Below Alexandra gives her thoughts on mentoring, the practical support mentors can offer and how mentoring helps foster an inclusive corporate culture.
As CEO, how important is mentoring and fostering a culture of support within your organisation?
Firstly, let’s start with the importance of culture: I think about culture as the fabric of an organisation. Everyone should feel like they are a part of that fabric, or at least able to identify with it. It's very easy for people who are born into certain circles or countries or cultures to forget how difficult it is for people on the periphery of these circles to make the same connections at work.
I see mentoring as a process that helps create that common fabric. It's a very personal thing for me. I moved around a lot in my life, and so most of the time I felt like an outsider. I always really appreciated the help and support I received when I felt I needed that extra bit of guidance or a helping hand, or even just someone to sit down with and listen to me – to help me think through professional choices, because it's very difficult when you don’t have a proper frame of reference.
Support and mentoring are critical - they create a stronger culture. They help retain the people you want to retain. Everyone has hurdles to overcome; careers are not linear. But when you go through a challenging period, it’s the people you have around you that become the difference between making it out the other side stronger or falling behind.
What mentor schemes, formal or informal, have you been a part of and what did they involve?
Most of my experience as a mentor has been through informal arrangements. In terms of formal mentoring schemes, I'm part of the 30% Club, managed by Moving Ahead|Women Ahead, and helped to implement the scheme at JOHCM. This mentoring scheme is a cross-company and cross-industry initiative, offering the opportunity for both mentors and mentees to be matched across different companies.
A typical mentee relationship for me involves having in-depth conversations on a monthly basis. I'll spend an hour or more talking through issues or providing guidance. But often my mentees will reach out to me when they've reached a crossroad in their careers, so we may have several meetings within the space of one or two weeks if they feel they need someone to guide them through a situation or decision. Otherwise, we may only meet every 2-3 months. The most effective mentoring relationships are not necessarily the most regular ones in terms of frequency. Often just knowing that someone is there and willing to help provides a big psychological boost. If they come to a point in their career where they need advice and help, I will make time for them. They have to be the priority.
The first part of any meeting involves listening to and understanding what it is that they are dealing with or what's difficult. Usually the trigger for a meeting comes from a professional dilemma. But often the conversation weaves its way into personal life. Once I feel I know enough about the issue, I can offer my thoughts or ask questions to prompt an alternative viewpoint. I often recommend books, or send them chapters that I think are particularly relevant – usually frameworks on how to think about certain issues or responses to questions around, for example, networking or building analytical capital. Sometimes I introduce them to other people who I think they might be interested in who could help.
How does diversity play a role in both mentoring and workplace culture?
Diversity goes hand-in-hand with mentoring. It goes hand-in-hand with creating an inclusive, tolerant, fair and better environment for everyone. It is what attracts and retains good people. It's the understanding that a prestigious job with a healthy paycheck on its own is not enough. There is a human side to things. We're not robots. We're human beings and therefore we need to connect at the human level.
I was one of the co-founders of The Diversity Project, which also has a mentoring arm. The Diversity Project broadens the remit beyond just women. It's about diversity in all its forms, whether it’s socioeconomic backgrounds (which I think tends to be one of the biggest barriers to entry in asset management), or ethnic minorities, or sexual orientation. The finance industry tends to be quite conservative and it can be difficult for these communities to open up.
The Diversity Project aims to tackle all of these biases within asset management specifically, but hopefully with a view to then extending it across the financial industry. If we can get enough people participating, we can move the dial together as an industry. It is important to involve not just the community that you're trying to help, but people from other communities to be your allies and supporters.
Diversity helps us avoid groupthink. Many of the disasters we've seen over the past 20 years stem from bad decisions made by leaders which went unchallenged because they hired deputies who had the same background and the same way of thinking – they went to the same schools, did the same kind of degrees, played golf at the same club. Everyone exists within their own little bubble. And when everyone has the same narrow set of experiences in a work place, good decision-making becomes more difficult. It is a reality check for me as a leader. I want to be challenged and I want to create a firm where people feel comfortable challenging each other. But to be able to do that requires respect and trust. Work in this area is never finished. Being the CEO, I feel there is so much more I can do, both in using my role and my network in order to support and help others.
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