Elaine Lewis, Managing Director, Cadventure

by Elaine Lewis, Managing Director at Cadventure and Women in BIM Mentor

Now in its second year, the Women in BIM (WIB) Mentor Scheme is designed to create opportunities for more WIB Members to connect and support each other with guidance to learn and grow, both professionally and personally for an initial period of six to nine months.

Would it be too much of a cliché to suggest that everyone needs a mentor in their career? In other aspects of our lives, we can turn to a trusted friend or colleague for advice but when it comes to our careers it helps to find someone with whom we can be open about job searching, taking on a new role or solving challenges at work. Someone who can be objective and has the work and life experience relevant to your sector. But what exactly makes a great mentorship?

Having been a WIB Member since its inception in 2012, when I first learned about the Mentor Scheme I was keen to get involved to see if I could contribute as this felt like the first opportunity where I could give back in some way. I had previous experience of mentoring teams at work and have also been involved in a Construction Industry Council, “speed mentoring” event. In addition to this I am also a non-Executive Director for the UK BIM Alliance which has mentoring and supporting roles.

Although I have had an unusual route into this AEC world, I wanted to share my largely positive experience to date as a woman in BIM with a view to helping others achieve career successes.

The role of a mentor

I understand the role of the mentor is to provide the mentee with the support, guidance, inspiration, and feedback needed to thrive in their career. For the mentee, I believe it is helpful to work with someone who has gone down a similar path they are on currently, who can provide context, shared experiences and has the ability to listen. For me, it is about overcoming challenges together and identifying and advising on courses of action.

There should also be an opportunity to tap into a shared network, if required, that can help the mentee. This might be contacts, chances for volunteering or training opportunities that will help the mentee along their chosen path.

What are the hallmarks of a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Firstly, it is that relevant shared knowledge and experience. The WIB Mentor Scheme puts a great deal of effort into understanding both the skills and qualities of the mentors and the personalities and aspirations of the mentees to achieve a good match. It is not always necessary to have a mentor who is has 20 years’ experience, but we should be five to 10 years ahead in our careers, with knowledge that is recent and relatable.

There also needs to be mutual respect and trust. The mentee should feel comfortable in sharing their hopes, fears, and goals in a safe environment. Equally a good mentor should be an empathetic listener, as well as open, enthusiastic, and supportive in helping the mentee talk through their ideas and issues, excited to see them grow and succeed.

Honest and open feedback is a key part of a good mentor/mentee relationship

This is where a mentor can, with open questions, appropriately probe and challenge the underlying beliefs that a mentee may have and help them test out alternative theories or ideas about how to resolve a problem. I try whenever possible not to present the “answer” but work through ideas about what to try and to share what I have seen work in other situations. This allows the mentee to reach their own conclusions about next steps.

Mutual respect also relates to turning up to the meeting on time, being well-prepared and present in the conversation. Ensuing the needs of the mentee are being met can be achieved with open questions, active listening, and feedback.

Where to begin?

In my case, it worked to set up the series of meetings at the start, agree the timing and format of these meeting, and what the desired outcome would be. Each time we meet, we briefly summarise what was discussed last time, the actions arising and the proposed topic for this conversation. At the end of the session I find it helpful to reflect on how the meeting has gone, what had been achieved with a mutual understanding of next steps and the focus for the next meeting.

Of course it is important to be flexible as unavoidable things can happen between meetings – I let the mentee set the pace and the agenda, so that the time we spend together is invested wisely.

Next steps?

Can we both take actions away from a meeting? Yes, absolutely. There can be occasions where making a well-timed introduction or sharing resources, reading or further information can help the mentee to progress.

So what about you? The WIB Mentor Scheme is inundated globally with requests from Members looking for that supportive relationship, but the limitation is the availability of high-quality, appropriated skilled and experienced mentors. So if you think you have what it takes to be a great mentor, then don’t hesitate to get in touch and give it a try! As a mentor, we learn new things too and it can be incredibly rewarding.