Fiona Hunt | Board Director & Head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising

With International Women’s Day approaching, I’ve been reflecting on why we still have so many women reach a certain level in business and then for many, their career progression stars to curtail.

Despite the number of females that graduate from university being at an all-time high, the proportion that continue in their career, to take the most senior roles within a company is disproportionate to the number of males that graduate and do the same.

Of the FTSE 100, there are just seven female CEO’s, however in a study by McKinsey & Co. research has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at board level are 15% more likely to outperform the average financial returns for their industry. Gender diversity at the highest levels is clearly good for business, so how can we as a business community encourage today’s female graduates to become tomorrow’s leaders?

There are many contributing factors, but ensuring that women leave university having enough guidance and support to progress is key to building the future of female leadership. The most simple and obvious way for me, is through mentoring. I have had support of three amazing mentors throughout my career, without whom, I would not be in the position I am now. My mentors have helped me at different phases of my career, and offered different skills and support. They have always been business leaders at the top of their game, but they have not always been women. In fast, for me having a male mentor as I stepped from senior exec to MD helped me deal with much of the male dominated culture and politics of the industry I worked in.

Mentorship isn’t a one off coaching session. It is a sustained relationship, over, often many years. Regular informal meetings are key, over the long term. I keep in touch regularly with all my mentors, as they have all, over time become friends, even if their mentorship has ended. Some mentors have been ex-bosses, others industry contacts, but they have all provided endless advice, sounding boards, guidance and advocacy.

There are some key step moments in a woman career in which mentoring is key. Moments such as graduating, returning to work after maternity leave and taking that step from senior leadership to executive or board level are key career moments that a mentor can really help set you up for and then help you navigate through. Mentors are great for the softer leadership skills of raising your organisational profile, influencing peers, dealing with politics.

Personally, I see getting a mentor as the responsibility of the individual, investing in your own career, but some companies provide in house mentoring which is great too. Along with your mentor, your company would ideally support you and your career progression with more formal coaching and training.  MediaCom North are huge advocates of women in business, with 50% of their board being female and the MediaCom network launching the new ‘Returning Women’ scheme that supports women back into work after maternity leave, demonstrating this.  They also support and encourage employees to be part of a mentoring programme.

While the issue of bringing more women into senior leadership is a complex, and there is no silver bullet, finding a mentor is a simple and practical way for women to grow their careers.