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Career Influencers: research shows they help women take their career to new heights

28 October 2013

networking blackboard

60% of professional women have a professional influencer

61% of those professional women who don’t have such a relationship wish they did

The Westpac Women of Influence Report has found that professional women are experiencing the value career influencers, whether role models, mentors or sponsors, have upon their professional lives. Nearly three in five (60%) have confirmed they have at least one of these and more than half (58%) have stated that person has a strong impact on their career.

“The value which role models, mentors and sponsors bring to a professional woman’s life can make the difference between a good career and a great career. Women are great at building relationships in their professional, community and personal lives, as they interact both personally and professionally through communication. It’s therefore not a huge surprise they want to interact with others to bounce ideas off, share perspectives and seek ongoing advice and leadership,” said Larke Riemer, Westpac’s Director of Women’s Markets.

Of the remaining career-focused women who don’t have a role model, mentor or sponsor (40%), nearly two thirds wish they did (61%). Furthermore, 94% of these women are likely to experience challenges at work, compared with 87% of those with mentors who face less challenges.

“Mentors become career champions and providing information, education and networking opportunities as a mentor, or receiving that support from a mentor, assists the growth and development of the world’s largest economy – the ‘Female Economy’ – and it’s something all professional women should look to have and be during their career,” said Ms Riemer.

When it comes to the role these influential women play in their mentee’s life, the national report found that mentors are the main type of professional guide with nine in ten participants confirming they regularly look to their mentor for advice (94%); support (93%); help with problems (92%); help to realise their potential (91%); and to act as a sounding board for their ideas (91%).

The report was launched to coincide with the Westpac Group and Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence awards. It also uncovered that Australia’s professional women tend to choose role models, mentors or sponsors they know already personally in a business capacity. In fact, 56% of survey participants see a colleague or manager (current or previous); high achieving females in business (53%); or a manager they have worked under during their career (52%) as key role models.

“A strong connection is vital as the mentor needs to understand the goals, aspirations and strengths of the woman they are advising; and the mentee needs to have an opportunity to explore the career history of their leader in order to get a sense of the challenges they’ve overcome, personality traits and professional values. There also needs to be a deep mutual respect in the relationship so each person can fulfil their role as the partnership evolves.

“In my experience, the mentor/mentee relationship is insightful and rewarding for both the influencer and the influenced. Women who have achieved success like to give back to professional women who are in the earlier stages of their career with their knowledge and wisdom, and the mentee can also provide an alternate point of view or fresh perspective on various matters,” said Ms Riemer.

When it comes to the key characteristics Australia’s professional women are looking for in their supporters, to be honest and trustworthy (36%) and a good communicator (32%) are the most important traits. Also important is the need to be respectful of others (22%), followed closely by someone who can effectively balance work, family and community (20%).

The 100 Women of Influence program, presented by Westpac in partnership with The Financial Review Group, celebrates outstanding and influential women across corporate, community, arts, philanthropy, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Key Findings – Westpac Women of Influence Report

Role Models, Mentors and Sponsors

60% of professional women in Australia have a professional support person, whether it’s a role model, mentor or sponsor.

58% of professional women claim a role model or mentor has a strong influence on their career, while 61% claim the same for a sponsor.

Of the 40% of Australia’s professional women do not have a professional support person, over two thirds (61%) wish they did have someone fulfilling that role.

94% of professional women who don’t have a role model, mentor or sponsor, but wish they did, experience challenges at work, compared to 87% of those with mentors who face less challenges.

One in seven (13%) have a sponsor.


Influence and role of professional support people

For more than nine in ten women, mentors play a strong supporting role in their professional life.

61% of professional women with a sponsor claim their sponsor is extremely influential in their career.

The key role of mentors in professional women’s lives are to:

o Offer advice – 94%

o Offer support – 93%

o Help with problem solving – 92%

o Helps you realise your potential and instil confidence – 91%

o Act as a sounding board for ideas – 91%


Where professional women find their supporters

A colleague or manager (current of previous) – 56%

High achieving females in business – 53%

Manager they have worked under during their career – 52%


Characteristics of professional support people

The key traits professional women look for in their role models, mentors and sponsors are –

o Honest and trustworthy – 36%

o Good communicator – 32%

o Respectful of others – 22%

o Can effectively balance work, family and community – 20%

(Please see the following definitions of a role model, mentor and sponsor. Role model is defined as someone who inspires you and who you look up to, in or outside the workplace. Mentor is defined as someone in your personal field who can provide guidance to better your career skills, and advise on best paths to take to get you where you want to be. Sponsor is defined as someone within your workplace who has decision making authority, and the power to harness your skills and help you ‘move up the ladder’ with their backing.)

Tips for professional women

Find a mentor Regardless of your skill set, there will always be someone who can provide you with a different perspective. A mentor is someone who has already walked the path that you are hoping to walk, so they can provide valuable insights and guidance.

Develop and maintain your personal brand Have a clear idea of what you have to offer in terms of your skills and motivations, and how you bring these assets to the table. This will help you stand out in the workplace, and be recognised for the quality that you deliver.

Know how to market yourself Marketing is about effective communication with your customer base. Make sure you have a clear understanding of how you will market your skills and achievements within the business so that your skills become recognised by others.

Be visible It’s important to both be seen, and be seen to contribute meaningfully. Your fellow colleagues will judge you on your energy, enthusiasm and personal contributions to the broader business goals.

About the survey

This survey was driven by Sweeney Research via online polling of 1,031 women aged between 25 and 65 years of age during the month of August 2013. A copy of the executive summary of the report is available upon request.