March 20, 2018

How to set up a mentor programme and why it makes for good business

Contributor - Stefany Barker - Girls in Tech, Switzerland

Why bother with mentorship?

Lower costs: lower employee turnover

Research shows people who have the opportunity to serve as mentors experience greater job satisfaction and a higher commitment to their employer. Mentoring mitigates a number of reasons why mentees might leave the company: their boss (mentoring provides another boss), lack of learning (mentorship is personal development), lack of feedback (mentorship is a low-stakes place for honest feedback) and poor culture (mentorship encourages diversity in the workforce– and ideas).

Higher productivity: better skilled and informed workforce

Mentors help mentees learn the ropes at a company, develop relationships across the organization, and identify skills that should be developed or improved upon. In exchange, mentors learn more about other areas within the organization or industry, breaking down silos.

Higher profits: diversity means better business

Beyond the moral imperative of inclusion, it’s proven that organizations with diverse leadership realize higher profits. Mentorship influences diversity since people with mentors are more likely to get promoted. Since women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders and 62% of women of color say the lack of an influential mentor holds them back, a commitment to equal access through a mentorship program is indispensable.

Why men should mentor women

Women are already underrepresented in most organizations, especially at senior levels. If fewer men mentor women, fewer women will rise to leadership. Here are 3 specific tips on mentoring women:

  • Choose an inclusive format: If you’re uncomfortable going to dinner with female colleagues, meet everyone for breakfast—and encourage other men to do the same.
  • Advocate for women: women have fewer sponsors so put women’s names forward for stretch assignments and promotions and introduce them to the influential people in your network—these personal connections can propel careers.
  • Give actionable feedback: women tend to get vague feedback on personal style whereas men get skills-based feedback. Give women specific input on the skills they need to build and tie it to business outcomes. For example, “You should deepen your knowledge of digital marketing so we can reach more customers online.”

Do’s and don’ts of a great mentorship program

Having participated in and created 3 mentorship programs, here’s what I’ve seen work.

DO organise events where mentors/mentees can develop relationships organically. Provide mentor/mentee profiles in advance (for example, on LinkedIn) so if they want, participants can get an idea of each other in advance.
DON’T try to match a mentor and mentee, what makes sense on paper doesn’t always stick in person.

DO organise a series of events so many people can meet and connections can be built over time.
DON’T organise a one-off meeting without follow-up because relationships take time to develop.

DO use both structured elements (speed 1:1 intros, guidelines) and unstructured elements (“pure” networking) during the event.
DON’T be too free in the format. Events that are too informal can lack efficiency while those that are too formal will be boring.

DO collect feedback from mentors and mentees after each event. This will also be an opportunity to refer more mentees and mentors to each other.
DON’T try to guess how people felt about the event/program.

DO ask mentees to come with goals, even if it is to get help in setting clear goals. Mentors can help them achieve those goals or brainstorm problems. Everyone has goals, not everyone has problems.
DON’T request people come with a problem. Requiring a problem to brainstorm can be a problem if mentees think “I don’t have a problem so I can’t have a mentor”.

So what does a great program look like?

  • Size: 6-10 participants (3-5 pairs).
  • Format: 1 hour of speed intros (e.g. 5 x 10 minutes), 1 hour of “pure” networking.
  • Time: Early morning before work (e.g. 7-9AM) on a Thursday or Friday when people can get in to work a bit later.
  • Recurrence: 1 x month. Same day, time and place (keep it simple)
  • Guidelines: See example guidelines below.
  • Follow-up: Send a short feedback form. Here is an example.

Example guidelines


  • Bring business cards
  • Don’t ask for contact info, only offer it
  • Be yourself!


  • Follow up within 48h
  • By phone or email
  • Always say thank you!

Follow-up meetings

  • Totally informal? Go for a coffee or enjoy a hobby together
  • Want to get to know each other casually? Grab a coffee in a not-too-noisy café (suggest a venue)
  • Have a specific problem? Book a meeting room. Come prepared. Send any material in advance but don’t expect mentor to read it. Update your mentor with progress 1-3 weeks after meeting.


By Stefany Barker
Deployment Strategist, Palantir
Managing Director, Girls in Tech – Switzerland

Stefany is on a mission to change the face of tech by making the sector more inclusive. To this end, Stefany has created Girls in Tech – Switzerland, who organise expert tech and career events, and WaaS Websites to make websites affordable to small businesses. Today, Stefany works in Big Data for software company Palantir. Stefany’s areas of expertise are diversity in the workplace and tech that will shape our future.


Image © Stephanie Page

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