Why break the rules - and the 'glass wall'?

Mentors and mentees were treated to a triple bill of creativity and innovation at a 30% Club cross-company mentoring scheme event today.

Kirk VallisCreativity Coach, and Head of Creativity Development at Google described which behaviours, attitudes, and dynamics at work are the key to awe-inspiring innovation, problem-solving, and positive change. Kirk Vallis – who is a recent addition to the Women Ahead speaker team and is also known as Google’s ‘Chief Magician’ - demonstrated how creating the optimal mental and physical conditions at work can lead to the most exciting breakthroughs, at an event at the QEII Centre in London on Tuesday 21 February.

Kirk Vallis, said that mentoring can be the ultimate disruption that leads to innovation. He urged mentors and mentees to consider breaking the rules on the challenges they face. He said mentoring was key to escaping ‘rivers of thinking’ and unconscious bias that can prevent progress. He encouraged mentors and mentees to get ‘uncomfortably excited’ by the process. He said: “As mentors you are naiive experts on the problems faced by others. Bring questions and build answers.”

The event was for 500 mentors and mentees who are at the midway point of the 30% Club’s nine-month cross-company mentoring programme, which is designed and delivered by Women Ahead, a social enterprise and specialist mentoring consultancy. The aim of the programme is to develop the pipeline and parity of women on boards and in senior leadership roles.

The pioneering cross-company scheme carefully matches high potential women with male or female top tier executives from organisations including Cisco, Genpact, Pearson, HSBC, PwC and Deloitte. The pairs meet every four to six weeks, and they attend a series of learning and networking events to support the process. This is the fourth year of the scheme; 61 organisations are involved and 1,234 people are taking part. The mentors are all top tier men and women. 

Sue Unerman, Chief Strategy Officer at MediaCom UK also talked about her new book The Glass Wall. Sue Unerman said: “In today’s workplace there’s a glass wall – men and women see each other through it, but don’t speak the same language or have the same expectations.”

Sue addressed the assumptions and miscommunications keeping women back from the boardroom and offered practical tools to address these. She advised female mentees to self-promote just as aggressively as the men around them. Sue said: “Speak up – ‘failure’ in a meeting should not be one of life’s fears! When you are in a leadership role, take time to spot the talent in your team. You may have to slow down and look harder for the creativity in the more reserved people, but you will miss out if you don’t.”

Finally, Women Ahead’s mentoring expert Maggie Alphonsi MBE, England Rugby World Cup winner and current  ITV Six Nations commentator, shared how mentors helped her reach the pinnacle of her sport – and beyond.

Maggie said: “Mentors see through your self-limiting beliefs. They push you to expect more of yourself, and to become the best leader you can be. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the support of the fantastic and varied mentors I have had.”

The 30% Club is a group of chairs and CEOs committed to better gender balance through voluntary action. It launched in the UK in 2010 with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards - currently the figure stands at 26% up from 12.5%. As of 2016, the scope of this target has been extended to FTSE-350 boards. In tandem with this, the 30% Club is now also looking to reach a minimum of 30% women on Executive Committees of FTSE-100 companies by 2020.www.30percentclub.org

Women Ahead is a social enterprise which is committed to progressing women in business and sport through mentoring schemes, masterclasses and speaking events. Women Ahead is committed to taking practical action to create real change towards parity in the workplace and in the governance of sport. www.women-ahead.org