How becoming a mentor can help you develop your own career

Daisy Church is a programme manager for mentoring at Media Trust, a ScreenSkills partner. She told us how mentoring can be as useful for the mentor as it is the mentee.

My journey with mentoring began with a jolt: five months of furlough in the summer of 2020 ended with a much-needed return to work as Programme Manager for Media Trust’s shiny new mentoring programme, supported by ScreenSkills. Prior to this, the terms ‘mentor’ and ‘mentoring’ had been slightly nebulous to me: words bandied around but not necessarily relevant to the screen industries. Mentoring, so I thought, was only offered to those in crisis, and mentor was a concept reserved for high-flyers in big corporate offices. I could not have been more misguided.

Since then, I have run seven ScreenSkills-supported mentoring programmes, constructed a network of over 450 screen industry professionals in the name of mentorship, become a ScreenSkills mentor myself (shout out Jose) helping my mentee secure his first full-time role post-university AND I have even found myself a mentor (shout out Elizabeth!) My life has become Inception, but with mentoring – mentoring squared if you will. I’ve been repeatedly chastised by friends for networking to find mentors - even on the dance floor. That is how much I believe in the power of mentorship; to elevate the career path of a mentee, sure, but also to offer something to the mentor which is hard to find elsewhere, a satisfaction that is (almost) entirely selfless. I say almost because the mentors I have worked with 9 times out of 10 take away as much from the process as the mentee.

I was led, in this fervent commitment to mentoring, by Media Trust’s fearless CEO and advocate for all things mentorship, Su-Mei Thompson. Prior to joining Media Trust, Su-Mei founded the Hong Kong Women’s Foundation’s extremely successful mentoring programme, and has brought her wealth of knowledge to the fore on our ever-expanding suite of Media Trust mentoring programmes.

So, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re either a) totally new to the concept of mentorship b) curious about mentoring and considering it or c) already mentoring and keen to brush up your skills. My hope is that - for those in the former two categories - the video below will tell you more about why people come to Media Trust’s mentoring programmes, and how they hope to help a mentee, better than I ever could...

To build a mentoring programme, one which supports both mentees and their mentors in equal measure, takes a combination of enthusiasm (check), expectation management (check) and constant listening - and that means listening out for what isn’t being said (double check). I’m often asked now what makes a great mentor – the presumption being that it is the most senior VPs, with the bulging black books and the years of experience behind them, who make the best mentors. Of course, these things help but what makes a really great mentor is a genuine desire to bolster and uplift those who may not have had the same opportunities afforded to them. This is so valuable in the screen industries, a sector historically unkind to those without a preexisting ‘in’.

Time and again, the Diamond reports come in, letting us know that we’ve still got huge strides to make until all audiences in the UK are represented both on and off-screen. Media Trust recently challenged broadcasters to Represent The 22% in response to the continued lack of disabled people on-screen and the constant exclusion of disability from the conversation. This may seem like a big mountain to scale, but mentoring is a simple act with significant positive repercussions. Our partners for our mentoring programmes know this: ITV, Channel 4, Warner Bros. Discovery, BBC and Sky have all come aboard, encouraging their employees to support and learn from talent from non-traditional backgrounds. Countless other indies and freelancers have hitched up their britches to join us too. And in giving back, they’ve all benefitted from this thriving pipeline and network of genuinely representative talent.

I have seen extraordinary mentors, and brilliant mentoring matches, come in the most unlikely packages. I have learned too, that just because people have different career aspirations or experience doesn’t mean a mentoring relationship won’t work. Good mentorship can broach this divide, and often these less ‘clear cut’ matches generate incredible growth for both parties. If you’re still unsure about whether mentorship is for you, I’d also remind you of the many mentors we’ve supported through career transitions themselves, who made use of our strong, cohort-based, mentoring model, to connect with other more-established mentors, and broaden their own industry knowledge.

A mentor once told me that “the grass is greener where you water it" and, to labour this metaphor, if you wish to see a blossoming and thriving screen industry ecosystem, full of biodiversity, well I’d recommend you get your metaphorical watering can out and find yourself a mentee, stat!

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