Mentoring and Mentoring Circles

Recognising the value of mentoring Race for Opportunity has produced this toolkit that offers guidance and practical ideas for mentoring and how to start a mentoring circle.

RfO’s research (Race to the Top, 2009 and Race to Progress 2011) and its related project  (Race to the Top Mentoring Circles for BAME women) have together recognised the value of mentoring, identifying that it helps promote and advance the career progression of BAME women in the workplace.

Who are mentors? 

Mentors are facilitators and teachers who allow their protégé (mentee) to discover their own direction by offering advice and guidance. A mentor is both a source of information and knowledge in addition to being a skilled questioner.  Mentors have a tendency to possess more expertise than the mentee so the difference between the mentor and mentee is valued because it is mainly the source of learning for the mentee. Mentors should be chosen by looking at not only their level of seniority within the organisation but also softer skills such as listening skills and a genuine commitment to advance other BAME women. Mentoring is therefore the all-inclusive description of everything done to support the mentees orientation and professional development. 

Who are Mentees?

Mentees are those individuals with a genuine desire for further development within the organisation. They may be invited to join the programme but need to be fully committed to the programme by accepting the challenges and taking risks in order to progress.
Ensuring that the mentee commits to all appointments is crucial to sustaining the circle


Mentoring Circles

How Should Mentoring Circles Operate?

It is important to decide how long you want the mentoring circles to run for.  The RfO mentoring circles which is an easily transferable model, was set up for a 12 month period after which participants were free to continue with the network in a more informal manner and extend the network to a wider pool of women as desired. 

Mentoring circles should be set up with a group of 6 to 8 best matched mentees to 1 mentor. This mentoring circle format delivery maximises the use of the mentor's time and is also an effective way to utilise informal peer support networking. 
Face to face meetings (usually 8 - 10 in a 12 month period) should be agreed upon and diarised at the first meeting. 
Sessions should be held at the mentor's offices and should generally last for two and a half hours.
RfO suggests the GROW technique (an active learning set) is used at the first session as a means of mapping and measuring goals and objectives over the set time period and it will also give each mentee an opportunity to discuss their respective goals in detail.
Peer to peer mentoring needs to take place between the meetings and this can be achieved via an online mentoring portal/email where mentees can keep the momentum of the meetings going and support each other through any specific concerns in the interim.


Key Information for Successful Meetings

Agree personal ground rules; agree the scope of the circle, what it is and what it is not.  Ensure everyone agrees to make the relevant time commitments to ensure that all circle members have balanced and mutual support.  Also agree how you will manage exceptions e.g. people dropping out, invitation to new members or guests.

It will be beneficial if the mentor has had some experience in managing/motivating a team or been an informal/formal coach. The mentor must be able to build trust, rapport and confidence among the group in a non threatening and friendly space. Therefore act as an enabler, helping the mentees to realise their potential and uncover hidden talents/abilities, while mentees must actively engage in a non judgemental, caring yet challenging manner.

Protocol for Meetings:

The first meeting:

  1. Personal introductions round robin style as per a planned set of 3 questions for no more than 5 minutes each – whilst first indicating name and organisation only, participants must then share what each of them wish to gain from the mentoring process and what each of them can offer the group, as well as another more relaxed question such as what are they most proud of or perhaps their greatest achievement to date. It would be ideal if participants are forewarned of these questions, so they can come prepared.

  2. The mentoring protocol to include ground rules such as confidentiality, honesty and commitment.

  3. The mentoring contract to include agreement on forthcoming meetings which need to be planned ahead and in collaborative manner (so diaries must be brought along/roughly known for the next 6-8 months).

  4. Online mentoring (if being used) – frequency of posting and rota as per alphabetical order (first name)* - it is suggested that an online networking site (RfO are able to produce our US based administrators to set up a similar platform if needed) is established as it was found that some sites such as LinkedIn are blocked by some employers. There needs to be a method of communication between the meetings and although email is an option, it is not encouraged due to existing capacities at work etc. As such, this kind of website will allow creation of a private space to share discussions, goals and notes, primarily in order to keep the momentum and support going between the 6-8 week period. The leader will not be expected to drive this but a ‘ team leader’ needs to be allocated so that they can follow up should postings not take place. It is recommended that each mentee posts a message a week as per the rota of names (alphabetic order) and that others add in a line to support. 

  5. Action learning set (a speed mentoring exercise), which the leader will lead and facilitate. At this session, mentees will be paired up and identify their short term goals and objectives with each another (for a period of 10 minutes) and at the end of the session, share them very briefly across the wider group.

Second and Subsequent Meetings


  1. Mentees should take turns to share with the entire group their respective agreed objective/ goals, ideally both short term & long term. Each of the mentees would therefore have the opportunity to delve deeply into each of their defined objectives: this exercise should be timed by the leader so that the mentee will have a solid 30 minutes for sharing. At the end of the 30 minutes, 15-20 minutes should be set aside for feedback and discussion time, so that the other members of the group are able to offer their advice, input and suggestions in a non judgmental but objective and helpful manner to that specific individual. This will encourage establishment of the peer to peer mentoring model. 
  2. All mentees should be provided the space and opportunity to carry out the above exercise over the course of the next meetings and this should ideally be done by alphabetical order but the group may decide a different order if they so wish.
  3. As best practice at the beginning of each session, the whole group should quickly state 3 positive aspects in their professional or personal life that have changed/improved since the last meeting –  ideally it should be in terms of improvement, but it could also be a challenge they have faced.  Of course if someone has some exciting news take time to celebrate!
  4. The leader should guide the group into creating personal development plans. We recommend setting aside a specific meeting to focus on this. A flip chart will need to be available on this day. Mentees should be encouraged to kept track of their agreed actions and updates since the first ‘sharing session and map out where they are at now in order to create wider plans for the future.