Establishing a Mentorship Program. Part 1

posted December 9th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Nancy to tell me about her involvement with mentoring. She said: “It goes back to my strong, passionate belief that we don’t have enough women in business, especially in commercial real estate. I have a legal background, so I’ve read a lot of articles about the percentage of women that drop out of law.  The common theme in most of those articles is that women drop out because they don’t have any mentors.  They have nobody to look up to, to talk to, to tell them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and that if they stick it through they can have a fulfilling career.”


She continued: “I’ve been involved for years with an organization called Toronto CREW which is a Canadian chapter of an organization that was started in the United States. The acronym CREW stands for Commercial Real Estate Women and in Toronto the organization has about 180 members.   In the United States, there are 8,000 members across the country. About seven years ago, I was approached about getting involved in helping Toronto CREW set up some community outreach programs. There were three of them.”


Nancy said there was a progression to her involvement with these programs which she thought offered valuable insight into the establishment by Toronto CREW of its mentoring program. She wanted to describe the programs sequentially because she thought it would make the most sense.  She began: “The first one is a program called Real Jobs. It is presented to girls in grades 11 and 12 and was designed to showcase  career options that are available in commercial real estate.  When we put this program together for the first time, we had 60 girls attend from a variety of schools in Toronto.  They came downtown to the offices of one of the law firms in a bank tower overlooking Lake Ontario.  Most of these girls had probably never been in an office tower. We put an entire day together for them and hosted them to a beautiful lunch.  They were completely dazzled. At lunch time, we ate with the girls and the comments we got were that none of them had any idea there were any jobs in real estate other than being a real estate agent who sold houses.  They had no idea they could have a job in construction, management or leasing.  All of the Toronto CREW volunteers including me found this program to be unbelievably fulfilling. Since the inception of this program there have been over 350 girls that have learned about a career in commercial real estate.”


Nancy continued: “The second prong of our community outreach program is a scholarship program where scholarships are given to qualified young women attending a real estate related program at university. The third prong of Toronto CREW’s community outreach program is the mentorship program.  In the year before we started the mentorship program, we held focus group sessions and brought together a group of young women that had been in the business under five years to participate in these sessions – we wanted to determine whether young women would be interested if we designed a mentorship program. The overwhelming response was that it would be fantastic to be able to talk to people who had succeeded in the commercial real estate business and find out how they had done it.”


Nancy thinks a real key to the success of the Toronto CREW mentorship program was the two-day formal training session the organizing committee attended with an organization that specializes in helping companies develop mentorship programs.  The program focused on goal-setting and the keys to successful mentorship programs.


Once the committee had been through the training program, they designed the Toronto CREW program. Nancy says: “Again, I think it’s made our program very successful because we had heard from the training organization that when companies develop mentorship programs in an informal way what often ends up happening, for lack of a better way of describing it, is they put people together and they have coffee and they get to know each other and in the end each participant has a new friend which is not really what mentorship is all about.  We were very disciplined about what we had learned in our training and we insisted that mentors attend a training session and likewise the protégés or mentees had to go through training. I was there for the first mentor training session – it was the kind of session that most of these women had probably never participated in – very soft skills to the point where we were concerned that the participants would wonder why we had insisted they attend – yet to our surprise they loved the training.”


Nancy continued: “After the mentors and mentees completed the training, we had a ’speed-dating’ night designed to allow each person to meet everyone to see if they ‘click’.  Most mentorship programs do not do this, they assign mentors to mentees. At the speed dating night, each person has five to ten minutes to meet someone, introduce themselves, do their short elevator speech about who they are and what they’re looking for in a mentor or mentee to see if they connect. At the end of the night, we ask everyone to rank their first three choices of matches, being the people they felt they would have the most in common with and that they would get the most out of a mentorship relationship. The results were amazing. There were maybe two outliers.  People click within 10 minutes and they know who they are going to be able to work with.”


What Strikes Me?

One of the reasons women drop out of the business world is that they don’t have any mentors


Many young women have nobody to look up to, talk to, tell them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, if they stick it out they can have a fulfilling career.


Training is critical to the establishment of a successful mentoring program


What Strikes You?


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