Insight into career mentoring and new LGBT initiative

by Linda Wilson, Senior Careers Adviser and Career Mentoring Scheme Coordinator

A couple of weeks ago we told you about our event celebrating the partnerships created with our students and their mentors. Today we’re telling you a bit more about this scheme, how our students can benefit, and about the new LGBT initiative we’ve rolled out this year.

What is the Career Mentoring scheme about? The Career Mentoring scheme gives you the chance to meet with a professional from an organisation or in a job role that interests you. Your mentor can give you the benefit of their experience in a particular occupation, and an insight into the knowledge and skills you need to enter into and progress within that occupation. If you have questions about a career route that interests you, mentoring provides the opportunity to get the answers. There can also be considerable benefits in having a mentor in a non-related field. You maintain the partnership over the academic year during which time it is suggested you will arrange to meet up three or four times.

How can I benefit?  Mentoring can be highly beneficial. You have chance to discuss your career options and gain an insight into what’s required of you in the work place. You may also have the opportunity to visit a workplace, research or confirm your career ideas, gain ‘insider’ advice on the application and job hunting process, find out about specialist skills/knowledge or training required, make contacts and meet people, possibly arrange future work shadowing or work experience or get the support you need so you can face your job search with confidence.

How can I think about who I am “going to be” in the future? Whatever stage you are at with planning your career, thinking about the next stage of entering professional life can be daunting. Much of it has to do with your “professional  identity”,  that is, who you are going to be, at your workplace and with your colleagues. This is going to be much easier for you, if you can be open about who you are, and to feel comfortable (to be your true and authentic self), at work. Having a career mentor who is a strong role model, can be an enormous help in this process.

How might this affect LGBT students? If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual and / or transgender (LGBT) student, you may be dealing with “coming out” at University, and you may well already be making decisions about who it feels OK to tell. You might also have concerns about how to be yourself in new situations, such as starting a new job in the future.

But, isn’t everything much better now that LGBT people have equal rights? New polling commissioned by Stonewall, (the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity) shows that LGBT people continue to expect to face discrimination in almost all walks of life. The report, “Gay in Britain”, (Stonewall 2013) demonstrates that, in spite of huge advances in legal equality, people still expect to face poor treatment … because of their sexual orientation. The poll also showed that over a quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation. Furthermore, in the last five years 2.4 million people of working age have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work.

However, on the plus side, many LGBT people work in supportive workplaces, and also enjoy the many positive aspects of being able to be “out” at work. Many of the larger organisations in both the public and private sector, have made a massive commitment to supporting their LGBT staff. Some people choose to work in the LGBT field, supporting other LGBT people with a range of issues such as employment and welfare rights, housing or health. So, if you are LGBT, having an LGBT mentor who has experienced many of these issues, may be able to help you with some of the decisions you will be faced with when planning for a career that feels right for you.

Can you tell me more LGBT Career Mentoring at Sheffield Hallam? In a new initiative this year, Sheffield Hallam University’s Career Mentoring scheme offered LGBT students the opportunity to have a career mentor who is also LGBT. The mentors are from a range of professions including Law, Engineering, IT and Community Work, and were matched with student mentees who are planning  their careers in a similar area.

Here is an extract from a conversation between Linda Wilson, Career Mentoring coordinator, with Matthew, about his experience of LGBT Mentoring:

Matthew re lgbt mentoringI’m Matthew, and I am final yearWeb Systems Design student and I study project management within IT, e-learning, and online learning and enterprise…and I’ve got a career mentor with IBM.

Linda: When you first applied for the mentoring scheme, you expressed some worries didn’t you, about how you were going to come out, when you start work? Can you tell me about how you were feeling a few months ago?

Matthew: “I had a placement with a City Council.  In my placement I found it hard to share experiences related to being gay. I found it difficult to confide in my peers when it came to my sexuality. This affected my relationships with my colleagues as I didn’t get to know them on a social level; and the whole experience with that led me to doubt myself and not feel confident with my sexuality in work.

So, from that experience I composed the application form about how I felt about coming out at work. In it, I said that I hoped that seeing someone else so confident in their own sexuality within the workplace would change my perception, in regards to gay people being accepted at work. ”

Linda: Can you tell me why you applied to have an LGBT mentor at IBM?

Mathew: “I wanted to see what it would be like for an LGBT person working in a big organisation, especially such as IBM. I wanted to know from (my mentor) Michael, what was involved with it all, how he found it, whether he was comfortable with his situation. And, at first he actually told me that he didn’t come out as LGBT. He was actually ashamed of it, and he explained to me how he developed the courage to speak about it, and how he accepted it, as being normal. That has helped me to develop myself, and now I can see that people can work together with an LGBT person, and it is just accepted in the workplace as being normal.”

Linda: Did he talk to you about the support he’s got from IBM, from being in an LGBT staff group?

“Joining this group has helped him come out, and helped him appreciate himself, so then other people, can appreciate him as well, so I think it’s definitely helped him. Now he works on a scheme with Stonewall in London, and does projects and group work with other IBM employee, around LGBT and diversity issues.”

Linda: What do you say when people say that you shouldn’t get special treatment, just because you are gay?

“I do think you do need that support there, to start with.. .even though some people might think you don’t. But I definitely think you do need that support. I felt as if I needed help, needed some guidance, needed someone’s experience to draw from… and this has definitely helped me with that.”

“People perform better when they can be themselves”

Sheffield Hallam University is currently working with Stonewall, the country’s leading LGBT charity, to become a Stonewall Diversity Champion employer.