Inspirational female leaders Tania Rishniw from the Department of Health and Aged Care and Nina Davidson from the Office of National Intelligence talk about how mentoring can empower women in the workplace and share some practical steps to build a great relationship on the latest episode of Work with Purpose.
In the face of a persistent gender pay gap and continuing barriers for women to reach senior leadership positions in Australia, mentoring has emerged as one piece to solving the gender equity puzzle.
A mentor can help encourage women to overcome self-limiting thoughts and behaviours to go for that promotion or negotiate a higher salary.
“I see time and again with young women right in the midst of their career at kind of EL1, EL2 level, that they’re self-limiting, and censoring themselves before they actually even have an opportunity to be told, "No, this is not the opportunity for you”. My encouragement for them is: don't be your own censor,” Tania Rishniw, now Deputy Secretary, Primary and Community Care Group at the Department of Health and Aged Care says.
Reminiscing on a past mentor who encouraged her to apply for a role she thought she wasn’t ready for, Tania says that “if you can't trust yourself, trust those around you, trust your mentors because they won't be encouraging you if they don't think you're ready and if they don't think you can do it.”
Based on her experience both as a mentor and a mentee, Nina Davidson, Deputy Director-General Intelligence at ONI agrees that it’s all about trust and honesty, but also “finding the right person for you at the right time.”
As part of that, both parties need to be open about whether the relationship is working for them or not.
“It’s about being able to listen and reflect on what the other person's experiencing and being a sounding board, being able to pose what are hopefully helpful questions as people are working through particular issues.”
“If it's not gelling, it doesn't work. We've recognised that upfront and it's okay not to continue.”
More than just being a character fit, Tania recommends that women shouldn’t shy away from seeking out different mentors depending on the issue they’re grappling with.
“Sometimes, I need someone to give me some tough love. Sometimes I need someone to help build my confidence. Sometimes I need someone who's a really different thinker and will give you a different perspective on an issue. I will pick and choose who I ask for advice depending on what I'm wrestling with. And you shouldn't be afraid to do that.”
Tania encourages women to be forthright in asking someone else to be their mentor.
According to her and Nina, being a mentor is humbling and thrilling, and both parties benefit equally from the relationship.
“Often people will say, "Oh, I wasn't sure about asking you." Most people relish being asked to be a mentor or a coach or even just asked for advice,” she says.
“I know I get a lot out of the relationships in which I play the role as mentor. From every conversation I walk away with something, thinking about something in a different way, which is terrific. And just really value having the opportunity to understand the perspectives of colleagues in a range of roles too,” Nina says.
In the end, both Tania and Nina agree that whilst mentoring can help move workplaces towards greater gender equity, there is still work to be done.
More than just encouraging mentoring, workplaces need to create the conditions for women and men to seek out opportunities and to balance their professional and private lives.
“Mentoring is only one part of the puzzle to improving career outcomes, including for women and women in security and intelligence. Mentoring can play a role to help encourage people to consider career options and pathways that they might not otherwise consider,” Nina says.
“To allow women more time in the workplace to undertake mentoring and to just do more and do more differently in their working days, it's about creating conditions that make it just as possible, more possible, more accepted for men to spend less time in the workplace,” Tania adds.
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