Meet the mentor - Fiona Wilkie, Merseyside Do you want to become a mentor but not sure if it’s for you? Merseyside mentor, Fiona Wilkie, says, “If you’re a warm, friendly person, if you're there to listen to someone, that’s pretty much all you need.” …………… Born and raised in Belfast, Fiona Wilkie moved to Liverpool in the 1990s; a city she has lived in ever since. A mentor with The Girls’ Network who is now in her third year, Fiona is passionate about equity and equipping her mentees with the courage to ask for what they need. Here, Fiona discusses how the experiences she had at school, work, and the wider world around her, meant mentoring became something that she felt she simply needed to do. She shows that it’s not about qualifications or existing experience mentoring someone else, but utilising the many facets of your lived experience to support a girl to feel able to create a future of their choosing. The road to becoming a mentor Fiona was raised in a way that she describes as ‘traditional’ and still vividly remembers the limited support she received from her careers advisor at school: “When I said I’d like to do carpentry he said, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ It was the most demotivating conversation I’d ever had in my life.” Fiona’s adolescence coincided with the war in Northern Ireland and by 18, she was keen to move away and begin anew somewhere else. “I was the first member of my family to go to uni. It wasn’t even a subject I was excited about, but I wanted to leave home and have new experiences. The first six months were really tough but then the penny dropped and I thought: this is fantastic.” Mentoring: the WHY Fiona didn’t have a mentor or role model during her formative years and now, as a mother, Fiona sees the same issues that were prevalent during her youth impacting her daughter’s future. “It’s so sad that women are treated in a particular way, and limitations are put on them.” Seeing the challenges her daughter is faced with, Fiona was inspired to reach out and support other young women - her mentees - through The Girls’ Network. “This is my third time mentoring and I know how useful it would have been if I had had someone who I could have talked to when I was 14,15 about some of my dreams who said to me, ‘Well, why not? It might be a bit tricky but you can absolutely do it’. But no one ever had those conversations with me.” The role of a mentor During her time mentoring young women at Holly Lodge Girls’ College, Fiona has seen all of them face similar challenges which, at 10 sessions across 12 months, they tackle together. What trends is she seeing? Limited confidence and core skills, such as managing mental health, stress levels and what she calls the ‘push-pull’ between friendship groups and studying. “The three young women I have worked with have all said that they don’t know what they want to do, how to go about it, and fear not being ‘good enough’. This is a stark contrast to what you hear young men talk about - these girls are starting out with a belief that they can’t do it. “I say to them, this range of emotions is normal, but it’s not an indication that you’re not capable of doing something. When I’m mentoring I work with the girls on how they see life, what their core values are. They know, instinctively, what drives them and where they want to go.” Before becoming a mentor, and after more than two decades working in the housing sector, Fiona went back to the classroom and trained to become a qualified counsellor. She says this new path helps her as a mentor and believes that a big part of her role as a volunteer is to support her mentees to uncover that which they already have within them. On mentoring, and encouraging the next generation, she says: “My perspective is that everyone has the ability to reach whatever their potential is, but you have to create the right environment to enable someone to do that. And if you can support someone to overcome the difficulties they are facing, then they can achieve their potential.” Fiona summarises her role as a mentor as, “Being there to walk alongside someone. And if there are any skills that help them become more self-sufficient or resourceful, or believe in themselves, then you do whatever you possibly can. And then you hand the baton over, and you get that feeling that you’ve done something which has helped that person take one or two steps forward.” …………… If, like Fiona, you want to use your lived experience to support a young woman in your community, sign up now to become a mentor.