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Doing it differently

GC explores what corporate counsel can do to further diversity – in their in-house legal department, the wider organisation, or throughout the business world. We pick the brains of general counsel across the globe about programmes they’ve pioneered or adopted to create a diverse workplace. In the first in a series of case studies, this issue we look at gender diversity.


Meet your mentor

As part of its ‘Breakthrough’ initiative to foster female talent, Lloyds Banking Group gave corporate real estate counsel Lesley Wan the job of establishing a bank-wide mentoring programme for women. Her programme is now seen as best practice for other mentoring initiatives at the bank, as well as a template for schemes at other big-name corporates.

‘In our research, we found that most women in the bank had never had a mentor before. When we asked why, we discovered that a lot of it was to do with confidence. Without knowledge or experience, it can be quite scary to try something new, so my team of two undertook three months of research on mentoring techniques and then we wrote a handbook to help educate mentees. We wanted to create an inclusive programme, so we decided to invite both men and women to mentor our women. But then we came up against the scenario of what do we do when colleagues who have never been mentored before are now being asked to mentor? We needed to create a handbook to help mentors as well.

Then I thought, can I personally match all our members up? There were 100,000 people in the bank at the time! We decided to create an innovative database with a self-selection process instead. We highlighted key themes that women felt most strongly about, including confidence building, career progression, leadership skills, change of career and so on. Mentees could register and select objectives to focus on, and mentors could select the themes they felt they could contribute to. The mentee could go online to find a list of those able to mentor in these areas, in their region. We also encouraged our members to look for mentors outside of their business areas.

However, we found that women were still not comfortable reaching out to a stranger to ask them to be their mentor. We needed to create an environment to help our members feel comfortable and confident, so we designed a dynamic “speed mentoring” event. The response from our members in relation to our first event was unbelievable – we had something like 60 or 70 women apply for ten places. The event was a huge success and so much fun! Word got around and suddenly we had a massive influx of women joining our programme because they too wanted to experience speed mentoring and find a mentor.

We encourage mentees to decide what issues they want to discuss in their confidential sessions. In addition to regular mentoring sessions, our amazing mentors make themselves available to speak on the phone, review CVs, or help with interview practice. Some of our success stories have been phenomenal – we’ve seen women jump two or three grades through the mentoring that they are receiving.

The programme now reports into the business and legal - including group general counsel Kate Cheetham, who is one of three co-chairs for Breakthrough. We want to identify issues, help resolve problems and take feedback from colleagues throughout the organisation. We created a quarterly newsletter to communicate with members and it highlights inspirational stories and successes, plus we have top tips for mentoring and information on the initiatives and events that we’re running in the next quarter.

At the outset, we did get queries from colleagues asking “why do women need their own mentoring programme?” We decided to raise awareness and do presentations to our senior business executives to highlight the benefits of promoting our female talent. We received a resoundingly positive response and many of them went on to register as mentors, and encouraged their wider teams to do the same. Our chief executive of the commercial bank is also a huge supporter and regularly attends our events, to meet our mentees and listen to their views. Having such visible senior support has been a vital enabler to making our programme so successful.


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