Done in the right way, mentoring can be immensely valuable for accountants, but AAT research shows that mentoring within the finance industry is low.
In a recent survey carried out among members, we found that only 45% of AAT respondents have received mentoring.
This is the joint lowest (along with those working in the charity sector) in industry sectors. By contrast, 64% have been mentored in the wider finance and accounting industry.
By not mentoring young accountants, we our missing out on a huge opportunity for upskilling. And so as part of our AATPowerUp campaign, we’re focusing on how we can help to make mentoring happen.
Mentoring in a changing world
For our report Mentoring and Accountancy: Why be a mentor? we spoke with over 200 members, along with the wider finance and accounting industry and employees across a variety of other industries, in order to benchmark their current ability to benefit from a mentoring scheme.
At AAT, we know that in order to remain topical and current for their business and clients, an accountant will need to undertake regular retraining throughout their career – not least to keep on top of advisory and consultancy skills.
And within this, having a mentor can help employees focus on the areas they most need to improve; while being a mentor gives experienced workers a wider perspective of the workplace, and the opportunity to give something back.
The appetite for mentoring is strong
Despite the current lack of opportunity, many AAT members would relish the chance to meet with someone more senior.
Nearly two in five AAT professionals (37%) want the organisation where they currently work to implement a mentoring programme, which compares favourably with other industries and indeed beats the 32% across the wider accountancy and finance industry, our research found.
Of those who had been mentored, 89% said it was a valuable experience. They said it helped with confidence, new skills, a professional sounding-board and helped them set goals.
How can we foster mentoring in the workplace?
“Companies may be short on mentors simply because people underestimate themselves,” says Wendy Rowe, Director Tax & Accounting, Wolters Kluwer UK.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see many people make in both IT and Finance is that they underestimate the true value of their skills within the business, assuming perhaps that they don’t have the experience to be a solid mentor” says Wendy.
To ensure that mentoring is an essential part of a successful work culture, we need to nurture people’s ability to lead right from the start and showcase the specific strengths and skills that they have.
Liz Sebag-Montefiore, Director and Co-Founder of 10Eighty, specialists in career management, says building a coaching and mentoring capability helps to identify new talent and retain key people for longer.
Melissa Sergeant, managing director of Bishopsgate Financial and a coach and consultant to the banking sector, says mentoring and coaching are both aiming at helping someone improve their performance and achieve goals, but the difference is usually in the approach and methods used.
“Mentors provide guidance and sometimes opinions and options to the mentee, whereas coaches ask probing questions so the coachee identifies solutions for themselves,” says Melissa.
The benefits the individual and the company
“Mentoring is a fantastic way for individuals to learn, grow and develop in their career, both as a mentor and mentee,” says Ed Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of PushFar, the mentoring organisation.
“It could be that mentoring helps to support specific workplace challenges or looks at the longer-term career progression of an individual but either way, having the support of a mentor who is usually more experienced and has been in similar situations previously can be an invaluable resource.”
He says that for organisations and companies, running mentoring schemes has several benefits:
- employee retention rates increases
- employee engagement and empowerment increases
- there is cost-effective internal learning and development
- there is a clearer understanding of wider-organisational and departmental function when mentoring is offered across several departments
What works and what doesn’t
Pairing up individuals is often not the way to go and you are likely to find that employees don’t feel they are happy with their ‘matched’ mentor or mentee, says Ed Johnson.
“Let individuals pick and choose from several different relevant mentor matches,” he says. “Offering flexibility around mentoring, by allowing individuals to, within reason, set their expectations and agendas for mentoring, works really well.”
Establishing common ground, a joint interest, a sharing of experience is key, but so too is chemistry, says leading business expert Erica Wolfe-Murray. “You do need to have a meeting of minds, an excitement about where the process can lead, the opportunities it can bring about for both participants.”
Regular checking how each mentorship is working against its objectives is important, but it needs to be allowed to take different routes too.
A true mentor will act as a strong role model to help those around them fulfil their potential. They help you avoid complacency, set career goals and can both inspire and motivate you to success. Mentoring schemes can offer support to employees in both their personal and professional lives.
They can also lead employees to improve not only their business skills but upskill in other areas – not least in communication through regular meetings. The mentor themselves benefit from the new ideas and energy a less-experienced worker might bring, and therefore schemes can contribute to combatting skills shortages.
Mentoring is mutually beneficial, helping to upskill and give new knowledge to mentor and mentee alike. With accountancy rapidly moving away from one reacting to data-inputted figures to one that is advising in real time, those working in the industry will need to ensure their advisory, communicative and analytical skills evolve accordingly.
Learning to become a good mentor allows professionals to share their skills and insight with others, become better leaders, and create a legacy through influencing the leaders of tomorrow.
The #AATPowerUp programme aims to equip employers and finance teams in the areas of leadership and management; digital skills and communication. Visit AATPowerUp for inspiring articles to help you and your business succeed in the modern workplace – next up, how to become a great mentor.
Click here for our whitepaper: Mentoring and Accountancy: Why be a mentor?
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.