By Mia Mulrennan, Psy.D., Chief People Officer, International Dairy Foods Association
Mentoring circles have been one of the cornerstone touchpoints for Women in Dairy, a signature program of IDFA’s People Strategy. Facilitated by a mentor, each circle has eight participants and runs once per month from April through December each year. Each meeting focuses on a specific topic related to women in the workplace.
According to a Forbes article published in May of 2022, 70% of Fortune 500 companies have some type of mentoring program. Mentoring circles specifically attained corporate popularity through Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's prior COO, following the publication of her book, “Lean In,” in 2013. Unlike individual mentorship, multiple participants are involved in mentoring circles and share a common passion for a particular topic which relates directly to their professional and self-development.
There are many benefits to a mentoring circle format (versus one-to-one mentoring), including opportunities for active networking and collaboration, obtaining access to diversity of thought and varied perspectives, and the ability to form a strong sense of belonging and expansive support for your development.
It might be tempting to paint a picture of a mentoring circle where we think of the mentor of a circle as the “hub” or “teacher” of the group, where they are expected to lead conversation and be the main person to speak. For mentoring circles to be effective, however, this picture should be far from what is actual reality. For a mentoring circle to truly work, the mentor is simply a facilitator, and each mentee is a providing the content.
When I taught at Georgetown University for several years, the Leadership & Ethics course I taught began each term by first going over the basics of the syllabus (just like every other master’s level course). Admittedly, this is not an extremely exciting task, but in the section of the syllabus that had a graph outlining points and course grades, I would be sure to emphasize that a portion of their final grade would depend on their participation, engagement, and providing individual input. This doesn’t mean students would have to be passionate about each topic (nor task!), but it did mean that all were required to convey their perspectives and enter into debate as to why or why not others felt differently or the very same. This kind of discourse was encouraged. Why? Because, in the end, you would get out of the class what you put into it. Because engagement matters in learning.
In the fields of education and in psychology, many studies have shown over time that levels of student (but for our purposes, say “mentee”) engagement directly correspond to increased learning. This is true for children, yes, but is especially critical for adults. Active learning increases critical thinking skills and may even help to stave off cognitive decline.
So, if you, as a mentee, you are carving out the time to participate in a mentoring circle and have a goal of attaining professional development toward success in your career, the one piece of advice I would have would be this: participate. Engage in providing input. Verbalize your point of view. Add your unique perspective. You, your career, and your brain will be glad that you did.
Want to get involved in Women in Dairy Mentoring Circles as a mentor or a mentee? Contact Taylor Boone at firstname.lastname@example.org.