We Mentor was a successful UK mentoring programme funded through Directorate Enterprise and Industry as part of European Network or Mentors for women entrepreneurs.
The programme formally operated between September 2012 and August 2013, but its legacy in terms of mentoring relationships and opportunities; research, policy and practice implications continues.
Further information can be found on this site, or about wider EU activities through our partners. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sme/promoting-entrepreneurship/women/index_en.htm
Through the WeMentor programme, 39 mentors nationally shared their experience and time with 81 mentees. They gave support to these business women and assisted them to develop business strategy and improve business performance.
The programme has also contributed to a wider understanding of how mentoring adds to the business support infrastructure.
we mentor project
The WeMentor programme has been delivered by The Women’s Organisation in partnership with the National Council for Education and Entrepreneurship (NCEE previously NCGE National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship), and supported by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Women into the Network (WIN). The partnership has established and facilitated a national network of mentors for women entrepreneurs in the UK. This partnership brings a unique combination of expertise in the areas of women’s enterprise, graduate enterprise, mentoring and networking and small business services and representation in the UK.
The WeMentor programme objectives have been to:
- Engage, recruit and support 35 mentors, who are willing to share their experiences of running their own successful small businesses and who understand the specific challenges facing women entrepreneurs.
- Engage, recruit and support 80 mentees, who are women entrepreneurs seeking inspiration, guidance and support to developing and growing their business activities.
- Establish and enable quality mentoring relationships that generate benefits for the mentor, the mentee and both the national and European networks.
- Ensure visibility of the UK national network of mentors for women entrepreneurs amongst women entrepreneurs, the wider business community, enterprise support practitioners, researchers and policy makers in the UK regions, nationally and across our international networks.
The programme is now complete and the partnership has achieved its defined objectives with immediate results for the programme participants, both mentor and mentees and with a longer legacy in terms of research, policy and practice implications in the UK.
The programme was launched on Women’s Enterprise Day, November 2012 as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week at a special event held at The Women’s Organisation’s International Centre in Liverpool. Digital Champion and co-founder of LastMinute.com Martha Lane Fox was the keynote speaker at the event.
As the UK Government’s Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox founded the Race Online 2012 campaign and sits on the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Board. She is also non-executive director at M&S, Channel 4 and MyDeco.com.
Martha shared her experiences of being a woman in the business world and how she had often been over looked and faced sexism in the workplace before and in the process of starting her own business.
Speaking first at the event was the inspirational local woman in business Michelle Helsby of Evolve Creative Media &
Consultancy. Michelle, spoke about how her persistence of
networking and "always being ready to sell" got her to where she is today.
Through careful evaluation, the WeMentor partners have refined the blended mentoring model and disseminated the achievements of the programme and the mentoring relationships have been shared at 14 conferences across UK and Europe, and a series of blogs and digital media activities.
we mentor partners
Increasing the number of women starting and growing their own business is a key economic development priority. - Ged Fitzgerald, CEO Liverpool City Council
WeMentor was led by The Women’s Organisation in partnership with National Council for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (NCEE previously National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship -NCGE) and supported by The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Women into the Network (WIN). The partnership drew upon vast experience of supporting small businesses and promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and provided national coverage benefiting from regional and local contact points across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Women’s Organisation provides an integrated range of business start-up and growth services for women entrepreneurs across North-West England. Established in 1996, we have maintained our commitment to quality and an inclusive approach to service delivery to become one of the world’s foremost organisations supporting women entrepreneurs. We work with over 400 women entrepreneurs each year providing services including:
- Information, advice and training for new women entrepreneurs.
- Mentoring for growing enterprises to facilitate knowledge transfer between women led SMEs.
- Enterprise development and growth services, particularly through internationalisation, for women led SMEs.
- Management training and leadership coaching for women leading and managing SMEs.
- International research and knowledge exchange in the field of promoting women’s enterprise and economic development.
- Physical business incubation space in the ERDF supported flagship International Centre for Women’s Economic Development, at 54 St James Street, in Liverpool and at our Ada House site in Manchester.
The Women's Organisation CEO Maggie O'Carroll with Liverpool City Council CEO Ged Fitzgerald, celebrating WeMentor.
The Women’s Organisation has some of the world’s most distinguished academics and practitioners in the field of entrepreneurship and gender studies collaborating on our shared agenda and providing leadership for our international research hub.
Our services and approach have been identified as good practice by the European Commission and ranked as excellent by independent evaluators.
The National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE) formed in 2004, aims to raise the profile of entrepreneurship and the option of starting your own business as a career choice amongst students and graduates. By understanding the circumstances in which graduate entrepreneurship can flourish, NCGE's goal is to influence, and inspire, an increase in the number of students and graduates who give serious consideration to self-employment, business start-up and business growth. NCGE, based in Birmingham, is not only focused on graduates starting businesses, but understanding, developing and promoting a culture of entrepreneurship within Higher and Further Education through research, education and facilitation. It is the UK national focal point for graduate entrepreneurship and collaborates with bodies across the UK and internationally.
NCGE develops and delivers a range of business support activities across the UK, and through its Making it Happen (MIH) programme has supported 1350 graduate entrepreneurs with online mentoring support.
The Federation of Small Businesses is the UK's largest campaigning group promoting and protecting the interests of the self-employed and owners of small firms. Formed in 1974, it now has 210,000 members across 33 regions and 194 branches across the UK.
FSB’s lobbying arm – with regional Press and Parliamentary offices – present the voice of small business to politicians, policy makers and their advisers in national government and to the devolved assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland FSB. Regional Managers work alongside members to influence at regional levels. In addition, FSB Member Services is committed to delivering a wide range of relevant, high quality, good value business services to members. These services are subject to continuing review and will represent a positive enhancement to the benefit of membership of the Leading Business Organisation in the UK. Participation in the national network for mentors for women entrepreneurs provides an opportunity for FSB to add value to its existing services.
Women into the Network (WIN) aims to support, connect and promote members by providing personalised and practical services, creating useful introductions and linkages and representing business needs on a regional and national stage. WIN members include individuals, women in the early stages of starting and growing their businesses, those already running established and successful organisations, those who want to increase their impact within employed roles. Based in North East of England, they have members from across the UK and beyond. WIN has a set of online services that enables wide participation in the network. All member activities have been informed by recent feedback from hundreds of women in business; and the details adjusted to reflect on the specific real-time needs of members. Monthly events and e-zine, training programmes and online services provide a mixture of practical peer support mentoring structured skills development, new business opportunities and real-life inspiration for women entrepreneurs.
we mentor activities
Guide on the side rahter than a stage on the stage. - Zachary
WeMentor has focussed upon promoting the benefits of being a mentor for women entrepreneurs, including personal and business development. Drawing upon a extensive regional, national and European networks the project developed a bank of 39 quality mentors for future developments and role models. The programme successfully recruited and trained mentors from across the UK.
WeMentor partnership has used its existing networks including women’s network organisations, women’s enterprise ambassadors, business associations and enterprise support practitioners, to promote the opportunities of being a mentor to as wide an audience of small business leaders as possible. This was with the aim of supporting business development and growth to women entrepreneurs throughout the UK. The programme recruited 81 mentees and supported 72 of these into mentoring relationships.
The WeMentor programme has established systems, and developed and delivered quality materials and events to ensure that the mentoring process has been useful and productive for both mentors and mentees. The programme has implemented a blended approach to the mentoring process, combining face to face and on-line resources and activities to test how learning and communication opportunities can be maximised. Guides and training workshops were delivered to both mentors and mentees, and ongoing support was provided on a one to one basis and through national events.
Mentor Support and Development
WeMentor partners developed a programme of induction and support for mentors recruited onto the programme. This included a mentoring guide accompanied by a learning programme to ensure a shared understanding of approach, underpinning philosophy and technical support, as well as confirming EU support for the programme. Comments from mentors:
“An excellent session I enjoyed meeting other mentors the gender, statistics and the role of a mentor session.”
“I enjoyed learning about mentoring and gaining an understanding of the project. It provided a great platform for discussion “
Each mentor was provided with a key point of contact from within the consortium, from which they could request additional information, training or support as required.
National network events where held in 212 and 2013. The events took the form of ‘Afternoon Tea’ and were styled as relaxed events which encouraged exchange and shared learning.
Mentors were encouraged to participate in EU supported activities, including both the inauguration Conference of the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs in Warsaw, Poland (2011) and the European SME Week Summit in Brussels (2012).
These events, organised through the European Commission, brought together the seventeen countries involved in running the mentoring projects for women entrepreneurs including; Albania, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and ourselves, for the United Kingdom.
Mentors told us how mentoring has benefitted both themselves and their business:
Meeting other mentors and expanding my professional network
I think it has also helped me to be a better business woman; it helped me to focus on my business, and to assess my business needs and my business plan
Re-assessing the mistakes I made in the past in an attempt not to make them again with a different venture
Confidence to help and support others
WeMentor partners designed and delivered mentee induction workshops which encouraged to learning and development, and to create a culture that would continue into the mentoring relationship. The workshops were supported by comprehensive learning materials and were delivered in the first half of 2012.
Mentees were also provided with a key point of contact from WeMentor from whom they could access additional support as required.
A guide was developed to support mentees through the technical use of the on-line mentoring tool.
In 2013 we held national networking events were mentors and mentees could gather together to focus on specialist areas that had been raised repeatedly through the mentoring relationships. These events provided an overview and specialist mentoring surgeries around PR; Web & Excel; Legal and Excel and Boosting Sales. They also provided a range of networking opportunities at flexible times to meet the mentor and mentee availability.
we mentor resources
WeMentor adopted Zachary‘s (2000) definition of a mentor being a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage” and built on the notion of peer support rather than a power relationship, to establish meaningful and useful mentoring relationships.
The programme promoted that an effective mentor / mentoree relationship involves establishing a climate that the mentee finds conducive to learning and development, one where she is involved in planning what and how she will learn to improve her business performance. This notion of a learning partnership or learning-centred paradigm enables the focus to be on the mentee rather than on specific business skills or procedures. It also allows the mentee to take ownership of their learning, with both mentor and mentee sharing and agreeing responsibility and accountability for achieving agreed learning goals. Furthermore it ties in with what is known about adult learning, e.g. Knowles, 1980, recognising that adults increase their learning by being involved in the diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation of their own learning. Thus it is imperative that the role of the mentee is one of an active partner as opposed to a passive receiver and that the mentor facilitates that learning.
WeMentor has provided information, training and resources to equip the mentor and the mentee to adopt this approach and to reflect on learning from each mentoring intervention. This included mentor and mentee induction programmes and the production of support materials to back up technical and theoretical knowledge.
Examples of the content of these materials included:
A MENTOR WILL
A MENTOR WILL NOT
WeMentor understand that the first meeting between mentor and mentee is particularly important in that it sets the framework for the whole mentoring relationship. It is important for mentors and mentorees to get to know each other and to establish a clear joint working agreement. This will be driven by the mentoree so that the programme is tailored to suit her individual needs, with the mentor facilitating the process. Both parties will be encouraged to discuss their mentoring relationship objectives, expectations of each other and how the relationship will be managed, WeMentor have shared an ‘Initial Meeting Checklist’ to support this (see below).
Each mentoring relationship is unique but it is suggested that the first meeting covers the following points to avoid any misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities:
Confidentiality: This is key to the success of the mentoring relationship but, should there be any circumstances where confidentiality should cause a problem, this should be raised and discussed together by mentor and mentee, with a way forward identified and agreed by both.
Dealing with problems: Sometimes, despite best intentions, a mentoring relationship may not work. Often the best way to deal with difficulties is to try to talk about it openly. If there is no obvious way to improve a difficult situation then it may well be appropriate to end the mentoring relationship and request a new mentor (see below).
Closing the relationship: The mentoring relationship will draw to a close for one of two reasons:
1) The mentoring objectives will have been met and support is no longer needed
2) The relationship has proved unsatisfactory to the mentee, mentor or both. The project co-ordinator is available to assist the mentor and mentee but ultimately a new mentor can be chosen if necessary and a new mentoring relationship will begin.
The Consortium recognises that mentoring relationships fail for a number of reasons and will never blame a mentor/mentee.
Initial Mentoring Meeting Checklist
1) Where and how shall we meet – in person or on line? And for how long? How often do we need to meet in person?
2) What do we want/need to know about each other?
Social career history:
Domestic circumstance; interests outside work
What do you like/dislike about the sector?
Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?
Picture of success
How clear are mentoree’s goals?
What mentee wants to improve in their business?
Where mentee would most value guidance/advice/a sounding board
3) What will make this a satisfying and useful relationship for both of us?
4) What expectations do we have of each other?
5) What are our priorities?
6) How often and where shall we meet?
7) Do we want to set an agenda for our next meeting?
8) Are there any issues we should get to work on now?
(Taken from Clutterbuck ‘Everyone Needs a Mentor’, 2004)
In addition, our project partners NCEE developed an e-mentoring platform for We Mentor which allowed mentees to keep in touch with their mentor virtually. Once the mentoring relationship was agreed, they would receive a unique log in to access the private e-mentoring platform. This platform is not currently available to new users.
The online e-mentoring platform was designed to enable mentors and mentees to build their own unique profile on the e-mentoring platform and network with other users. Mentors could use the e-mentoring system to contact mentees individually or via group email and track their progress. Both mentors and mentees were encouraged to add actions to an ongoing action plan, share useful links and documents such as business plans, marketing materials and help sheets to support a mentees business journey.
we mentor impact
To say that my experience of working with my mentor has been transformational is not to overstate its impact. (Mentee)
The mentoring model was reviewed and finalised as part of the project evaluation in August 2013.
The mentors and mentees both agreed to a Mentoring Charter, and agreed the purpose of the mentoring relationship. Both mentors and mentees told us they had positive experiences.
How would you describe your mentoring relationship
In planning it was envisaged that mentoring relationships would be structured on a monthly basis. This structure worked for the majority, and relationships lasted between 3 and 18 months. The average relationship was over 9 months as they mentees were working to address a specific issue.
Consultation showed a range of positive impacts for mentors as a result of the mentoring relationship
The consultation also showed a range of positive impacts for mentees and their businesses
Feedback from mentors and mentees described why they thought their relationships did or didn’t work, this transparent response has influenced the final version of the model and guidance to mentors::
Honest, Clear defined goals / aims, Ownership (Mentor)
It was an excellent mentoring relationship because we based our working relationship on trust, integrity and mutual respect. We both wanted to be committed to the mentoring relationship, and we worked together in a collaborative way. (Mentor)
I think because I had experienced some of my mentee’s issues I was able to empathise, listen and offer discussion. (Mentor)
I really got on well with my mentee from the outset as we set very clear boundaries about expectations and goals from the outset. (Mentor)
Was able to help support and direct improved growth on all occasions. (Mentor)
My mentor is incredibly warm and open. It was easy to build a relationship with her. We've got on really, really well. She is also very experienced. (Mentoree)
The meetings seemed to lead more to her getting business than for her to offer me support, so I felt like she constantly drove discussion back to the areas she wanted to focus on rather than listening to my needs. (Mentoree)
Well matched personalities and business interests. Both parties committed to the process. (Mentoree)
My relationship worked because she listened to me and encouraged/empowered me to do the things I needed to do without interfering and taking over the whole thing. (Mentoree)
I was eager to learn and receive advice and she had the knowledge and the advice. (Mentoree)
It worked because, although our businesses were quite different, we have certain similarities of personality that gave us a connection to build on initially. (Mentee)
Sample feedback on mentors from mentees
My mentor was superb, responsive, encouraging, full of advice and support. Provided some real insight and though processes for me to follow. (Mentee)
I was matched to a mentor who had the relevant experience in the area I wanted to develop. The meetings were focused and productive and led to action points and feedback. (Mentee)
My mentor allowed me to voice and develop my own ideas without forcing me in a direction I didn’t want to go, she enabled me to discuss my development ideas. She gave me the confidence to address issues which I had been considering for a while. (Mentee)
She was very professional and helpful. (Mentee)
My mentor helped me to focus in on my passion for certain aspects of my business and allowed me to relinquish those aspects that I wasn't enjoying so I could really focus in on the direction of the company. (Mentee)
How mentors felt as a result of being involved in the WeMentor Programme
How mentees feel as a result of being involved in the WeMentor Programme