Qantas has run a mentoring program for female employees since 2006 when seven women were selected to take part.
In 2013, 25 employees are being mentored, including a pilot and a young engineer.
Gabrielle Curtin, Qantas’ executive manager, group organisation development, sees the scheme as a way to accelerate the professional development of talented employees. “We tend to partner individuals with people who will really stretch them and extend their view of themselves and their role. It helps them think more strategically about what they are doing and why, not just in their current role but in their future career,” says Curtin.
At a time when Qantas is going through a company-wide transformation program, and in a business environment that is rapidly responding and reacting to external events, it’s important to give managers time out for mentoring, says Curtin. “We believe it helps to transform managers into more reflective executives, which in turn strengthens our leadership capabilities,” she says.
At Qantas, CEO Alan Joyce has led from the top as one of the male champions of change promoting and mentoring talented women into senior roles. He is regarded as an enlightened boss and is often the deciding factor in whether senior women are sponsored up and through an organisation, says Jen Dalitz, founder of Sphinxx, a social enterprise that promotes women in leadership.
“If you have a boss who has gender on the radar and is focused on targets, then as a woman you win the jackpot,” she says.
One woman whom Dalitz has mentored received great advice and support in one division of a large organisation.
“She then moved to another part of the business and had a very bad experience that left her thinking: ‘is this the same organisation?’”
The reason mentoring is particularly important for women, explains Dalitz, is that “for men, mentoring happens a little more naturally and informally in a work context. They are more comfortable giving and receiving advice; women tend not to seek those opportunities or feel comfortable taking them. Therefore a mentor becomes one of the key people who can strategise the next move in their career.”
Seeking independent advice
Dalitz has found that a lot of women are paying for mentoring themselves because they’re seeking independent advice.
While any individual development is generally well received by company employees, measuring the success of it rarely goes beyond the anecdotal. At Qantas, Curtin believes this needs to change.
“Women coming off the program say it’s been great for networking across the organisation but it would be better if we could prove that they were able to collaborate with others to get complicated cross-business strategies executed.”
“I do think a lot of organisations are mentoring now and they’re not too sure of the benefits but they don’t want to pull it or change it, so they cross their fingers and say it must be doing something,” says Curtin.
“We are starting to look at outcomes such as: have you changed your job? What are your influencing strategies? Have you done more complicated work? We are in the process of getting sharper with measuring the success of it.”
In the current economic climate, where development budgets are being squeezed, assessing the benefits of mentoring becomes more important, says Dalitz.
“They’re not expensive to run but they have a huge impact on levels of presenteeism and productivity. Where else could companies spend and get such a big return on their investment? Mentoring is a great opportunity.”