Meet our Mentors: Stephen Donne

We’ve always placed great importance on inclusion at Deltra, with a special focus on encouraging women in our industry to pursue ambitious goals. It’s for this reason that we kickstarted our Mentoring Programme, and have been fortunate enough to have some extremely inspiring people come on board as mentors to help us achieve our goal.

We had the opportunity to sit down with one of our devoted mentors, Stephen Donne. Stephen is the Head of Operations at Cumberland Building Society, and he is passionate about using his experience as a transformation expert to provide others in the space with valuable guidance.

Stephen provided us with his insight into the benefits of receiving advice from a person from within your industry, the relationship between mentoring and progression, and the ultimate power of being a good listener.

Hi Stephen, what inspired you to sign up as a mentor? 

Having received and given mentoring throughout my career I was keen to continue to support others with their careers and where I might have had challenges use my lessons to help others. The majority of my mentoring has been internally created by the companies I’ve worked for which usually consists of supporting colleagues at different levels within the organisation, from mid-tier management upwards to senior roles.

Although mentoring for Deltra is different, their values have always appealed to me. I've had a long-term working relationship with Deltra’s co-founder, Minesh, who mentioned the programme to me, and I was keen to provide support. I also loved getting the opportunity to work in different industries, because a lot of what I've done in the past has been restricted to finance mentoring.

I was particularly sold by what Deltra is trying to achieve by supporting women to progress into senior transformation roles, this is something that I’ve always wanted to help facilitate, and now I have the opportunity to play my part.

Is it a different dynamic when you’re mentoring internally, as opposed to externally?

Definitely. Working with colleagues internally, mentees feel the process can be more rigid, with booking time in, monthly, feeling that anything more would be a distraction. Mentoring externally seems to allow for the corporate restrictions to be left behind with mentees using their time very differently.  I’ve found that people need different things at different times. Some are very intensive at an early stage, whether that's looking for general career advice, or a particular situation where they're looking for guidance.

On the other hand, I think external mentees utilise it much more, especially under this programme, where the mentoring has been much more of a process of picking up the phone and talking as and when desired.

For me and working within the programme, I’m committed to dedicating 3 or 4 hours of my time a month towards helping others achieve their goals, but if they need more time with me, this can be arranged. The beauty of the programme is if someone would like structure this can be accommodated, but it’s super flexible which takes some of the pressure off.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in your mentees?

Confidence is the most noticeable change I see in people which helps remove barriers in career progression or dealing with tough situations. I visualise it as the widening of skills going into a metaphorical a toolkit, which means mentees become more confident in their abilities knowing that the skills are there. In many cases this metaphorical toolkit was always there for each of them – they just needed support finessing them and the extra push to realise it.

It’s also been particularly inspiring throughout my Deltra mentoring sessions to see the beginning and end of the journey that some of my mentees take. I’ve seen people go from not having a job, to finding one, and then go on to bigger and better things through their new role.

The questions they ask change, and it goes from finding the confidence to go for such a job, to tackling certain elements, such as cultural problems, or even a specific barrier that they’re facing as a result of their new work environment.

What have you gained from being a mentor?

It’s very rewarding, and that's why I really enjoy doing what I do. I know that having a mentor who has been in a similar situation can be extremely reassuring and being able to help others with my own experience has been very fulfilling.

But I think it's always a two-way street. Yes, my mentees have things to learn from me, but I also have a lot to learn from them. In a way, my advice won’t always be perfectly suited to their situation; things that have worked for me in the past may not be the same for them. In cases like this, it’s about recognising your limitations and saying “Okay, let’s try something different” and working through the problem together.

More generally, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of people and how different roles operate from within their organisations. I do take in a lot from our conversations and I’ve found value in digesting what they’ve said and noting how different it is to what I’ve experienced. It’s all about having that open conversation and allowing mutual learning to take place between mentor and mentee.

In your opinion, what makes a good mentor? 

For me, the main thing is being good listener. Hearing someone out and offering them a space to talk through their issues, free of judgement, can do wonders.

Though additionally, it’s important for mentees to be able to speak to somebody with experience in the field that they’re in. People need mentors who will understand their queries, with the relevant expertise to share.

Why is it important for women in the transformation and change space to have mentors?

It’s evidently still a challenge for women to break into those higher roles, and I’ve noticed this first-hand through the mentoring that I’m currently doing. It’s not a stretch to say that these spaces are predominantly occupied by men, whilst things are changing, change is still slow

I’m personally keen to promote DE&I for all roles, and it’s not the case that women don’t have the desire to progress, but through conscious or unconscious biases, women can be overlooked, either by themselves or the recruiting manager. We still live in a world where 85% of women predominantly provide sole childcare, so encouraging mentees in this programme to think differently about ways of working and how to overcome barriers is key.  

This is why it’s crucial to be a good listener, because I don't think there are many people within the industry that would be willing to give this form of encouragement, due to unconscious bias still being an issue.

What differences have you noticed between the men and women you mentor?

Whether male or female, confidence does play a key part in a lot of conversations. What I would say is that men seem to gain confidence a lot quicker and when progressing to the next role are confident to apply, even if they only have a small percentage of the skills. I became aware of this a while ago leading a transformation team. The discussion surrounded applying for their next job, and I noticed that most men would typically look at a job description and say, “I have 50% of what they want, so I’ll apply.”

On the other hand, women would look at the same job, with the same skills set, thinking “I haven't got this, I haven't got that, so I won’t apply at all.” Although confidence is definitely across the board with the people I mentor, it’s about working with the mentee in developing skills, working out solutions to difficult situations and getting the right result. This in turn develops confidence and a mindset that anything is achievable as long as its developed in the right way.  I want my mentees to develop rounded skills and have confidence to take the next step in their career, being able to look at a job where they may not meet the full job specification, and say, “I can definitely go for this.”

Thankfully, with more companies providing more flexibility in the way we work, and programmes like this one, I’m seeing and supporting more woman move into these senior roles which makes me hopeful for the future

It was touching to hear about Stephen’s passion for increasing the presence of women in leadership roles. His mission to continue to boost the self-belief of women within the transformation space is very inspiring and we hope his words encourage others to do the same.

If you’re a woman in transformation in need of a mentor, or you’d like to become a mentor yourself, don’t hesitate to sign up on our Mentoring Programme page.

Mike Weston

29th November

Diversity & Inclusion Mentoring