Francesca Coia, Digital Planning Account Director, Republic of Media

Mentor

I know first-hand the impact that one influential person can have in your life (cue Lady Gaga ‘there can be 100 people in the room..’), and I’m sure we can all name at least one person who has said or done something so meaningful that it has changed the path we were on in life.

Mould your dream career

One of the most impactful workshops I ever attended was at school. Tree of Knowledge came to visit us as a bunch of ready-to-mould young minds during my 5th year. We were taught to think less about passing exams and to focus more on what soft skills we have and the ways in which we could develop them to get further in life. The session was interactive and creative (I distinctly remember having to demonstrate your dream career through plasticine moulding) and left me extremely inspired about where I wanted to take my life after high school. They also helped open our eyes to the opportunities beyond further education such as apprenticeships or first-role schemes. I honestly left feeling as though I could be anything. 

That session was over 10 years ago and probably lasted no more than two hours. The fact that I can still think of it so vividly speaks volumes about the impact one person (Gavin Oates!) can have on you.

Career Ready

Having been supported and developed throughout my career at Republic of Media, I wanted to be able to share everything I’d learned about personal development and the professional world with someone who hadn’t even begun their career yet. Someone who was at the stage I was at when Tree of Knowledge came to visit my school.

When I found out about Career Ready (a social mobility enterprise which pairs professionals with young people in the UK), I immediately jumped at the chance to become a mentor. As an introvert, putting myself forward within a leadership or mentoring role didn’t come naturally to me, so meeting my mentee for the first time was probably as nerve-wracking for me as it was for her – what did I have to teach this young person and why would they listen to me?

The great thing about Career Ready is that whilst there is a structure for the programme, it was completely up to me how I engaged with my mentee, Emma, and how we met her goals. Something that Emma wanted to improve upon was her self-confidence. As cliché as it sounds, she reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger. She was reluctant to speak up in group settings and felt unsure about putting herself forward for opportunities at school that she was more than capable of undertaking. She was also uncomfortable talking about herself, despite being an exceptionally talented person (a musician, artist, and maths genius to boot!)

Confidence is a skill

I was able to demonstrate to Emma that being an introvert didn’t mean that you had no voice or couldn’t do anything that an extrovert could do. I explained to her that in school I would literally shake with nerves whilst presenting and that at University I couldn’t even take my eyes off my notes when speaking in seminars. I have since gone on to present a lecture at Edinburgh College, be part of plenty of presentations at work, and speak on stage at Marketing Society’s Digital Day. All of which I wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of my peers in building my confidence (special thanks to Simon Watson who has championed me throughout my career.) Being able to show Emma that confidence is a skill you can develop was great because it’s all too easy to hold yourself back through limiting self-beliefs.

Remembering the plasticine moulding activity from the TOK workshop, one of the ways in which I encouraged self-expression was through talking about one of our shared interests, art. Emma was developing her portfolio in higher Art and felt reluctant to share her work with me. So, I decided to share one of my paintings with her (a lockdown hobby which has since fallen by the wayside.) Once she realized there is literally nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about when it comes to being vulnerable and sharing your talents, she opened up and began to show me the amazing work she had done in class.

This was a small step in what would become a journey to Emma eventually presenting a research project to senior staff at my agency during her internship at Republic of Media, becoming house captain at school and even going on to be one of the ‘Student of the Year’ winners at the Career Ready awards in London.

Help, tools and guidance

The biggest takeaway for me is that Emma was capable of all of this by herself, she just needed the help, tools, and guidance to realise that. It’s a rarity in life that we take the time out to even work on ourselves, never mind being guided on that journey by someone who is either just older and wiser, or someone who is more experienced within your field of work.

We live in a world that’s highly individualized, so it can be hard to take a step back and figure out what value you can bring to someone else’s journey. Beyond the work being rewarding, you’ll also find that you pick up skills along the way such as becoming a good listener, figuring out how to manage and engage with different personality types, and how to own your own value, skills, and talents. I could not recommend becoming a mentor more. It’s a great feeling to watch someone flourish in life and achieve their goals, knowing that you played a small part in their journey.

Finally, in a world where many minorities have barriers to the workplace (whether that be through race, ethnicity, nationality, class, neuro-divergence, sexuality, gender identity or disability), it’s important that we help others up the ladder behind us, rather than kicking it down.

Last updated 07 December 2023