Mentors help us all make it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2012, 12:00am


As women struggle to gain a meaningful foothold on Hong Kong's male-dominated corporate ladder, mentoring offers a welcome handrail that benefits mentees, mentors and their organisations.

Mentoring is a way of sharing experience, advice and networks with less experienced colleagues. Women in particular can gain hugely, as it can help to counter their effective exclusion from places where men traditionally network and share information, such as the bar, golf club or male-dominated business clubs.

The need for a counterbalance is great because women are seriously under-represented in leadership roles in industry and professional sectors, says Su-Mei Thompson, CEO of The Women's Foundation, a leading Hong Kong NGO that runs a well-respected mentoring programme.

'For example, in examining the 100 largest companies by market capitalisation in Hong Kong, only 2 per cent of CEOs and 8.6 per cent of directors are women, with one-third of HSI-listed companies having no women on their board at all,' she says. 'Meanwhile, women's pay in Hong Kong lags behind their male counterparts by an average of 25 per cent.'

Mentoring can help to re-balance the scales by giving mentees access to role models or experts in their own or other industries, plus practical advice, contacts and moral support.

'Mentoring is widely regarded as playing a key role in helping women achieve their full potential,' says Thompson. 'Mentorship provides a platform to nurture the confidence to challenge oneself to achieve new goals and explore alternatives. Mentors give recognition, encouragement, and support while offering shared experiences on balancing work and life issues and organisational culture.'

While mentees clearly gain a lot from the mentoring relationship, perhaps more surprising are the enormous benefits that companies and mentors say the mentoring experience brings them.

Susan Hutchison, head of human resources Asia-Pacific at global investment firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), says mentoring makes sense for firms.

'Research indicates that mentoring within a workplace environment can also have a meaningful impact on employee engagement, and gaining a clearer understanding of strategy and priorities. Mentoring can actually help to improve productivity through better communication, goal clarity, and the opportunity to have sought alternative input [or] opinions,' she says.

BNY Mellon has run one-year mentoring schemes for some time.

'We view mentoring to be of very high value within our organisation and one that has benefits for mentors, mentees and the organisation,' says Eleni Wang Istavridis, BNY Mellon's head of global client management Asia-Pacific.

'In terms of the organisation, it gives us the opportunity to create a channel for people to learn more quickly about the organisation and areas outside of the country or the group within the organisation they are working in, and improve the communication between different levels and different groups. And it generally supports our cross-functional and cross-country collaboration,' she says.

Rosemarie Kriesel, BNY's managing director of global client management Hong Kong, mentored two of the company's employees. 'Both of my mentees have taken on higher responsibilities in their jobs,' since completing the mentoring programme, which Kriesel says is likely at least partly due to their gaining more confidence.

Physiotherapist and acupuncturist Alice Yuen opened her own business, Alive Healthcare Centre, in 2011, when her mentorship with Anne Farlow, a non-executive director of Sage Publishing Company in the UK, began.

'Anne has taught me a lot [about] business strategy, training and communication. She helped me to think logically and explore opportunities in the business world,' Yuen says.

Rendy Ng Ka-man's mentoring by Judith Crosbie-Chen, legal director at Logitech, guided her transition from corporate lawyer to gemologist and chief marketing officer at Bee's Diamonds. 'With Judith's help and guidance, I feel I am having the best time of my life right now. In one word, I would say it's the confidence to take on new challenges in life that Judith has given me,' says Ng.