Mentorship: From Mentee to Mentor
In this episode we talk through her experiences as a young, black and south asian woman entering into the world of advertising who was searching for her mentor soulmate, through to becoming a thought leader and mentor herself.
Read on for the transcript here:-
RSB: Welcome to the Atelier, where we workshop your work life. Brought to you by Talent Atelier, the executive search business where we essentially act as a dating agency between businesses and people. I'm Rachel, Founder and mother of both the business and my two kids.
JG: And I'm Jo, Managing Partner at Talent Atelier.
RSB: We focus each episode on a topic we're asked about frequently, pepper things with anecdotal experiences we've had over the years and root around for letters in our mailbag.
JG: Think of this as career therapy. And this episode is all about mentorship. Today, we have a really special guest, Rani Patel, who is Managing Director and Founder of Calling. We'll be discussing why mentorship is important in the creative industries, our experiences with mentoring and being a mentee, along with some advice on how to approach becoming a mentor. As usual, we'll be putting helpful links into our show notes.
RSB: Rani, tell us a bit about Calling and what you do. Hello. Hi.
RP: Thanks for having me on your podcast. So, a bit about Calling. So, as you said, I'm Managing Director and Co Founder of Calling and we are a new type of advertising agency for a world of constant change. So we launched January, and we launched with a mission to empower voices from the margins, to be a different choice for brands seeking a creative partner that reflects the world their audience lives in. So it's really, to summarise it, advertising is still running against one of the oldest models, and it’s repositioning it, because we believe advertising needs change.
RSB: It is needed.
RP: We call it advertising with a higher calling.
RSB: Love that. Oh, and your logo reflects that as well.
RSB: Both of you have done mentoring and also been mentees, haven't you?
RSB: I suppose I would be really keen to kind of hear from both sides of things. Rani, in particular, what age did your journey begin with mentorship?
RP: Yeah, so the way it started for me was as a mentee, around 26, 27. And I've always worked in advertising, I've always been agency side.
RSB: Was that like a natural, I'm going to use the word calling, but was it a natural calling for you to go into advertising? Did you always want to do it?
RP: Yeah, I did. I'm one of those really annoying people. But when I was younger, I loved watching the ad breaks in between my mum's TV shows. And I was obsessed with the Argos catalogue and I didn't really know what it was.
RSB: The Argos catalogue, putting post-it notes on it.
JG: I want this, I want this, I wanted all, what I thought were diamond rings, but they probably weren't.
RP: I wanted it, and so I knew at an early age, but I didn't know what it was. And then I found myself throughout secondary school and university discovering this idea around advertising. When I entered the industry, however, what I wasn't prepared for. And what I didn't realise was that it was built on a very set system, which was kind of white male, CIS, middle class, and that wasn't really designed for me. So I was like, how do I navigate this system? I need to actually get some advice from these white, CIS, het men. So actually, I asked two men in leadership to mentor me because I was like, I'm a young, black South Asian girl. I don't know how to navigate this system. And it was really trying to understand that.
RSB: How did they react when you asked?
RP: Well, I didn't tell them this bit. Now the tea is coming out about the why.
I was just like, I really need mentoring. I'm trying to understand. And they were obviously flattered, and they were like, yeah, of course. Wealth of knowledge. And it was really helpful for me. But then I actually joined a program which is called Who's Your Mama? Because I realised I needed a mentor that had better representation for me. And I was then partnered with Liane Re, who was, like, the first black female leader I had seen in the whole industry up until that point. So that was around 27, 28. So I did this year with these other mentors in the agency, but then I kind of thought that out wider.
RSB: Okay. What about you, Jo?
JG: My first experience was more peer to peer because I moved to London when I was, like, 24 and with every intention of working in fashion, but I didn't know how to get into it. But then I ended up getting a really good job working in luxury editorial. So I was doing that for, like, a year and a half.
RSB: But you did wangle your way into that. I do like the story of how you got that job.
JG: Yeah, it is a really good story. A girl who is like my little sister from my hometown was a really successful model, and she met a stylist who was also from North Yorkshire but working in a big luxury magazine, and he needed an assistant. And she was like, oh, my friend Jo wants to get into fashion. And then all of a sudden, I was just, like, working for this guy. And I didn't have any experience, but I was really good with clients on set and really just cracked on with things and didn't mind picking up the phone. Still don't love a conversation on the phone. And then when he moved on, I think he moved away somewhere. I ended up working with somebody who's now my friend, shout out to Nova Dando. So Nova's a CSM grad and a creative genius, and I came with more of a luxury editorial lens, so it was more of a skill swap than anything.
But that mentorship, I think, worked both ways, and she taught me how to take up space and brand and ask directly for things without hesitation. And I think that I came with all these contacts with luxury press offices and things like that, which were needed at the time in her business. So, yeah, it was a really natural peer to peer mentorship. And that's the type of mentorship I've had throughout my career, probably with you as well, Rachel, until I became a mentor. So I guess we'll touch on that in a while anyway.
RSB: Yeah, okay. How important has it been for both of your personal and professional development? And why is mentoring important, do you think, industry, especially for marginalised groups?
RP: So, I think I took a moment to really appreciate that as I launched Calling, because when I look at the advertising industry, there are a handful of marginalised people that sit in leadership roles, let alone have launched their own sort of agencies. And I genuinely think, like, I talk about how these first sort of mentors that I had were like my tour guides. If I didn't actively always want mentors and thought them out and got the learning and experience, I don't know if I would have been able to be where I am today. Because it's like the perspective, it's learning from other people's mistakes, it is the guidance that you just wouldn't have otherwise. And I think it's really important for marginalised groups, because they're marginalised, because they have the least amount of resources and access, they need more support or they should be given as much insight.
And I guess mentoring for me now I am a mentor, I kind of constantly do it, even though I struggle sometimes with my own capacity to do it - because it's my sort of counter to nepotism that exists in advertising and other wider creative industries.
RSB: How do you find your mentees then? How do people access you? Are you part of specific programs?
RP: The two that I mentor right now came through a program from my previous agency and they wanted to continue being mentored by me once I left. And I said I was happy to honour that. But the people that I've mentored today have been in different kinds of cohorts, really, people that have reached out to me personally through LinkedIn or on Instagram. And what I will say is that mentoring sometimes seems like, oh, you've got to give up an hour of your time once a week. But sometimes mentoring has been like one meeting and that's all that they've wanted is like an hour of my time and some advice. And sometimes it is regular mentoring, there are two people that I do mentor regularly.
RSB: And do you have structure with your mentoring? Do you have like, okay, now that I've done this a few times, I understand what people are going to need out of me.
RP: Yeah. So listen, time is money. So if I'm giving up my time to mentor you, it means that I am compromising my efforts somewhere else and I'm totally happy to do that. But for me, it needs to be effective and it needs to be useful for everyone. So what I ask the mentees to do is always when we first meet is like, what is your objective? Like, what do you want to get out of mentoring? Understanding that. But then as we plan sessions ahead, I ask them to send me a clear agenda of what they want to cover and what are the problems or issues they want to resolve in that session. Because I want to fast track into that session of what it is that we're getting under the hood of like, what you need support on.
RSB: What kind of age are the people that you're mentoring?
RP: So they are industry, so they tend to be in their early to kind of late 20s. But I have had students because I do talks for different institutions like D&AD, and other sort of smaller female led community platforms and they have been younger that have reached out to me. So I get some at university age asking to interview me for a dissertation, for example, which isn't mentoring, but they want some advice and some support or perspective. So it probably goes as young as maybe 18. I haven't mentored anyone younger than that.
RSB: How about you, Jo? Who do you mentor?
JG: I mentor through the Girls network and for anybody that doesn't know who they are, I will give you a brief synopsis. So their mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a female mentor and a network of professional role models. So I wanted to pay it forward. I come from a disadvantaged background when it comes to accessing the creative industries and not having parents with tons of money. And as soon as I joined the industry, I realised that I was up against people whose parents bankrolled them and that's never been my situation. I've had a wonderful upbringing, but it wasn't flourished with tons of cash. So I also didn't have teenagers in my life. So I'm now 40 and I've got loads of toddlers in my life and loads of kids up to the age of 8. And then there's a huge gap between 8 and 21. And it's really important for our business with the types of culture brands that we work with that we have to understand this bracket of Gen Z.
RSB: Talk a lot about it, don't we?
JG: Yeah, we talk tons about it. Yeah. For me, it's really enriching and fascinating to have somebody in my life. And I learned loads from her about the way she's a 16 year old Bengali girl, from Bethany Green and has a really wonderfully supportive family that wants her to get all of these opportunities. And our time spent together is all about confidence. Her parents want her to follow quite an academic path and she's really creative and wants to get into the creative industries. So because she's not in industry yet and hasn't gone to university yet, I'm trying to coach her into maybe a course that will give her broader access to that. I think she wants to do psychology. So we meet once a month and we have a set structure which the Girls Network outline, and it's supposed to be an hour, but sometimes I hold space for her and sometimes it ends up like a therapy session and sometimes it's a little bit more structured and we follow certain routes. But I really enjoy it. I get tons from it.
RSB: Do you feel the same? Do you get a lot from it?
RP: Yeah, I learn loads from them and it gives me lots of perspective as well. So I think it's like a two way thing. It's not just me turning up and being like, this is how you should do it. I learn so much from them.
RSB: Do they feel your little sisters?
RP: Yeah, and brothers.
RSB: And brothers. It's really nice. I don't mentor and it makes me feel like I definitely should mentor, I suppose, because I feel like the career that we do has so much mentoring in terms of the talent that we manage throughout their careers and constantly keeping in touch and supporting them in their career journeys. That's probably where I get that bit from. But I don't specifically do it with people that probably need it a lot more.
JG: Yeah, I bet there's tons of interested people because you've been doing this career for quite a long time.
RSB: I don’t know what you’re talking about, I'm only 27.
Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. And listening to how much it makes you both sparkle when you're talking about it is really great. You both obviously get a lot from it. How do you approach mentorship now? You're so senior in your career because really you are the boss now. And how does that feel when you're mentoring?
RP: So I thought about this because I can only give my time to two people, really as regular mentees that I'm mentoring. So when I am doing that, the best thing is for it to be one on one. I think I'm just someone that's just better in person and I can be more hands on and more conversational and we can work through stuff together. But because I do get approached by other young talent, I can't always be that mentor and support them. But there's other things I do in the industry that I think and feel is close enough to that one to one. So I do talks, I write articles, I've been on podcasts, and I've done kind of like group mentoring for different platforms where I do like a 1 hour session and they can come in and ask questions. So that's the way that I kind of counter my busy schedule, is like, there's something out here like you can watch this on YouTube.
For example, this talk I did, it was a pre-recorded thing for this community. You can go and look at it there because I can't give my time to everyone.
JG: Can't answer every single question.
RP: Yeah, that's it.
RSB: You don't ever want to feel like you're frustrated and stressed if you're going to be with your mentee. Right. You want to be your best self when you're in front of them so that they get what they need out of it.
RP: I was going to say, but I do get mentor guilt. I don't even know if that's a thing. Because I had this thing where I was like, anyone that LinkedIn messages me on Instagram, I'm going to respond because I want them to feel visible. Because I know that feeling of, like, you reach someone who you think is inspiring or senior and then you want to ask them a question and then you don't get a response, you feel invisible. And because I'm marginalised and I've been marginalised and I think about underrepresented talent, I want them to constantly be visible. But then it's like, how much energy do I have to keep shining a light? So it's something I'm also processing and understanding how to navigate.
RSB: Do you have, like, a pre-written thing to talk about all your incredible content and all?
RP: Maybe I should.
RSB: Maybe you should literally have a PDF with loads of links or just a response. Because if someone got that and it said, like, I don't have the time to reply to anyone, to everyone, blah, blah. Do you know why I am thinking that is because Elizabeth Day just once did an amazing podcast and because if people make brilliant product or make beautiful content, I always feel like I should say thank you because it's really good. And I messaged her and I didn't expect a response, but I got, like a pre written response, but it was a really beautiful one and I was like, oh, that's really cool. So you should definitely do that.
RP: Okay, I'm going to ask my PA to help.
RSB: Yeah, get her to reply to everybody.
RP: She'll be stressed. She'll be really stressed.
RSB: Well, I mean, it's testament that you're a really good mentor.
JG: Getting so inundated.
RSB: But also, this isn't one of the questions that we've got kind of pre-written, but do you ever get frustrated because you feel like you're giving your time to someone that's not taking that advice and running with it?
RP: Yeah, I've had that situation and I've had to kind of then be like.
RSB: Like how do you cut the ties if you're like you're not taking my advice.
RP: Yeah, so what I said is, like, do you know what? I have a limited amount of capacity to support mentoring within my kind of responsibilities, so I can provide maybe one or two more sessions, but then after that, I'm hoping that you've got what you need. Well, let's hope that not hope. You'll have to take what I've given you and use that at your own discretion because I can't provide any more support.
JG: Ongoing support.
RP: Ongoing support. Because I have my own commitments and responsibilities and that's how I've kind of dealt with that.
RSB: It sounds like a smart move.
RSB: What do you both think that time poor people can do so that they can actually become mentors? Because it's obviously a commitment and it's an emotional commitment as well as time commitment, because I would imagine that you find out lots of things that make you feel like that you really want to help someone, but it's not just the hour that you spend with them or have along. So what do you recommend in terms of becoming a mentor as to how to carve out time for it and then keep that going?
JG: So with organisations like the Girls Network, there's a lot of CRB checks and you have to do safeguarding courses. So the initial outlay of time is quite time consuming, and then it's 1 hour a month that you can put into it. I sometimes do a bit more, or if we skip a month, it was Ramadan, so my mentee didn't want to see me in that month, so we're doing tea next month instead. The initial outlay for an organisation like that is more initially. But I think I talked about this one of the other episodes of the podcast that I saw somebody on LinkedIn that had said that they wanted to mentor, but they were quite time poor, but they had a day free that their business had paid for and they'd put half hour slots in a calendar or something and people could book in.
RSB: We've done that, haven't we?
RSB: With career therapy, when people are just like, I don't know what to do with my career. I don't want to change jobs, or I do need to, and they booked in and we just did those kind of things.
JG: So it's not an ongoing mentorship, but you feel like you're paying something forward. And this person was like a CEO of a tech brand in San Francisco so half an hour of this person's time was worth a lot. So that is something if you can't commit to the mentoring side of things because you are so time poor, you could do something like that.
RSB: What about you, Rani?
RP: I have thought about that calendar thing as well.
RSB: Don't you hate it, though - sorry sidebar - when you get, like, a sales email that's like, hey, have you heard about blah, blah, booking an appointment on my calendar? No.
RP: Leave me alone.
RSB: When is that ever successful? Did you get a chance to see all my calendar?
RP: No, I don't want to meet you.
RSB: Imagine that. I don't want to meet you - all my slots and no one's replied. I'm so popular as a mentor, but no one cares.
RP: So the question for time poor people, I think the first thing is, how much do you want to mentor? Because you will find the time for it. And then I think, be realistic about how much you can commit. And for me at the moment, I can mentor two people once a month for 1 hour. So that's 2 hours of my month dedicated to that. And I know my limit, I know my capacity, and I don't compromise on that. So I think everyone has different schedules and what busy feels like for me is different for someone else. But I would say forward planning, I guess, is like the principle for all.
RSB: Get your PA in, she can sort us all.
RP: Yeah, forward planning and setting your boundaries.
RP: It's an hour and it's once a month.
RSP: And do they text you and stuff afterwards? Are you on a WhatsApp chat?
RP: One of them we message, but it's like nothing. Sometimes they just need to check in on something, but it's nothing too intrusive or intense.
JG: My mentee did, she was trying to get a job in a shop and had interview stuff. So I sent her interview prep and then I asked her some questions I thought she might be asked. So I gave her a bic pen and I was like, sell me the pen. So we did that together.
RSB: Love this. She went in all guns blazing.
JG: And then she sent me her interview feedback and I told she’d get the job. She didn't.
RSB: Oh, Jo.
JG: No. So that was a bit sad for her.
RSB: But better job along the way, though, because I'm thinking back to when I was 16 and I interviewed for loads of different retail jobs and I was absolutely awful in some of them. And by the end of it, by the final one at River Island, which I got, I was absolutely bossing it.
RP: You’ve got to have a test one.
RSB: Yeah, I got my test one at Evans. I was pretty happy I didn't get that.
RP: You don't want that discount. The discount on that uniform allowance.
RSB: Thanks. I'm curious to know, Rani, what kind of things you get asked about when you're mentoring people? Like, is it all work related or does it leak into other areas?
RP: It leaks into other areas, for sure. So, yeah, I will get the questions, like, how do I get this promotion? I want to get this salary, this person at work. There's friction. I don't know how to navigate that with them. To my living situation, I think, is impacting my mental health because I'm having to cohabit with X person. My take on that is that when you go to work, you spend the majority of your time at work and how you feel about yourself outside of work and vice versa impacts it. Right. So as much as people there used to be this saying, maybe it still exists in some ad agencies, but it doesn't in mine, which is when you come in, you leave whatever, the home version of you at the door, or you leave that stuff at the door. And I totally feel it’s compartmentalised.
RP: It's a catchy phrase. I don't know what it is. Some business man probably made it up. And my thing is, it's like yes and no, because your work is part of your identity and your life and your wellness and your experiences make you who you are. And if you're having a shit time at home, it is going to impact how you show up for work.
RSB: It's Gen Z as well now, isn't it? Because the emotional side of your whole life is intertwined.
RP: And I'm all about this holistic wellness, and we are about that Calling. We talk about helping brands find their calling, but also talk about helping the people that work for us find their calling. And a lot of that is self identifying with the work and also resolving traumas through the work. So I can't say to my team or the people I mentor, like, Liz, I don't want to hear about your falling out with X, because if that is impacting how they're showing up, actually, I need to hold space for them
RSB: Yeah, that's really true.
RSB: It can be frustrating as a manager, I think, sometimes, because if you just need to get the stuff done and you've got someone that's complaining about something that's happening at home, as maybe an older generation of manager, I'm like, come on, you need to bring your best self to work. But yeah, you're completely right. In a new generational way of looking at things, you have to just allow space.
RP: I think you're right, though, when it becomes a burden, when it's weighing you down. So my thing about holding space is, like, vent about it, get it out, have some self awareness about it. Because we've got some self awareness about it. We know that we need to navigate today in a slightly different way because we've got a level of self awareness about it. I don't want to hear about it every five minutes. No, talk about it and know that we're aware and we're going to navigate this accordingly.
Let's keep moving. You've said it. Let's keep it moving.
RSB: Do you guys still have mentors in your life or they don't have to be work related? Do you have people?
RP: I do, yeah.
RSB: Who have you got?
RP: So Natalie Graeme at Uncommon, the CEO, is my mentor now.
JG: Oh, that's great.
RP: So because I've stepped into this brand new role of leadership as a founder, it makes sense for me to be mentored by someone four or five years later who founded a business as Manager Director as a CEO to get advice.
RSB: Did you know her already? Did you approach her out the blue?
RP: We were connected prior to me a while back. So then it just made sense. Like, listen, I'm doing this. Can I get some mentoring, like guidance? Because when you talk about the emotional side of things, actually, it's not me saying, really struggling to get the client to pay me an extra 20K on that fee. That's not like, how do I negotiate? Because I'm at this level. That's not what it is. It is actually more like I'm feeling really vulnerable because I'm three months in and I don't know what the rest of my year looks like when it comes to forecasts. It's more things like that. And how did you strategically plan and safeguard, yeah it's more that type of mentoring, Which kind of falls into coaching to a certain extent, which mentoring encompasses.
RSB: There are lots of different organisations doing mentoring, but who do you guys think that do it in a really good way? Are there any particular companies or charities that are leading the way as a shining example?
RP: So who's your mama is the only program I used. And they were great because I had a perfect match with Liane Re back however many gazillion years ago. They're still running. They're still going. I still recommend talent to go to them. So that's one, and then I guess a more newer and I guess social first is Babes on Waves, which is a members club for female identifying and nonbinary entrepreneurs and creatives. And it's like peer to peer support as well as they do group mentoring where they bring external partners. I've done some group mentoring for them, and they prioritise marginalised groups in particular BPOC.
RSB: Okay. Great. I think we should put a little list in the show notes.
JG: Yeah, let's do that.
RSB: We’ll put Babes on Waves in there, and we'll put all the other ones there that are really interesting like Who's Your Mama?
Rani, thank you so much for coming and talking to us. It's been a revelation. I feel like I need to get my shit together and start mentoring.
JG: Thank you so much. It was so good to chat.
RP: Thank you for having me.
RSB: No worries.
RP: I can't wait to hear it when it's live.
RSB: Yeah, me too.