Tips & Guidance


How we can get better at recruiting female mentors

In a world where we are increasingly conscious about diversity and research shows that having women on executive committees leads to higher profit margins (see Women Count 2020 report), why are we facing difficulties in recruiting female mentors? And how can we achieve a better gender balance in our mentor pools?

This topic has been a recurring theme during discussions of the members of The Network for Coaching and Mentoring Entrepreneurs (NCME), so in Spring 2022 we brought together a panel comprising of mentoring programme manager Gaëlle Coullon and entrepreneur/mentor Michelle Palmer to discuss the key issues and how we can tackle these head on. The discussion brought to light that the recruitment of female mentors on entrepreneurship programmes is an ongoing process and one that must be proactively managed through 4 different stages.

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1) Programme

Define your why

The first step to recruiting female mentors is to define why you want them for your programme. Gaëlle explained, “A lot of the success I have seen from programmes I’ve run is because of the relationships that develop between mentors and mentees. This is because they can relate to each other and their common experiences, which is why diversity is so important, especially around gender.” She went on to explain, In terms of how mentors and mentees interact, female mentors tend to pick up more on issues for female entrepreneurs, for example, challenges when leading a predominantly male team, struggling to get them to listen.” As male mentors are less likely to have experienced this themselves, they are less likely to pick up on it as an issue, or be able to guide a female entrepreneur on how to address this.

Of course, there are many reasons to want female mentors regardless of the gender of the entrepreneur. Diversity of perspective, opinion, experience and approach can lead to radically different thinking. There is plenty of evidence to support having diversity in teams, and mentoring is no different.

2) The call

i. Make the language and profiles accessible

Entrepreneurship often uses use success-driven terminology, which can deter some females from responding to a call if they feel like they cannot relate to the language. Gaëlle advised, “Make the language as accessible as possible. Women tend to underrepresent their ability and performance. Focus less on seniority, think about the skills you are looking for, you will get a much more diverse pool of mentors.”

A way of making it easy for any mentor, regardless of gender, to determine whether they might be a good fit is to showcase current mentor profiles. Gaëlle recommends thinking about “sharing profiles of female mentors, show the role models that will encourage potential female mentors, give a flavour of the type of people participating in the programmes.”

ii. Target specific networks

“Our networks are powerful – in fact one of my networks brought me to Imperial.” During the discussion it emerged that Michelle was initially contacted when Victoria Nicholl, Head of IVMS (Imperial Venture Mentoring Service) targeted the WEConnect programme, which brings women-owned businesses together.

It is therefore very much worth looking at local, national and international networks that have mentors who fit the profiles you are looking for. You can actively reach out to the leaders of those networks to find out more about them and what their members want. That way you can determine whether there is likely to be a good fit and craft a tailored call for them if so.

iii. Be clear about the ask

Biases can naturally arise and it can be easy to recruit individuals that tend to look or act similar to ourselves. This means consciously taking a step to address that we may need to look for something different. For example, Michelle observed, “It is good to be explicit about what you are looking for. If you are asking me who might be a good mentor, I am not thinking male or female, I’m thinking about skills and experience.” So, if you have a particular need, make that clear when you are asking for recommendations. The best approach is to have a direct conversation with potential mentors, and even look through potential profiles with them if they still aren’t sure.

3) Recruit

i. Inject rigour into the process

Michelle described the recruitment process she went through to become a mentor “I had to go through a rigorous interview process, which signalled to me the value of the IVMS scheme to the University and its participants. Even though my time is offered pro-bono, having to jump a few hurdles in a process which included referencing made the opportunity all the more appealing. I felt it was a real privilege to get onto the scheme. Even though my time is offered gratis, my reward is a chance to share learnings, support and work with bright enthusiastic minds. It’s both inspiring and energising.” In other words, far from being off-putting, a clear recruitment process can reassure female mentors that they meet or exceed the bar.

ii. Be ready to reaffirm

There was a nod around the virtual room when Victoria Nicholl commented that it wasn’t unusual for her to have a wonderful conversation with an amazing potential female mentor, only for that person to question at the end of the conversation whether they really are a good fit, and whether their truly have enough experience to be helpful. Gaëlle had also observed in her experience that, “Women tend to underrepresent their ability and performance.”

Therefore, be mindful of not brushing it off should you receive such a response from a potential female mentor in the recruitment process and be ready to meet their doubt by reaffirming why you would like them to join the programme as a mentor.

4) Onboard

Hold an onboarding workshop

The last step in the recruitment of female mentors on entrepreneurship programmes is once the mentor has actually joined the programme. All mentors need to feel welcome and know that their time and insights are as valued as every other mentor. One way Gaëlle has addressed this is by commissioning a bespoke on-boarding workshop for a mentoring programme that brought all the mentors together to align on mentoring methods and values for the programme. This also helps to provide a warm welcome to new mentors and integrate them into the network with existing mentors.

What next?

Our panel of experts shared insights that helped us identify how the recruitment of entrepreneurs could be managed as an ongoing process through the different stages starting with defining the why for the programme itself, the call for mentors, activities in the recruitment process and right through to the onboarding stage.

We’d love to hear how you get on with this in practice, so please keep us updated!

Authors: Victoria Nicholl and Professor Harveen Chugh. First published on LinkedIn 24th May 2022