SOCIAL CAPITAL: Start a Mentorship Program

traci-jackson-e1363021343171As a coach, I’m often asked by young professional women how to go about finding a mentor. It’s a challenge for everyone: Who should I ask? How should I ask? And then what?

It’s much easier when a company or professional organization steps up to offer a mentor matchmaking service, so to speak. CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Houston offers a mentorship program as part of its mission to further the professional and personal success of its members. When the mentorship committee, headed by Singleton Cooksey partner Traci Jackson, sponsored me to speak at their membership luncheon last month, I was impressed by their results. In two years, they’ve had 25 mentor/protégée pairs participate in the program.

“If we can help just one person get their needs met, then it’s a success.”

Can your company or professional organization start its own program? Curious what makes CREW Houston’s mentorship program such a success? Jackson agreed to share the secrets to its success:

Tell us about CREW Houston’s mentorship program.

CREW Houston’s mentorship program began two years ago under the direction of Stephanie Harrison. Approximately 20 pairs of mentor/protégées signed up for a year-long commitment. We asked each pair to sign an agreement to commit to meet or speak once a month. We also allowed our members to sign up to be both a mentor and a protégée–because learning never stops.

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How do you attract mentors? What appeals to them to step up?

We send out a blanket request to our membership for mentors. I think that what makes them step up is the sense of giving back or helping another person, especially a woman. Most of our mentors want to assist their protégées in not making the same mistakes they did or helping them navigate difficult situations in the workplace.

What are the main issues that protégées want to address?

One of the biggest issues is work/life balance. Even for those who do not have family and kids, they want to know how to have a great work life and a great home life. We have several mentors who are excellent in helping with these issues.

Can you share with us a success story?

I can only speak for myself. I signed up to be a protégée with a partner at a large law firm here in town. Though I’m at a small firm now, it was very beneficial to meet with someone at a large firm because that is where I started my career, and I understood how things worked in a large firm environment. I started our mentorship program right as I started as an associate at my current firm, and I wanted to know what I could do to be an integral part of my team. The partner I’d met with had done it, and her tips were very helpful. Midway through our year-long mentoring program, I was made a partner. I think some of the reason for that was the mentoring sessions I’d had with her about making myself integral to the team. Then, when I became a partner, I had a lot of questions about what I needed to do with taxes and delegating, etc., and my mentor was great at helping me through those issues.

What are the biggest “lessons learned” in building the program?

That you can’t ask too much of your mentors and protégées. We decided early on that we wanted to make the program something fun–not something burdensome. We planned three major events and a social event for our mentors/protégées. And we checked in with them periodically to make sure that they were meeting and that there were no issues. In doing this, we took the burden off the participants to plan out every meeting. And at the same time, we allowed them to set up a meetup on their own schedules without inserting ourselves too much. We made them accountable by checking in periodically, but we didn’t check in every month. Participated really appreciated this.

What are your top three tips for creating a mentorship program?

  1. Confirm that your members are willing to support a mentorship program. We wouldn’t have been able to get the program off the ground without the buy-in from our Board of Directors.
  2. Define what your mentorship program is going to be. We wanted ours to be different in that we wanted to allow a person to be both a mentor and a protégée, as you can never learn too much.
  3. Offer great presentations that will benefit your mentors/protégées and your membership as a whole. For example, since many of our members were confused about social media, we sponsored a great talk on social media.

More about mentoring:
“The Protege Checklist”
14 Questions to Ask Your Mentor

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