- Managing Me
- Big Ideas
- Managing People
Early in her career, Maxine Rich (pictured above), now the managing director of investment banking at Investec, worked at the law firm Freehills. Her boss was David Gonski, now one of the most powerful businessmen in the land. Gonski helped guide and develop Rich, and the experience left a powerful impression on her, giving her confidence and opening up career opportunities.
“I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks for women is not realising how good they are,” Rich says.
It’s one of the reasons for Rich’s involvement in a new initiative to mentor women to supercharge their businesses, called Springboard Enterprises. The program matches women who have started businesses with women with extensive commercial experience, including Rich and others such as Carol Schwartz, a non-executive director for property development company, Stockland.
Schwartz is behind a number of initiatives to improve opportunities for women at every level of business, and to increase the profile of women in the media, through her involvement in the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, and Women for Media.
Schwartz, a lawyer who at 23 started an aerobics and dance studio, did so without the benefit of outside guidance. She says: “Having been through the experience as a female entrepreneur, I would have really benefited from having a mentor – a woman who could help me work through the issues that I was facing and was going to face.”
Schwartz says her husband was terrific, but a mentor’s role is different. “It is about having someone not related to you, as someone who could bounce your ideas off, and be more objective about feedback.”
Taking time from busy schedules
Both Schwartz and Rich have developed into mentors for personal reasons, too.
Says Schwartz: “I just love people. I love meeting interesting people and discussing ideas and business with them. It broadens my thinking and exposes me to new things and new ways of seeing things. It is incredibly symbiotic.”
Rich says the mentoring adds meaning to her success. “The higher up the ladder you go, the more you want to help. Because once you get to a certain level, you can do another deal and do it well, you can get another board seat and do it well. But your greater contribution is how many other people you can help along the way.”
For mentors, seeing their mentees climb the ladder and succeed is a matter of personal pride.
Mentoring has always been a part of business, with senior men and women taking an interest in younger talented people on their staff or in their networks. For those who have achieved their ambitions, the help of mentors is typically seen as essential to their success.
Many men, however, express a degree of awkwardness about mentoring women, not wanting their professional interest to be misinterpreted by the mentee or their peers.
More recently, women have started forming formal and informal mentoring networks. Rich has been involved in a formal program, Women in banking and finance, in which mentors and mentees are matched. “The Women in banking and finance been very skilful in matching mentor and mentee,” says Rich. “They do all sorts of psychological testing.”
Rich is referring to one of the primary aspects of the nature of the mentoring relationship – the need for rapport between both parties.
Schwartz says rapport is essential. “If there is no sort of electricity, no ‘clicking’, it is not going to work for me. There has to be some sort of chemistry.” However, her diverse interests from property to art to philanthropy and social enterprise make for plenty of opportunities to find common ground with others.
Rich believes there is some benefit even in a mentoring relationship that is lacking rapport, but says she can’t imagine it occurring. “I can’t imagine it. There is always some way you can help someone,” she says.
Both women think it is essential for the relationship to be developed face to face, rather than over the phone.
Rich says: “I have found meeting face-to-face is the most effective by far, because you get a sense of the person, you pick up on the nuances. But it is equally important to be accessible in the moment – if your mentee rings and says ‘I am just about to go into the boss’ office’. It reduces nerves because you have an affirmation that what you are saying is good. If it is in a confronting situation, that inevitably brings out emotions so it is good to rehearse beforehand.”
Schwartz says a coffee or a dinner is ideal, but that it should be short and focused. “Forty-five minutes is usually enough,” she says.
Mentors must maintain an honest stance with their mentees, even as rapport builds; that is the purpose of having a more objective relationship.
Schwartz says that entrepreneurs, optimistic by nature, often need a reality check.
When Rich sees a mentee heading down the wrong path, she “holds a mirror” to them, and by reflecting their thoughts back, finds they usually rethink their ideas or approach.
Mentor as advocate
It is important for mentors to act as a support and provide encouragement, and to understand a person’s goals and how they want to reach them.
But there is another important step.
“The second aspect is the sponsorship role,” Rich says. “This is becoming an increasingly important role. It is no longer good enough to give encouragement. We need to step out and say to our peer, ‘Give them a go’.”
Rich says she received this opportunity when a mentor recommended her for her first board role at the age of 31 on the Treasure Corporation of New South Wales. “I benefited from this woman sponsoring me.”
To apply to be accepted into the first Springboard Enterprises program, click here.