Dear Mrs. Adams-Burton. Hmm, way too formal.
Hi Gael. Uff, too catchy.
Hello Gael. Sounds about right. Maybe I add an explanation mark … Or does this sound as I would be shouting her name? Hello Gael, full stop. Yes, definitely full stop! … Puh, I need a break now.
That’s pretty much how it went when I decided to approach someone in our global Communications Team to participate with me in the Siemens job shadowing program. I was so nervous that it took me half a day to find the right words for my email to her. After all, I didn’t even know if she would remember me, let alone whether she would have time for me to follow her virtually in her daily work. The last time we had anything to do with each other was Siemens Earth Day in April 2019 where she advised and supported the employee initiative on communication and employee engagement. But that felt like a lifetime ago, and we only worked together for a couple of weeks. However, already during this short time I had profited from her expertise and knowledge a lot! So, when Earth Day was eventually over, I really wanted to continue collaborating with her. The only question, though, was how to approach her now? She was so busy, and I didn’t want to overload her.
When I came across a SiemensWorld article that she had written on the topic of diversity a couple of months later, a great opportunity appeared! As luck would have it, I was also working on the topic of diversity, however with a focus on the IT organization. Since my doctoral thesis is all about corporate activism and advocacy, I know that socio-political issues should be handled sensitively. My humorous approach with the pun “Let us build a more diverse IT in a binary world of technology!” was something I was just not sure about. I decided to send Gael an invitation to a virtual coffee and hear what she actually thinks about the whole issue.
After a short time, the longed-for notification appeared in my Outlook inbox: Gael Adams-Burton has accepted your invitation.
I remember making some notes before the call-in order to not blurt out with: “Hey, how are you? Are you interested in some job-shadowing or mentoring?”. But as soon as we exchanged on the Siemens World articles – and I was relieved that we shared the same humor – that is pretty much what I did. The conversation felt so familiar that it seemed totally fitting for me to get straight to the point. Gone were all my initial nervousness! Gael offered to start our initial job shadowing just a week after with a biweekly meeting series in form of casual virtual coffee. But as it quickly turned out, this became more than I had ever imagined. Our planned job shadowing quickly turned into an actual mentoring!
My idea of a mentor is someone you can talk openly to, someone who can offer career or life advice, someone who can provide support, feedback, encouragement, and inspiration.
I was completely new to mentoring up until 2020, when I was approached by a young professional working for Siemens in Malaysia. This was paused after a few months, when she went on maternity leave, but I hope we will resume one day as it was a very positive experience.
So, when I received the request from Vanja to be her mentor a few months ago, I was honored to be asked and didn’t hesitate to accept. I had worked on a project with Vanja briefly in 2020 and found her to be a very impressive young woman, full of energy, positivity, and passion.
In our initial call, we discussed our expectations and limitations, in my case this was largely about available time, but we agreed to have short (30 minute), bi-weekly calls on Fridays, typically the quietest day of the working week.
We began most of our calls with Vanja explaining what was on her mind and what her needs were. Some weeks, she simply wanted to share what she was working on, get feedback on a concept, advice on how to overcome a challenge or talk about a dilemma she had.
I quickly realized how important it was to just be there to listen and provide reassurance. Sometimes, I was able to offer practical advice and other times, I would share my own experiences in the hope that it would shed some light on a topic. I tried to be completely open with Vanja, about my own career journey, my successes, and my failures. I would think about what we’d discussed and, for example, send a link to an article or post I’d seen that I thought would interest or inspire her.
There is 20 year + age difference between us but my experiences of being a young woman in the workplace are not so different to Vanja’s. I could empathize with Vanya’s desire to have a purposeful, fulfilling career and to be taken seriously, as an expert in her chosen field. I understand the struggle of making sacrifices to build the career you want, and I know how much courage and determination it takes to achieve your goals.
The mentoring experience has strengthened my respect for millennials. They have grown up in very different times compared to Generation Xers like me. They have different skills, ones we never needed (or had even heard of!) and I especially admire their resolve to challenge the status quo and try to make the world a better place.
Sure, it’s very flattering to think that someone else can potentially benefit from my knowledge, insights and experience, but it’s not a one-way street. I too have learned a lot from my mentee(s), things that help me develop myself and that I can take back into our organization. It’s a true win-win situation!
A few months have passed since our mentoring, and I am still applying some of the many tips and tricks our regular exchange has taught me. Not only when it comes to internal communication challenges, but also in view of working out my personal career goals. Overall, the mentoring has exposed revelatory ways of approaching and accomplishing things! Especially, it has reflected important facets to effectively undertake my PhD and continue in employment. Above all, it has inspired me to set up a similar virtual mentoring program within our Siemens PhD Network. I hope it will encourage others to (re)connect, e-network, and overall create a supportive community of mentors and mentees. Because I for myself would have never imagined that simple 10 virtual coffees would turn out to be an actual mentoring!