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Prabhsharan Kaur (left) and Swati Singh were mentees at Avery Dennison’s nine-month programme, designed by the BD Foundation. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Prabhsharan Kaur (left) and Swati Singh were mentees at Avery Dennison’s nine-month programme, designed by the BD Foundation. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Women need fresh perspectives to become better leaders

The idea of gender diversity at the workplace can only be successful when women don't just join the workforce but also stay there

Much has been written about the glass ceiling for women at the workplace and the challenges they face in the absence of enough female leaders and role models. Avery Dennison, a global manufacturer of pressure-sensitive adhesive materials, has launched a mentorship programme to guide women in their careers so that they, in turn, can inspire and influence others.

“While the quality and nature of the programme is something anyone can benefit from, we are only mentoring women right now because we do notice a lesser population of women in the system. Aside from hiring women, we wanted to groom them so that they can have leadership roles in the future," says Anushree Singh, director, human resources.

The company’s long-term mentorship programme, in collaboration with think tank Beyond Diversity (BD) Foundation, lasts nine months. As part of its diversity and inclusion initiative, the company has chosen three women from mid-management roles for the first batch of the LEAP programme designed by the foundation. The programme connects high-potential women to its network of CXO mentors and includes not just mentoring but also immersive learning workshops, webinars, goal-setting sessions, and networking. The mentor and mentee meet at their convenience, and are required to meet for a minimum of six times during the period. The duration of each session depends completely on the individuals, making it a flexible programme tailored to suit both.

Avery Dennison also has short-term mentoring programmes where employees are guided by in-house domain experts. One reason it collaborated with the foundation, however, was to give employees a perspective on what happens outside the company. “It opens their mind to new perspectives, because each leader has had a different journey," says Singh.

Prabhsharan Kaur, 32, chosen for the first batch, is the associate manager, marketing and communications, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. She handles advertising and events and has to speak to a range of people on a regular basis—clients, vendors, colleagues and managers.

“I have never really paid attention to how I speak to or network with people. This has always been part of the job. But two months into the mentorship process, I am more aware of who to speak to, how to invest my time in them and network more productively," says Prabhsharan, who has been with the company for three years.

“One of the things I wanted to focus on was getting my voice heard. The first thing my mentor asked me to do was to focus on being authentic, rehearsing whatever I had to speak. He helped me see that to build my own brand, I would need to identify people who can be my brand ambassadors. Now I work on relationships and connect more with people who can be my brand ambassador," she says.

There will always be challenges when it comes to juggling work, home and a mentorship requirement. For instance, says Prabhsharan, finding time that suits both the mentor and herself. “But I do not want to miss out on my readings if my mentor suggests something. I guess it is also teaching me to manage my time better," she adds.

“I think this was a way to work on my skills and help us identify our area of development. My mentor is from a BPO service provider and has had over 23 years of experience in the human resource domain. She has helped me work on my personality," says Swati Singh, business development manager, label and graphic materials. The fresh perspective is a welcome change, she believes.

“The programme is a cross-industry mentoring programme. It hones the leadership qualities of mentees, not necessarily the technical skills. Therefore, we match them intentionally with leaders outside their own domain. This also prevents poaching that can otherwise be a possibility," explains Nancy Roongta, senior programme manager at the foundation.

The idea of gender diversity at the workplace can only be successful when women don’t just join the workforce but also stay there. Mentoring future women leaders can certainly help.

Mentor Me is a series that looks at how companies and individuals have taken steps towards mentoring and being mentored.

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