What Does Mentorship Look Like Today?

December 26, 2019

Dominique Monet

Dominique Monet is an award-winning Associate Creative Director at GSD&M. Throughout her career, she has worked with some of the world’s leading brands including McDonald’s, Toyota, Crocs, & Frito-Lay. Dominique loves using innovation and engaging storytelling to build brands and challenge culture. When she’s not busy creating content you can catch her kicked back, finding immense joy in the comments section.

MODERATOR: Paul Birks-Hay
Michele Prota, Global Board Member of Talent, Forsman & Bodenfors
Sarah Spitz, Founder SpitzFire Consulting

Paul Birks-Hay set the stage by sharing a life-changing mentorship he experienced early in his career. After being worn down by the advertising industry, he announced his resignation at the young age of 27. His boss could have simply accepted his resignation, but instead, she advised him to go on an extended vacation. The catch: he needed to call her every Friday. Each week they spoke about all of the different ways he began to find himself. Eventually, he came back to advertising and worked with her for 12 years. They grew so close that she even spoke at his wedding.
While this was a great lesson in how a little guidance and a listening ear can go a long way, everyone isn’t lucky enough to develop a mentorship this naturally. The audience spent the next 25 minutes of the panel discussion learning how to create structures that lead to successful mentorships.

"What happens is that we tend to replicate ourselves..."

Birks-Hay introduced Sarah Spitz, Founder of SpitzFire Consulting. Let’s all take a moment to acknowledge how dope her company name is. The crowd certainly did. True to her name, she spit that fire we all needed to hear to step our mentorship game up. Spitz emphasized that most mentor relationships happen because of natural chemistry. The problem with this is that it’s based entirely on the luck of the draw. “What happens is that we tend to replicate ourselves,” she said. It doesn’t open up pathways for different kinds of people. To no surprise, it also makes it hard for people of color to feel connected.
Michele Prota shed light on unconventional ways of pairing mentors with mentees. Modern mentorships flow in different directions, more than just hierarchical. It doesn’t have to be advice coming from the top. It could be cross gender, generational, or ethnicity. This way, if you’re entering the relationship it’s because you want to learn something specific. “Maybe it’s a man who wants to be paired with a female to learn how to be a better ally,” she explained. Prota also proposed developing mentorship tracks for parents and expecting parents.
Still, it’s not enough to simply pair people together. Spitz went on to discuss that programs often don’t work because people don’t know how to make them work. A few parameters can lead to much more successful mentor relationships. For example, talk once a month. Get to learn something new about each other. Prota added that training mentors on empathy and active listening can also help them become more effective.

Panelists having a spicy time

People must also think about the responsibility of the mentee. It’s important to trade advice. Regardless of title, there is something that each person can learn in the relationship. Spitz spoke to the mentors in the room, “You gotta agree to be on the same level for the purpose of the relationship.” This requires vulnerability from both the mentor and the mentee.

"Mentorship can’t fix everything."

However, mentorship can’t fix everything. “If your culture is already shit, dropping in a mentorship program in the center of it all is never going to work,” said Prota. For example, if you’re incentivized to be as billable as possible then you’re not incentivized to use your time in other ways. The agency has to be willing to let you devote your time in different ways like mentorship.
Birks-Hay asked how we can break down barriers between agencies. The panelists discussed the importance of sharing successful results from your company with others so that we can all learn to be better mentors. Surely, we can learn from industry professionals whether we work at their company or not.
Prota brought it all home with some really simple food for thought. “The reality is all you really need is advice for today. Just a moment in time,” she said. The crowd cheered on the closing remarks, ready to take on mentorship one simple moment at a time.