Mentors won’t save you, but they can certainly help | Women's Agenda

Mentors won’t save you, but they can certainly help

The best thing you can do for your career as a woman is to swim with one nostril out of the water. You don’t want to drown, but you don’t want to swim too easily either.

That’s the advice one of Nicole Sheffield’s former bosses gave her just after she joined Telstra as a graduate.

And it’s been solid advice for Nicole, who’s now the Managing Director of NewsDNA and CEO of NewsLifeMedia.

But trying to stay afloat is not always easy. You need the resilience to keep treading water, and possibly a little encouragement and support from others.

Last week I had the happy opportunity of sharing the room with a number of young women from a range of tech organisations, where Nicole shared the advice on a panel moderated by leadership expert Gillian Fox, with Collective Hub founder and Editor in Chief Lisa Messenger, and Telstra’s Finance Director, Emma Jane Newton.

The panellists, brought together at Facebook by Connected Women ANZ, each shared  different perspectives on building careers and businesses, having each ‘tread water’ in their own way: Lisa in entrepreneurship, Nicole in media and Emma Jane in finance.

They also had different perspectives on mentoring and sponsorship.

As an entrepreneur who launched a newsstand magazine with no background in media and “no money, no IP and no reputation”, Lisa said she can sometimes get lost in the corporate-speak terminology used around mentoring. “When you’re an entrepreneur, your ass is on the ground every single day,” she said. “I think, ‘I’m just getting shit done! I believe in surrounding yourself with the right people at the right time.”

Emma-Jane shared more formal experiences working with sponsors, people who had the influence and power to advocate for her career and ultimately assisted her in working her way up to being named Managing Director of Credit Suisse, and then later transitioning over to Telstra. “When I wasn’t in the room,” she said about one sponsor, “I knew he was still saying good things about me to other people. That to me is what a sponsor is. Being that senior person and voice that other people will listen too.”

But Emma Jane also noted the need for all women to simply “own your greatness”. She said she continues to remind herself to “step into it”.

Nicole spoke about mentoring and sponsoring a wide range of men and women, and the fact any great mentoring relationship has to be about more than the next job or career move, or about how to balance kids with work. “I also talk about what’s inspiring them and making them happy, and where they can possibly give back.”

Asked by Gillian what she’d do if someone offered her $20 million to start a business, Lisa said she’d say no to the money. “When I started Collective Hub, I had no money. I looked at who were the like-minded non-competing brands, and how can could partner with them, and how we could amplify each other.”

It was a reminder of the key thing all three panelists had in common: a willingness — perhaps even an eagerness — to find themselves barely able to swim at times during their careers.

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