Mentorships have always been highlighted as a great way to support career growth, and for good reason. Some of the biggest business leaders credit their success in part to their mentors, including Oprah Winfrey speaking of being mentored by Maya Angelou.
Mentorships are also often highlighted as a way to diversify companies, with some mentoring programs reporting success in boosting representation at the management level from 9 to 24%.
Limit Break Mentorship was set up specifically to support diverse talent in the UK games industry, to help facilitate connections and support people from underrepresented groups in growing and advancing their skills and careers.
Now entering its fourth year, it has proved really popular, and is now the largest program of its kind in the UK. We consistently hear from our participants how rewarding mentorships can be for both the mentor and the mentee, and in this article, we will explore what it means to be a mentor, and some useful tips on building a successful mentorship experience.
Anyone can be a mentor
When we think of mentors, the image is often of business leaders, who have been honing their skills for years and are an expert at what they do. However, that's not quite true, anyone can be a mentor -- if you are enthusiastic and willing to share your experience with others!
Even if you have recently joined the industry, you could mentor someone trying to break into it and share the lessons from your experience
For example, even if you have recently joined the industry, you could mentor someone trying to break into it and share the lessons and knowledge from your experience.
It's worth noting that it's really key to get those in leadership positions to mentor underrepresented groups, so that we can break the cycle and diversify the top layers of the games industry. Mentorships are a great way to do this, and will also help you diversify the groups of people you talk to, which may bring new perspectives to problems you're solving.
Take your time
As you are starting up your mentorship with someone, it is really important to remember that a mentorship is still a relationship.
The most successful mentorships have been proven to be the ones where the mentor and mentee take time to get to know each other, and understand each other's perspectives, rather than going straight to business. You'll both be much better for it!
Plan ahead and introduce some structure
When you start the mentorship, spend some time with your mentee to understand what they would like to get out of it.
It will be important to understand how long the mentorship is intended to last (though you can always extend it if you both think there's value in doing so), then define some key goals that your mentee would like to achieve, and work together to have a rough outline of what your meetings should look like.
Don't be too strict either! This is a relationship, and you need to have space for the direction to change, but make sure that you are prepared for conversations derailing so that you can put them back on track.
Kickstart the conversation
One of the best ways to get your mentee to talk about what is most concerning to them is simply to ask, "What's on your mind?", or any variation of this question.
This is a relationship, and you need to have space for the direction to change
Keeping the question open will give your mentee a chance to talk about their biggest concern, and the ownership to take the conversation where they want -- as it can be tempting to just continue the conversation you had last month.
Your role is then to help make sure you keep your mentee on track if they get distracted, and keep the conversation focused.
Don't boil the ocean in every meeting
This is one of the easiest traps to fall into with a mentorship -- you will have so much to discuss, and it will be tempting to unpack everything, and to try and talk about all of it.
Asking intentionally leading questions to your mentee, to make sure you are getting them to focus on a few key issues, will help address these in depth, and help you understand how best to advise them.
One way to do this is to use the 3 P's:
- Project (issues with the content itself)
- People (issues with team members, bosses, clients, customers, etc.)
- Pattern (is your mentee getting in their own way?)
Use your hindsight
Your experience will give you a unique perspective into the issues your mentee may be facing. You might have experienced something similar, so it'll be a good time to explain what you faced, and how you resolved it.
You can talk about the differences and similarities and find what your mentee may be able to apply from your experience to help them solve their issues.
With this hindsight in mind, it is also key that you don't make it seem like you think what they are facing is unimportant or that their feelings aren't valid.
Make sure you approach this issue and share the similarities you have with empathy. If you want to question things, ask them how they felt about it, ask why they believe this is important, and acknowledge their experience.
Be honest and transparent
Trust is hard to build and easy to break. Your mentee needs to feel like they can trust you and share key information, or the relationship won't work.
Talking about where you failed and being vulnerable with your mentee will show them that they can do the same with you, and that your help is coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help. There's nothing that builds trust more than giving someone 100% of your attention, so make sure you use active listening.
Body language can be useful here, such as nodding your head while they are talking -- this is especially important when you are doing these meetings remotely and you may not be able to have eye contact with your mentee.
Skip the homework
While homework may feel like a great way to create accountability, your mentee may be too busy to do the work and might end up dreading meeting with you or feeling guilty about it.
Rather than giving them extra work, check in with them frequently to know how much progress they've done on the issue they last brought up.
Mentorship can go both ways
Mentorships are a great opportunity to diversify the people you are speaking to, and to bring a fresh perspective to issues you are also trying to resolve.
Make sure that you spend time educating yourself about what your mentee may be experiencing
Bringing in that open-mind and honesty to your meetings, and talking about what issues you are also facing, will not only allow your mentee to gain experience and insight they may not be able to get otherwise, but they may be able to help you solve this issue.
Be an ally
You may be mentoring someone from an underrepresented group that you might not be a part of. As you are talking about your own experiences, it will be important to acknowledge that your solutions may not work for your mentee due to issues with unconscious bias, discrimination, or otherwise different lived experiences.
When mentoring someone from an underrepresented group, it's important to make sure that you keep an open mind, that you approach the discussion with empathy while also not centering the conversation about you. Where possible, look to use your privilege to actively promote your mentee and amplify their voices.
If you make mistakes while talking to them, own your mistakes and de-centre yourself. Simply apologise, acknowledge the mistake you made, talk about what actions you're going to take to resolve it, and move on. Make sure that you spend time educating yourself about what your mentee may be experiencing on a day-to-day basis, as the weight of educating you shouldn't be on them.
Every great mentor has to start somewhere. If you've got the enthusiasm and you want to help and invest in the next generation of industry talent, mentoring has the potential to be a great experience for both you and your mentee.
Limit Break is a mentorship program for people working in the UK games industry that identify as part of an under-represented gender, orientation or ethnicity. Cinzia Musio is an award-winning Diversity & Inclusion professional in the UK, with an approach focusing on intersectionality. Musio is a training consultant and researcher for Limit Break, a diversity & inclusion advisor at Splash Damage, and helps manage the UK Games Industry Slack, among other things.