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Mentors help us all make it

Published on Friday, 13 Apr 2012
Su-Mei Thompson
The Women’s Foundation
Rosemarie Kriesel
BNY Mellon
Susan Hutchison
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts
Rendy Ng Ka-man
Bee’s Diamonds
Alice Yuen
Eleni Wang Istavridis

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 from the experience as it can help to counter their effective exclusion from places where men traditionally network and share information such as the bar, the golf club or male-dominated business clubs.

The need to find 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 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,” Thompson says. “Meanwhile, women’s pay lags behind their male counterparts by an average of 25 per cent.”

These woeful figures point to an astounding under-utilisation of the city’s female talent. Mentoring can help to re-balance the scales by giving mentees access to role models or experts in their own – or other – industries as well as practical advice, useful contacts and moral support.

“Mentoring is widely regarded as playing a key role in helping women to achieve their full potential,” says Thompson. “It provides a platform to nurture the confidence to challenge oneself to achieve new goals and explore alternatives. Mentors give mentees 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 huge benefits companies and mentors say the experience brings them too.
Susan Hutchison, head of human resources Asia-Pacific at global investment firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), says mentoring makes sense for companies.
“Research indicates that mentoring within a workplace environment can also have a meaningful impact on employee engagement, and gaining a clearer understanding of the firm’s 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,” says Hutchison.

Hutchison, who has also acted as a mentor, found the relationship surprisingly enriching. She expected to share her professional and personal experiences, and perhaps discuss the mentee’s challenges and concerns, but instead found the relationship much more interactive.
“What transpired is that I truly believe I learnt a great deal from my mentee, and she helped to challenge my thinking each and every time we interacted. We maintain a close relationship, today, and I am very appreciative of this.”
Meanwhile, BNY Mellon has run year-long mentoring programmes for some time.
“We view mentoring to be of very high value and one that has benefits for the mentors, the mentees and the organisation,” says Eleni Wang Istavridis, 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 much more quickly about the organisation and areas outside of the country or the group they are working in, and improve 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, has 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 from the programme. “It also raises their profile within the organisation,”

As well as learning about the company and gaining access to networks, mentees can learn new talents, says Wang Istavridis.
“People pick up strengths and skills such as leadership, public speaking, networking, the ability to extend more confidently, initiative-taking. These are all areas and skills that we focus on building through our five workshops throughout the year,” she adds.
It is these kinds of personal skills development, and the ensuing self-confidence, that makes the experience life-changing for mentees.

Physiotherapist and acupuncturist Alice Yuen Shui-ying opened her own business, Alive Healthcare Centre, in 2011. Her mentorship with Anne Farlow, a non-executive director of Sage Publishing Company in the United Kingdom, began at the same time.
“Anne has taught me a lot [about] business strategy, staff training and communication. She helped me to think logically and explore opportunities in the business world. She shares with me her life experiences and perspective in different topics,” Yuen says.

“It expands my horizons and interests.” When I look back, I [have grown] so much personally. The first thing that my mentor taught me is ‘be confident’. As women, we always underestimate our strength and capability, and then we hesitate to express ourselves and our opinions.”

Rendy Ng Ka-man’s mentoring with Judith Crosbie-Chen, legal director at Logitech, helped guide her through a transition from corporate lawyer to gemologist and chief marketing officer at Bee’s Diamonds.

“She gave me not only emotional support and a huge pat on the back when I wasn’t sure whether to take a step, she also shared her contacts and networks with me to prepare me well for different types of situations, “says Ng.

“For instance, she canvassed one of her friends, a brand consultant, to offer ideas on what needs to be done to transform a wholesale company into a retail-focused one. She also sought a friend in media training and prepared me well for various media interviews.”

On Crosbie-Chen’s advice, Ng took public speaking lessons and expanded her personal and professional networks. Ng is now confident enough to try new projects and give public talks.

“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.”

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