Guidance notes for mentors and mentees of The Fair List, UK

Good company on a journey makes the way seem shorter

(Translated from the Italian saying, ‘Buona compagnia, mezza la via.’)

What is mentoring?

There are various definitions of mentoring; however mentoring is essentially a professional relationship, usually between two people although mentoring groups also exist. The two people are often termed ‘mentor’ and ‘mentee’. The mentor is a more experienced person who facilitates the, less experienced, mentee to develop professionally. This is made possible through the development of trust, openness, respect and a commitment to meeting regularly to share and discuss issues, either face to face or virtually.

Why mentoring within The Fair List, UK?

The Fair List, UK, as you will see from the home page of this web site, is an award for excellence in balance of women and men plenary, keynote and panel speakers at UK ELT events. The playful, annual awards ceremony for those who make it onto The Fair List is held at the annual IATEFL conference. Certificates are awarded. There is plenty of clapping and a few balloons! There is a different and interesting awareness- raising activity each year too.
The web site was then created to offer support materials for organisers, speakers and participants who are interested in improving the gender balance of speakers at UK ELT events. There is also a link on the site to a webinar for those, especially women, thinking about giving their very first plenary or keynote talk.

Conscious that an annual event, a rich web site and a useful webinar will be extremely helpful but perhaps not always quite enough to support a first time woman plenary speaker, we are now setting up a mentoring scheme. We have mentors, both women and men, who are willing to support women who are going to be first time plenary, keynote or panel speakers at a UK ELT event.

We aim to achieve a balance of women and men mentors. So why only offer mentoring to women mentees? Men can get nervous before presenting to a large group for the first time too. However, women do face a few extra challenges. First of all there are the big, dramatic challenges. Many women in our world today suffer from violence in the home, in war zones and elsewhere, from sexual slavery and ubiquitous pornography. Men also suffer from the same phenomena but to a far lesser extent, we would suggest. There is also a lack of proportional representation of women in the media and in the upper echelons of most organisations and we read daily of women around the world unable to vote, own property, drive, go out on their own without permission from a male relative and without a chaperone. As The Fair List, UK relates, as its name suggests, only to the UK, you may wonder why the above affects us. Even though many of us live in more liberated settings, knowing that all these restrictions exist affects how we women see ourselves, what we think ourselves capable of, how we behave, the strategies we use, how we are viewed and what influence or power we hold. Even within those environments where attitudes are more liberal, there are many whose immediate circumstances are characterised by a constricting influence. The state of the world may lead us to underestimate our abilities, making us unwilling to take risks of certain kinds, such as putting ourselves forward to speak publicly.
Less dramatically, the subtle, invisible pressure of our own society on women to stand aside, cede place, and be quiet will cause some of us to hold ourselves back.

For interest see:

So, although, as David Clutterbuck (2004) suggests, ‘Everybody needs a mentor’, women may appreciate one most, particularly if the mentoring explicitly addresses the issues mentioned just above.

Benefits for mentors

Why would anybody be willing to give of their time, energy and expertise to another in the same line of work and for free? Maybe because an experienced plenary speaker mentoring an inexperienced one is reminded of early challenges now mostly overcome, starts to see the job through another person’s eyes, is encouraged to articulate what they do, how and why, has the opportunity to share, to support, to help a fellow professional and thus to make use of their own hard-earned knowledge and experience. Mentoring a woman speaker will help to ensure the next generation of women working in ELT in the UK and elsewhere are confident. Mentoring helps sustainability and succession.

Benefits for mentees and our professional community

An inexperienced speaker mentored by someone more experienced can gain support, guidance, and access to a fellow professional’s broader experience and network. The mentor thus can act as a door-opener. Mentees gain refreshing contact with someone outside their own institution and professional circle and can take the chance to risk and experiment in an atmosphere of trust. Many professional women who are less than confident in the public sphere have considerable knowledge, talents and skills. To deprive them of the opportunity to use these to best advantage is to deprive the whole community.

Basic principles

Whether you are considering being a mentor or a mentee for The Fair List the notes here may help you. Let’s start by considering the basic principles behind the idea of mentoring, for example, that both parties have an equal stake in the mentoring. Both have the responsibility of helping to build an atmosphere of trust, maintaining confidentiality and discussing and agreeing ground rules. Both need to establish a clear plan for their time together with realistic goals and expectations on both sides. Mentor and mentee should keep each other informed about what progress is being made too and should try to find fun and pleasure in learning from each other!

What makes a good mentor?

I’ve drawn from the resources listed at the end of these notes and adapted them to our context. Here are some points you might like to consider.
A good mentor…

• has experience in giving plenaries or keynote talks and taking part in speaker panels.
• is supportive and positive.
• plans and/or reflects before and after each session with a mentee.
• speaks for only about 20% of the time spent with the mentee.
• does not dismiss the mentee’s fears as silly or trivial.
• is mindful of social pressure on women to stand aside, cede place, and be quiet and can work effectively to help the mentee lean against this pressure.
• remembers it is the mentee’s responsibility to take final decisions on the content, shape, materials used in their upcoming session and for the outcome on the day
• shares stories, advice, skills and information from their own experience, asks questions, listens well and helps the mentee to come up with solutions that work for her.
• respects autonomy, divergence and independence.
• maintains confidentiality,
• summarises the session and any options or actions arising.
• acknowledges what she or he learns from the mentoring process.

What makes a good mentee?

I’ve drawn from the resources listed at the end of these notes and adapted them to our context. Here are some points you might like to consider.
A good mentee…

• prepares for the time with the mentor and commits to the process as the mentor is giving their time free.
• is clear about the topics and questions she wants to discuss and can present her thinking so far on it to the mentor.
• is mindful of social pressure on women to stand aside, cede place, and be quiet and can work effectively with the mentor to lean against this pressure.
• remembers it is the mentee’s responsibility to take final decisions on the content, shape, materials used in the upcoming session and for the outcome on the day
• keeps the mentor informed of progress.
• tries not to cancel or reschedule sessions with the mentor.
• acknowledges the mentor’s contribution.

How can mentors and mentees meet?

Our informal mentoring scheme is a rolling one, that is, without a specific or limited starting or finishing date. Mentors provide an outline of their professional experience and plenary work. Mentees read these and contact this web site to ask for a mentor. A simple matching procedure will check who can offer to mentor at that particular time. After that, mentor and mentee are put in touch and take it from there.
They choose whether to meet face to face, by Skype, by email or by a combination of these.

First meetings

It’s a good idea to spend some time at the start sharing information about the professional background and experience, current position, likes, dislikes, and other formal and informal details of both parties. This will help to build trust. The mentor will need to know the type and theme of conference the mentee is going to speak at, the language of delivery, the type and number of participants expected and so on.
It is a good idea to talk about and agree the length, number, mode and intensity of meetings, specific goals and what might happen between contact times. See also the first point below about why the speaker is seeking a mentor.

Possible topics for discussion

Once the basic logistics have been sorted out, some of the topics that either side might want to raise are:

• The reasons why the mentee has asked for a mentor.

(If a woman is asked to be a plenary speaker, in most cases she will have been seriously vetted and be a known quantity, chosen because she is certain to know how to give a good plenary. So one job for a mentor is to determine what the starting place is for the particular mentee. Why is the mentee seeking mentorship? Is it in fact her first time as a keynote speaker? Is it because she has never been seen as keynote speaker material before? If so, then learning how to promote herself is a skill to develop. Maybe the mentee has given some talks, but they have felt lukewarm to her. Maybe the mentee has given plenaries, keeps getting asked to do so again, but has run out of material.)

• The amount of content for the time allotted for the talk
• Structuring a plenary
• Differences between giving a plenary and giving/leading a talk or workshop for a smaller audience e.g. the limited opportunities for interaction with a plenary audience and techniques for involving a large audience
• Means of presentation
• Balance and variety
• Is it interesting? Do I have something to say?
• Title, abstract, bio data, photo, blog post
• Being recorded and videoed by host or audience
• Preparing professional visual and auditory aids
• Technology
• Plans A, B and C
• Confidence, self esteem, self belief
• Calming nerves
• Fielding questions
• How many times to practice and how to practice
• Timing it more exactly
• Travel tips
• Voice
• Dress
• Manner
• Writing up the talk before or after
• Things that can go wrong e.g., plenary time severely squeezed by person on just before and how to deal with this.

If you come up with other topics please let me know!)

How to work on the topics

Questions, answers, reading, drawing, joke-telling, finding metaphors, stories, and personal anecdotes, imagining best and worse case scenarios, walking and talking can all help in mentoring.
When working on the issue of the deliberate raising of feelings of pride and self-esteem in women, try watching, reading, listening to and reading talks by amazing women speakers. For example:
– check out the photo gallery on this web site to get used to seeing photos of women speaking.
– watch The Fair List webinar for first time plenary speakers.
– go online to enjoy the many TED talks given by women. The link below is to the ‘Ten talks by women that everyone should watch’.

Useful questions?

Good mentoring makes use of tough or direct questions. Here are a few possible questions to consider.

What do you want to achieve with this plenary talk?
What do you really want to say, in a nutshell?
How will you make people laugh?
How will you keep people interested?
What do you remember most about the plenary talks you have been to recently?
What are you enjoying most about the preparation?
What women can you quote, cite, refer to in your talk and in visual aids and handouts?
What’s the best/worst that can happen?
How many times will you practice and time your talk?
How can you think more about the participants and less about yourself?
How will you celebrate afterwards?
How can you use the experience of this keynote talk to improve your next one?

Feedback between mentor and mentee

Here are some possible questions to consider together once the whole thing is over.
How did our mentoring go?
How could we improve it another time?
If we could change one thing (or two or three) in the way we worked what would it (they) be?
Was the whole process helpful?
Were there any surprises?

Feedback to The Fair List

If you have any views on the areas below, whether from the point of view of mentor or mentee, please contact Tessa Woodward, the founder of The Fair List at:

Please do let me know your thoughts so that we can improve the scheme together. All your comments will be kept confidential.

Areas to give feedback on:

– The purpose of the scheme
– The matching process
– Practical matters such as finding the time to meet
– How well the mentoring worked
– What was most and least helpful.