizz, the networking and mentoring platform created by dating app Bumble.

Launched on 2 October in the US, Canada, UK, France and Germany, Bumble Bizz is a free to use networking platform which matches mentors and mentees in real time using geo targeting. It adopts the female first principles of the original dating app, enshrined by Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe, who in 2014 sued her fellow Tinder co-founders for sexual harassment.

Bumble Bizz collage

The idea for Bumble Bizz came about when the team noticed women talking about their careers in their bios on BFF, the female friendship platform launched by Bumble in 2016.

Bumble global brand director Louise Troen argues that traditional networking is outdated and simply does not work for women who do not have a couple of hours on a weeknight to attend events where there is no guarantee that they will meet someone who is relevant to their career.

“We wanted to create a place where you can sit in your pyjamas, on your sofa and network from your fingertips at home,” Troen explains. “Not only is that way more efficient, effective and time relevant, but it’s also safer because you’re not having to go out into a space with lots of men and women you maybe don’t want to connect with.”

I’m very aware I only got to where I am because people have taken a chance on me.

Gavin Sheppard, Smart Energy GB

Users are encouraged to upload their digital resumes and share examples of their work via their Bumble Bizz profile, which is completely separate to the dating element of the product.

Whereas the average age of women using Bumble is around 18 to 24, the audience on Bumble Bizz skews older at 24 to 38. Troen puts this down to women coming out of university and looking to shift their careers, as well as established business women who want to connect with emerging talent.

“We were surprised by how many women wanted to support younger women. We have a lot of established business women on the app saying they want to take someone through their journey or give back to people who might not have had the opportunities they were given,” says Troen.

“And given everything at the moment that’s happening with feminism, we’re finding a lot of people want to be involved. We’re creating a social networking platform for people you don’t know yet, and you choose if you want to connect with them or not.”

Informal vs formal

The route to finding a mentor differs from person to person, and often depends on whether you are looking for a mentor in an informal or formal context.

Trouva’s Lucy Ward is a strong advocate of female marketers “putting themselves out there.” She approached her first mentor, a magazine editor, after hearing him speak during her graduate scheme at PR firm Weber Shandwick.

“After the talk I sent him an email and pitched an article idea, as well as asking if he would be interested in going for a coffee as I would love to pick his brains. He said of course and it materialised into every three or four months we would go for coffee, drink or food. It was quite informal,” Ward explains.

“We were in different industries, I was in PR, he was in media, but he helped me because he understood the industry I was working in and could give me that outside perspective. That’s where my interest in mentorship started.”

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Having stepped out of the corporate world to take on a creative brand role in the startup environment in 2015, Ward found a lack of opportunities to find mentors in the tech space.

“It would be very unprofessional for me to speak to someone more junior in the team [about any concerns] and because we’re a startup between the four of us [founders] we’ve hired all of them, so it’s very different from being in a bigger corporation,” she explains.

This was when Ward got involved with Ambitious Ladies in Tech, an initiative aimed at supporting women working in startups to progress their careers. The mentee is teamed up for one year with a man in their industry and a woman in a different industry, both of whom they meet once a month for an hour.

Arsenal’s Anne-Lise Johnsen sees a variety of different ways to connect with mentors both formally and informally. An easy way to start, she suggests, is putting a status on LinkedIn saying you are looking for a mentor and asking anyone with suggestions to send you a direct message.

“I’ve also found that if you go to conferences and keynotes you can easily approach speakers afterwards,” she advises. “When I speak at conferences I always look through who is speaking and research them to see if it is worth having a conversation with them when I’m looking for a mentor. You can figure out what they do and intro through their topic.”

As a graduate of the 2015/16 Marketing Academy, Johnsen was also given exposure to mentors across different sectors who gave up 90 minutes of their time each month to coach the scholars. She met her ongoing mentor after hearing him speak at a Marketing Academy event.

“We started chatting and found out that we have a lot in common. After that I reached out to him on Twitter and asked for an hour of his time to pick his brain on a few things. From that its gone to an ongoing relationship where we communicate every two weeks and meet every six to eight weeks,” says Johnsen.

Having a mixture of informal and formal mentors has been important for Smart Energy GB’s Gavin Sheppard, who over the past few years has been working in a formal capacity with Professor Richard Jolly at London Business School. He does, however, believe that informal mentors are just as important.

“You will pick up people throughout your career who you like and admire so keep in touch with them. I have a finance director who was at the company where I had my first management job and I still meet him for lunch a couple of times a year 15 years on,” Sheppard explains.

“I would love to say I have the same relationship with the male mentors, but from having a female for the first time I’ve been able to ask her questions.

Lucy Ward, Trouva

“Occasionally I get emails from people who say ‘I’ve read a bit about what you’ve done and I’d love to have half an hour with you’, and I always say yes. I’m very aware I only got to where I am because people have taken a chance on me.”

As a Marketing Academy mentor Sheppard also gets the opportunity to meet young marketers across a wealth of different industries, which he regards as an incredibly rewarding experience.

“You come out with 101 questions about your own organisation and your own management style, things that you could do differently and improve for yourself,” he says. “The thing about mentoring is that it is not purely a charitable activity, if you’re doing it properly you’re getting masses out of it yourself.”

Pitching it right

The general advice for young marketers is to seek out mentors from the wider marketing community, rather than within a specific industry.

Sheppard cites the experience of a partnership marketing assistant at Smart Energy GB who moved into an insight analyst role after learning from mentors in other teams.

“She joined straight from university, but because we have a really open approach to career development and mentoring she’s started to spend lots of time working with different departments and realised she had a real passion for insight,” he explains.

Gavin Sheppard Smart Energy
Gavin Sheppard of Smart Energy GB

Having a range of male and female mentors is also crucial, as Sheppard recognises there are clearly different challenges for women in the workplace and it is important for female marketers to learn from someone who has been there and done it.

“For men it is important to understand from a senior female marketing leader what their challenges are and what they have seen on the way up, because a lot of the challenges women are presented with in business are presented by men,” he adds.

Until you can see women working in senior positions and mentoring young marketers you are never going to be able to crack the glass ceiling, says Ward. She sees that having a female mentor has opened up new conversations she might not have actively sought out with a man.

“I would love to say I have the same relationship with the male mentors, but from having a female for the first time I’ve been able to ask her questions that I’ve never really brought up with the others,” Ward explains.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t ask the men, it’s just that I find it easier to talk to her about things like how do you manage having children with a really hectic job? It is also very interesting to ask your male and female mentors about how they’d approach asking for pay rises.”

Already an informal mentor within the Trouva team, Ward has noticed there can be a stigma around when you can start mentoring, although she believes women, especially in tech, need to start mentoring younger.

“I don’t think you have to have 10 or 20 years’ experience. You could be middle management, but you can still impart mentoring wisdom. It’s different from friendship, because it’s purely around advice on ambition and guidance, but I think it needs to start early,” she explains.

Bumble Bizz

Sheppard agrees that marketers should not always be looking to the CMO for advice as they may not have done that specific role for 15 to 20 years.

“The natural thing is to say ‘who is absolutely at the top of their game?’ I’ll email Sir Martin Sorrell and see if he will spend half an hour with me,” he says.

“That’s fantastic, and if you can get a half hour in front of Martin great, but if you’re a marketing assistant there’s probably a brand manager in your own organisation or another organisation that can give you more meaningful advice at a level or two above you, rather than 10 levels above you.”

Marketers can tap into the different levels that exist in the industry, says Johnsen, whose first mentor was a marketing manager when she was starting out as a marketing executive.

Whatever someone’s level, she advises mentees to take mentoring seriously and recognise it is a time commitment, which means coming to each session with a plan and being prepared to take the initiative.

“Also be very thankful. Say ‘I really appreciate all of your help today, this has led me to X’. It’s incredible how people forget to tell others the impact they have had on them,” Johnsen advises.

“I got promoted while I was on the Marketing Academy [programme]. I had spoken to all my mentors about wanting to take the next step and they gave me loads of tips, so I emailed the six or seven I had and I told them about my promotion, highlighting the one thing they said that helped me through that journey. Everyone responded being really thankful for letting them know.”

Ultimately marketers – especially female marketers – need to stop being scared and ask for help, states Johnsen. “You may get a no or you may get ignored, because someone is really busy. But if someone is just ignoring you then it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”