What We Learned About Mentoring From Covid-Proof Speed Dating
Mentorship, at least for us, has always been somewhat clouded in mystery. How do you get a mentor? What do you talk about? How often do you meet? As a mentor, what is the commitment I make? What am I expected to give back as a mentee?
At inVisible Creatives, a platform that supports underrepresented talent in advertising, we are often approached by people to find them a mentor. But we have always felt that it's a bit like finding someone a spouse: There needs to be chemistry between the two, the timing needs to be right, it's unclear what you're asking people to sign up for, and it can all feel a bit forced.
In March, we had an idea: We might not be able to find everyone the perfect mentor, but we can bring people together and have them figure the chemistry part out for themselves. We can demystify mentorship by creating a space where people who otherwise would never meet, can meet. Without expectation, commitment or judgment, and even without much hierarchy.
We set up Mentor-at-Home, an online (for now, but we cannot wait for the post-vaccine world, in-person version) speed-dating style experience. Once a week, we invite five mentors and five mentees (although sometimes many more than that) to join a Zoom call in which we put duos in breakout rooms to talk for 20 minutes. Twice.
The whole experience takes only an hour. We expected people to turn up for a session, and tell us how fun it had been. But what we didn't expect was this:
1. We learned there's a great appetite to make the industry healthy again. (We use the word "healthy" because we also learned a lot of people feel it's sick.) It's the connection to others, and finding out others share this feeling, that is the beginning of potential healing.
2. No one is trained to lead. We give mentees a questionnaire before the session to find out what area they most want to grow in, and "How do I move from being a creative doer to a creative leader" is by far the most recurring question. We aren't teaching our creative talent to lead, not by giving them courses but also not even by example.
3. Many of the mentors—ranging from creative directors to CCOs and CEOs—reached out to us afterward saying they would really like a mentor themselves and could we help them find one? Once a leader, we still need guidance.
4. Mentors get arguably more out of mentorship than mentees. "Mentors get so much from the relationship with a mentee. It's a joy and a privilege to be a part of their process and journey," said our mentor Madonna Badger, CCO and founder of Badger & Winters.
5. Peer to peer is underestimated and super valuable. We just don't offer enough spaces for peers to talk about how they feel about the work they do, and what their vision for the future is.
6. We are all so curious about people's experiences on the other side of the globe. Getting that "out-of-my-bubble" perspective is invaluable. And quite rare.
7. Senior talent is so much more open to giving up their time than you'd think. Or in the words of our mentor Ann Mukherjee, CEO of Pernod Ricard NA, "It was the best one hour I spent during Covid. It gave me hope for tomorrow." People stayed in touch. Continued the conversation over WhatsApp. Introduced each other to colleagues and clients, and got invested in each other's progress, fast.
8. Seeing yourself reflected is important. For young as well as veteran talent. That's why we organize mentorship in different languages, for specific territories and ethnic backgrounds.
9. Zoom doesn't have to be a dirty word. If you make the experience personal and directed, it can become a great tool to create meaningful relationships and connections for the future.
10. Mentorship is about safety. Not about trying to find a job. Real mentors are allies.
So far, 300 people have taken part, from all corners of the world (including Lahore, Beirut, Tokyo, Auckland, Santiago, Brussels, Atlanta and Quito). We've partnered with The One Show, Cannes Lions and Festival El Dorado, and many creative circles globally. We currently have more than 500 people on the waiting list. Our goal for 2021 is to secure support from brands for whom leveling the playing fields in advertising is important, so we can scale it to other territories and build it out to have more longevity.
Those interested in being a part of Mentor-at-Home can sign up here.