Mentorship is increasingly popular in the workplace and can be an invaluable extracurricular activity for those seeking guidance, support and motivation. John Churchill and Hilary Sutton share their experience of the Law Society’s Women’s Mentoring Program.
Hilary Sutton is an experienced employment lawyer and workplace relations professional. She has held corporate roles in the health and ﬁnance sectors, and worked as a solicitor in private practice. During the mentoring program, Sutton was on maternity leave from her job at Healthscope Operations.
John Churchill has more than 30 years’ experience in the legal profession. He provides strategic counsel to boards, chief executives and senior management of public and private companies. In his words, “I love giving advice; sometimes people even take it.”
Q: Why did you get involved in the women’s mentoring program?
JC: My whole philosophy is about being a man for others – helping others and bringing out the best in them. I am glad the Law Society runs something like this for women, because the situation is unfortunately still difficult. I’ve been fortunate to have a varied career with a foundation as a lawyer and I enjoy sharing that and making some contribution.
HS: I was interested because I’d reached a bit of a plateau in my career. I hoped to gain insight from a senior practitioner in the industry who had a varied background. I was pregnant at the time and wanted a change of direction, but I didn’t know what that looked like. It was like an arrow. I knew I had to do something. We had previously talked broadly about ideas, but this was the moment I had to collect everything and bring it together. Following through is the biggest challenge.
Do you think gender played into it?
JC: I learn a lot from mentoring women. It reminds me not to take things for granted and that we all have different points of view. Getting women to take the approach of asking for things, putting themselves forward, and not feeling underprepared is important. I encourage everybody, male and female, to remind themselves they are good at what they do and to go out and get it. It was a privilege watching Hilary evolve into being a leader. Everyone has their own style of leadership and it’s not gender speciﬁc.
HS: When I signed up for the program, I was asked whether I wanted a male or female mentor. At the time I only cared that they were a number of years ahead of me and had a varied career. Looking back, I’m glad my mentor was a more senior male. It was good for me at the time and taught me to think in a different way.
How did the experience impact you?
JC: I got a lot out of it because I continuously learn. It helped hone my listening skills and the ability to be ﬂ exible and open. I’m passionate about helping people develop and have been doing it for 30 years now. I really love giving advice. Sometimes people even take it.
HS: Since the program I’ve experienced big changes in my life. After returning from maternity leave, I saw an opportunity arise within the company, so I submitted a proposal for a new job. I wrote the job description, the salary I wanted, and I fought for it. And I got it. I’d never done that before. The program really helped me collect my thoughts at a time when I was experiencing changes both physically and mentally. It positioned me for the opportunity when it came. My job is now multi-disciplinary and more of a leadership role than I’ve had before.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to try a mentorship?
JC: Every person must make an investment decision. Most people over-invest in a job and under-invest in themselves. It’s not a sustainable proposition, because jobs come and go. How can you be a successful practitioner if you’re not investing in yourself? If you say you’re too busy for mentoring, it’s a fatal mistake. The legitimacy of mentoring is now commercially accepted. It used to be considered remedial but, as I remind people, even Roger Federer has a coach.
HS: From my perspective, I think you have to want to do it. This was something I wanted to do. It wasn’t something I just added to my resume. I realised I needed direction, so I invested in it mentally and physically. You need to take it seriously and know what you want out of it. I had some vague ideas that John helped me to hone. I saw an immediate positive outcome from the program, so I’d deﬁ nitely encourage people to give it a go. The next step I want to take is to mentor someone else and provide advice on their ideas. Sadly, my son doesn’t take my advice yet.