#YouAreInfluential – Why we’re telling mentees that their mentor needs them

In the lead-up to International Day of the Girl 2018, The Girls’ Network team got together to discuss the message of our upcoming campaign. As a charity matching girls from the least advantaged communities with professional and inspiring female mentors, we often focus on the benefits the programme brings to mentees. It’s important that we communicate these benefits to mentors so that they are motivated to give their time and create impact and change. The benefits for mentors are tangible and demonstrable: among other things mentoring is emotionally rewarding, great for your CV, and a chance to gain a fresh perspective on your views and values. While we spend time talking to mentors about why the programme is positive for mentees, do we spend enough time talking to mentees about the impact they can have on a mentor? And why should we?

Talking about my generation 

‘Generation Z’ – the one our mentees (aged 14–19) and most of our ambassadors fall into – are more politically engaged, and far more connected than the generation before them. Young Gen Z women have seen the #metoo movement first-hand, for example, and took to social media as well as to the streets alongside their older counterparts to fight for a better future for themselves. You could argue the world is waking up to young people’s power to influence, women specifically: just in the UK, the country seemed to listen when 18-year old Amika George started the #FreePeriod movement to ask the Government to provide free sanitary products to girls on free school meals; Mhairi Black was 20 when she was elected, making her the youngest MP for centuries; and even 12 year old girls can find a platform to have their voices heard, as inspirational speaker Vanessa Sam demonstrates.

And still...

... this generation is also struggling far more than any before with mental health, and with results-related stress. In spite of being so connected, with information and willing ears and eyes seemingly at their fingertips, it can be hard for individual teenagers to feel empowered, to feel a sense of their own personal potential for influence. Particularly when there’s a discrepancy between influence and power; the concept of being ‘an influencer’ having been appropriated by this very generation mostly to refer to Instagram-famous trendsetters financed by fashion brands. 1:1 mentoring sessions can become a chance for teenage girls to have a different kind of platform, a face-to-face opportunity to exercise their influence on a ‘micro’ scale IRL, and inspire their adult, professional mentor. We decided to shine a light on these moments on October 11th, and remind all of our mentees and ambassadors that #YouAreInfluential.

The response 

After we put the call-out, mentors turned to all our social media platforms to share what they’d learnt from their mentee. To be more reflective, to stay positive in the face of difficulties, to stay true to yourself without compromise; these were just some of the responses. One mentor tweeted that her mentee “opens my eyes to a world I never knew before,” adding that “when she was fasting I got to know more about Islam and Ramadan. Since matching she’s passed her driving test, which has encouraged me to start thinking about learning to drive myself.” She wasn’t the only mentor to be inspired to make a change: “Mentoring made me look at my own goals and career ambitions in a new light,” one mentor texted us, “and rethink the path I was on. Watching someone at the start of their career make decisions based on what they enjoy rather than on making money forced me to really think about what I want in life. As a result I have gone part time in my job and I’m working on something I love.”

Having the power to influence someone else is uplifting, fulfilling, it makes you stronger, and it’s addictive. It makes you want to feel that way again and again. This is why these ‘micro’ moments are huge: they are creating a growing network of Gen Z girls in the UK who not only have the platforms and connectivity to spark change, they suddenly also have the self-belief to light the fuse.