WEN Mentoring needed more than ever to ensure strong women leaders post Covid-19

Tuesday May 12th, 2020

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, our 2020 Mentoring Scheme is well underway, online for the interim.

We are also delighted to share the results of our 2019 Mentoring Scheme.

Angharad Watson writes about her first WEN Mentoring Experience:

Like all events this spring, the launch of the 2020 WEN Mentoring Scheme happened amid the coronavirus lockdown, and so the planned all-day event in Cardiff Bay had to be replaced by an extended Zoom meeting. The launch remains the most ambitious online meeting of my lockdown – with over 30 participants, and a 4.5 hour schedule. Arriving into a virtual room of strangers proved to be just as nerve-wracking as walking into a similar situation in real life, with a couple of interesting changes. Without the calming opportunity to get a cup of tea and make small talk, we all sat smiling nervously as face after face popped up on the screen. And, while the onscreen head-only view means that pyjama bottoms and fluffy slippers could escape detection, suddenly a group of strangers are seeing not only you, but a part of your home. For me, that meant a spare room in a house I’ve only lived in for 3 months, with all the disorganization that implies!

The hosts, Sarah and Catherine, had done their best to put us at ease, both in the meeting and in emails ahead of time. We were assured that pets and children would be welcome, should they wish to put in a cameo (which they did), and that it was understood that not everyone would be able to join for the full session. The first speaker was Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt AM, whose talk, although brief, was very inspiring. The fact that she was there, speaking directly to us all, very much set the tone for the WEN Wales Mentoring Scheme – that this is a programme that means business.

After some further details on the nature of the scheme, including adjustments for the pandemic, we began the ice breaker sessions, which took up the majority of the morning. We’d all been asked to bring an object with us, and to talk for a (strict!) 2 minutes about the object, its relevance, and why we’d applied to the scheme. For me, this was by far the highlight of the day. Finally, each face on the screen had an opportunity to speak, and to explain something about themselves. As a group, we varied considerably in age, ethnicity, location, and career path, but quickly one thing became clear. We were all women who wanted more: more from our careers, more from our lives, more from our leaders, and also more for each other, for people without voices, for people who keep being forgotten and left behind. The stories being told by each mentee were fascinating, inspiring, and at least once moved me to tears. I think I wasn’t alone in feeling somewhat awestruck at being selected to be part of this amazing group.

After a very brief lunch (which, I admit, I wasn’t quite able to stick to while getting the family lunch sorted) the focus shifted from the current cohort of mentees to previous members of the scheme, which felt quite reassuring. To hear that they’d felt the same as us; nervous, awestruck, uncertain; and then gone on to turn their mentoring plans into tangible achievements helped to ground the day. Here was proof that yes, it was possible. That we, too, can do it. These are strange times, and without being able to leave our homes to meet each other and attend events, engaging with a programme like this feels faintly unreal – did I dream it? Regular little bursts of activity in our Whatsapp group suggest that I didn’t, and we live in hope that the lockdown will be lifted before the end of the programme, so that we can finally all have that cup of tea together