A mentor is something that I think a lot of PRs would like to have, but like the Holy Grail it’s hard to find and always slightly out of reach. Why wouldn’t you want an honest, expert and (most importantly) external point of view on your career progression, workplace challenges and future in the industry?
After returning from maternity leave, the Women in PR and PR Week Mentoring scheme called out at me and I couldn’t quite let the thought of it go. I came back to a situation I wasn’t really expecting – a significant promotion, a much larger business due to acquisition and a fabulous boss of eight years leaving after a three week handover. If I had ever needed to be reassured and challenged in equal measure, now was the time.
Putting myself forward for something like this was a bit of a mountain in the first place, as it’s not quite my normal style. That said I was absolutely delighted to get a place. It felt like an invaluable opportunity and Alison Clarke (@pitchwitch) was to be my mentor. Alison has her own consulting business working as a non-exec director, board advisor and commercial mentor to a portfolio of clients.
Alison’s reputation, credentials and experience are phenomenal and I was understandably nervous ahead of our first meeting. But I had nothing to worry about, Alison very quickly put me at ease and after a round of introducing ourselves we got down to business. The timing of our first session was also handily in advance of a couple of quite important meetings for me. It helped to shape my thinking and as a result I felt prepared and confident, and got a lot more out of those meetings than I would have otherwise.
We then fell into a pattern that worked for both of us either meeting or having a call every four to six weeks. Alison was always more than happy to chat and email in between, which was very helpful as not everything crops up at a convenient time around a scheduled meeting. Our conversations spanned many issues – some on the longer list of career goals and others dictated by day-to-day situations that arose for me. Alison was always very supportive, sage, candid and open in the advice she shared with me. And I have hugely benefitted from her significant industry experience.
Our sessions have slightly changed focus due to my second pregnancy, which has unfortunately been quite a challenge for me from a health perspective. But even Alison’s support in dealing with this and my preparation for maternity leave has been an invaluable part of the experience. Pregnancy and maternity leave can often be viewed as a disruption to ambition and career progression. Yes it does mean I’ll be taking some time out, but it doesn’t mean that I am less passionate about the job I do now, or will do when I return.
I’ve been very lucky to have a great line manager throughout a large part of my career who pushed and challenged me at all the right times. But what I have found most valuable from working with Alison is her external point of view and total lack of vested interest – the impartiality of a mentor is undoubtedly beneficial. Alison’s presence has in a huge part challenged me on a personal level to rethink what I was doing and how to deal with situations in different ways. It has also helped me to form my view on the opportunities for my future.
With my second stint of maternity leave shortly on the horizon I hope that Alison and I can keep in contact, as I plan to have many more years within the PR industry ahead of me.