Mentoring for Women in Project Management

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

I was very pleased to be invited to present at the monthly PMI Women in Project Management Forum in February.  I chose a topic close to my heart – how mentoring can kick-start your career.

My mentorship journey

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had two great mentors in my life – both older men.  The first was a through a university career programme set up to help final year and new graduates into a career. They part funded work in a food industry start-up and gave me my second mentor.
My second mentor met with me every month and helped me set up and understand quality management systems. It was through him that I got my quality management and system audit qualifications.
My next mentoring experience was a reversal – I was the mentor!  My mentee was a woman in the US, she was an architect with building software product management experience and was looking to transition to general software – and needed help to do that.  By the time we finished, she had secured a position as a programme manager with a multi-national. 
We were introduced through a great New Zealand company called OneUpOneDown. They match women at similar stages of their careers for 12 weeks of mentoring (hence the name. One above and below on the career ladder).
At our first meeting we set out the ground rules. What she was looking for help with, how often we would meet and how we would communicate outside of our meetings. We also worked out a plan around what we wanted to achieve in our 12 weeks together. We met for an hour every week for 12 weeks and we mapped out a plan of how to transition from one industry to another. Every week we discussed what worked, what didn’t work and the plan for the week ahead. We also had general chit chat about what was happening in our respective lives and around the world.

So what makes a good mentor?

If you are looking for a mentor, my advice is to find someone who feels right when you chat to them – they need to be a good fit in terms of understanding what you are trying to achieve and being able to help you in the right ways.  Have a plan and goals so that you have a path to follow and can measure along the way.  A good mentor will be willing to share their skills, knowledge and expertise.  They will teach you what they know and be a positive role model.
A mentor will help you, guide you and challenge you – perhaps take you out of your comfort zone while supporting you. They will listen, provide constructive feedback and are always respectful of your relationship and goals. 

Finding a mentor

You can find a mentor anywhere – ask your friends/colleagues for a recommendation or simply ask someone that you know who you think can help you.  It’s a good idea to know what you want and are trying to achieve so that the person you are asking will know if they can help you.
I’ll share with you 3 questions that you should ask a potential mentor and three that they should ask you…

Three questions to ask your mentor

  1. How did you get to where you are now?
  2. What made you decide to become a mentor?
  3. Have you mentored before?

Three questions to expect from a mentor

  1. What are you looking for help with?
  2. What have you tried to resolve the situation?
  3. Do you have a particular goal in mind, or is it more general support?

Thank you to the PMI Women in Project Management Forum for inviting me to talk, it was a great trip down memory lane. It reminded me how much fun mentoring can be.

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