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12-week mentoring Keynote Conversation with Debbie Francis OBE

After nearly a year of being isolated, locked down, and socially distanced, we as a society have missed out on countless networking opportunities, and the chance to build real human connections. Despite these pandemic restrictions, Northern Power Women have been working to digitally recreate these stages for empowerment and collaboration with their 12-week mentor programme. 

In December of 2020, 150 mentees & mentors from across all sectors, regions, ages, were matched into 75 mentor and mentee pairs. Hosting the 12-week programme’s halfway marker webinar was Northern Power Women’s founder Simone Roche MBE, who remarked on how she felt after the previous online event for this programme: “coming off our last call, I had to take a big deep breath! Seeing so many of you and knowing that you’ve all given your time, given your energy, given your expertise and your ears to pay it forward and connect with each other is really uplifting”. This webinar marked the second of three events hosted by Northern Power Women for this programme, and served to refresh and reinvigorate the 75 pairs, inspiring them to pay it forward to each other in their future mentoring sessions together. 

The webinar’s guest speaker was Debbie Francis OBE, using her experience as an industry leader to answer questions from the webinar’s attendees. Alongside her multiple accomplishments as a business leader, Debbie also spoke of her non-professional achievements, which she maintains bolstered the confidence that she takes with her into professional situations. She described the parts of your own character that you discover in physically demanding challenges, such as the round the world yacht race she took part in in 2018: “I did a number of challenges which were really hard, and at times it felt like I couldn’t go on. And when you do go on you get this realization that it is just in your head. Your body can do way more than anyone thinks, provided your head can stay in the game”. This calibration between mind and body manifests in a palpable conviction in her, which she drew on to lend her advice to the mentoring pairs in attendance at the webinar. 

Speaking enthusiastically on the impact of mentoring, Debbie spoke of how it altered the course of her own career: “my career has taken off in the last 10 years, and I can only put that down to those women around me who have helped, supported, put me forward for things, and been there to give me advice or to have a good glass of something, and that is all mentoring at the end of the day!” Francis also observed how the practice of mentoring is a female-led trend, stating how “it feels like something that really has been developed and brought on by women”. With imposter syndrome often overshadowing the achievements of women in senior leadership positions, Debbie acknowledged how women “are more self-critical and therefore looking for other people to help us”. By reaching out for this help, mentoring enables us to unlock different opportunities we may not have considered ourselves. 

One of the many questions in the webinar chat came from Dr. Joanna Berry, who asked Debbie for her top tips regarding annual reviews for her to pass onto her mentee. “I’d be more inclined to look at annual reviews as a coaching session”, she recommended, and also noted that female employees in particular shouldn’t be put off by going into annual reviews ready to turn their achievements into development opportunities. “One of the things we need to do as women, particularly, is be more positive and more vocal about the things we do and achieve […] we don’t own our skills or own our achievements and say this is what we’ve done” 

As well as Debbie imparting her own advice, the webinar chat soon exploded with mentors and mentees sharing their top tips for getting the most out of reviews. Jane Eckford, for example, said how “annual reviews are an opportunity to shape your own narrative, gather up your own successes and ask questions about what support exists from the organisation for what’s next”. Charlotte Doxey recommended the #IamRemarkable workshops, “fab for things like blowing our own trumpet”, as well as being free to attend! 

The empowering discussions that this collaborative environment of the webinar has fostered is testament to how everyone has the potential to be an impactful mentor. Debbie Francis OBE stressed how mentoring “is a development opportunity for everybody, not just the mentee in the relationship”. With such opportunities being created by the 75 pairs of this 12-week mentoring programme, many mentors and mentees will be looking forward to utilizing the inspiring words of Debbie Francis OBE, and implementing this ethos of collaboration and mutual support in order to pay it forward and ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. 

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