“Increasingly more companies – especially in Europe – have realised that mentoring is a true superpower when it comes to developing a workforce’s talent and mindset,” says Julia Winkler, one of the co-founders of the online mentoring provider, Volunteer Vision. The organisation aims to help companies to professionally empower people of all diversity groups, within and outside of organisations.
Volunteer Vision is one Diversity Network’s sponsors, and we sat down with Julia as she explains the company’s goal to raise awareness for inequalities in the workplace and how to counteract them.
Why is mentoring so important?
“Mentoring is one of the most efficient methods when it comes to learning soft skills. Often, we tend to focus on hard skills, when especially in fast-paced work environments skills like presenting yourself, being emotionally intelligent or being self-organized can make the difference in being successful and satisfied. Mentoring enables people to learn together and to help each other accomplish their goals. Online mentoring even has another advantage: it overcomes geographical and social barriers and allows people to flexibly adapt it to their needs.”
What are some things people may not realise about mentoring?
“Most online mentoring solutions focus solely on matching. But matching is only one step on the way to successful and impactful mentoring. Making sure that both mentor and mentee feel prepared and equipped are key to a successful mentoring relationship. This often requires a lot of manual effort that companies do not foresee when launching a mentoring program: preparing mentors and mentees, defining the target of the mentorship, helping users with questions and problems, evaluating everything. Consequently, many teams feel overwhelmed. This is where we come into play. Our mentoring programs are ideal for corporate teams who want to implement scalable, yet impactful mentoring without the hassle of managing them.”
Is it true that the mentor as well as the person being mentored should learn something?
“Definitely. It really is a give and take. Ideally, the mentee builds up their practical job knowledge and self-confidence, while mentors practice their ability to think outside their own mind box and thus learn to become better co-workers and leaders.”
What is your personal background – how did you get into the D&I sector? Did you face any challenges along the way?
“My passion has always been with the social entrepreneurship sector. I was fascinated by the idea to create a business idea that combines profit with purpose. When my co-founders and I started building our first online mentoring programs, our goal was to enable people from disadvantaged backgrounds to build the necessary skills to find and start a job. However, we soon realised that the need for our programs was far wider in scope and that our clients themselves were struggling to find programs that would support them in building a diverse and inclusive workforce. Having experienced the importance and power of mentorship in our careers ourselves, we as founders all quickly agreed to expand our offer and to also design in-house mentoring programs for specific DE&I purposes.”
Do you believe that as a whole, organisations recognize the value of mentoring?
“We do see a clear upward trend since Covid-19 pressured organisations to think in more innovative ways about their employee engagement and retention measures. With a well-running mentoring program, employees are enabled to self-develop their skills, are more satisfied and thus feel a greater sense of belonging to their employer. Increasingly more companies – especially in Europe – have realised that mentoring is a true superpower when it comes to developing a workforce’s talent and mindset. Of course, we hope that this trend is here to stay!”
Are there any organisations in the sector leading the way when it comes to mentorships – are there any great examples you’ve seen?
“Within the last two years, the sector has been changing so quickly, I feel that almost every day new, exciting initiatives with great ideas pop up. I am excited to see where they will be in a couple of years.”
What advice would you give to organisations who may be thinking about starting a mentoring programme?
“Take your time to really think through what you want to accomplish with it: who is your target audience? Do you prefer long-term relationships or one-off micro mentorings? What is the goal of the programme and which quantitative KPIs will show that you are on the right track? If you find it difficult to answer these questions yourself, it’s worth getting professional advice from experts outside your organisation.”