Nicola Stevens - 2. Cross-Cultural Mentoring

nicola.jpg Following on from Nicola’s post as Guestblogger last week, when she wrote about Writing Business Books, she explains what Mentoring is in a business context and also talks about Cross-Cultural Mentoring and her own fusion background growing up in Singapore and feeling Singaporean.

Nicola writes:

What Mentoring is All About

Mentoring is the process of exchanging experience and related information. In the past mentoring was traditionally viewed as a ‘elder/protégé’ relationship, but now it is being recognised that experience does not always come with age. This realisation has refined mentoring models to establish reverse mentoring are being encouraged between the leading edge youngsters, as the mentor with the valuable experience, and the elder successful business, as the mentee, to continue the circle of valuable learning and knowledge exchange. Other perspectives of the mentoring process are buddy, peer and themed mentoring.

Mentoring is essentially an activity that is free at the point of delivery. For example, the business person voluntary mentoring in the Princes Trust, the line manager mentoring identified talent potential, or the employee who wants to understand his strategic role in the organisation for promotion. In all these cases the mentee will not be paying for the service.

So, outside my work the question for me is: do I want to mentor, free of charge, using this area of my expertise for the benefit of others? My professional fee charging role, mentoring is the area in which I train people in the mentor and mentee relationship and skills, how to set up and implement a mentoring programme and create a framework to measure the success and increased benefits and profitability to the organisation. These are consultative pieces of work. Sharing my experience as a cost free activity is my choice, which I personally need to assess so as not to blur the boundaries of paid and voluntary work. I do mentor others, but usually making my experience available to the voluntary sector. I am currently President of the City Women’s Network (CWN), which was set up in the 1970’s for the mutual support and positive experience of senior women working within the City of London. We all accept the ethos of the network and are prepared to give other members the benefit of our experience.

Needless to say, at the moment I have a mentor, who is someone recently retired from academia and is an expert futurist, which is an area I find fascinating and definitely broadened – or is lengthened a better word? – my view of the workplace and the role of work in the global society.

Cross-Cultural Mentoring

Cross-cultural mentoring is very important to me. For example, I was recently in Brussels facilitating a group of CEOs from the same sector but with very different levels of working with diversity & inclusion. All the organisations were multinational and global household names. For these successful and intelligent leaders, issues of how do they lead the way forward, role model best practise to their own organisations, through the issues of diversity that include the 6 pillars of gender, ageism, disability, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, with the overarching expectations of differing societies and institutions, coupled with the opportunities and changes technology has brought to the work and home spheres has them, understandably, overawed.

The use of highlighting the cross-cultural issues and mentoring the experiences from the different perspectives is vital to achieve an accepted ‘norm’, or create a ‘matrix of tolerance’ as Kate Nash, CEO of RADAR named the concept. To share best practise in this area is essential, and creating an appreciation of best practise and modelling professional and personal leadership needs an ongoing exchange of information and experience to arrive at an cross-cultural understanding. But first, all these leaders need to learn what makes the mentoring and mentee relationship work so they are no longer frightened to come out of their ivory towers and listen and learn from those around them.

Fusion background

I was born in London as my parents were moving between York and Norfolk, only to start a journey that took me to Cyprus and then on to Singapore in time for my 3rd birthday. So my first memories are of the Far East, I had always grown up on warm climates and thrived; so sunshine and that free way of life were normal to me. By coincidence, we also never lived in English communities, so I was very lucky to be surrounded with others, which made me the oddity. Being a child, I didn’t notice difference. I ate Cantonese food, ballet lessons with locals, shopped in markets and while my Mother away was in hospital, I spent masses of time wandering far and wide, always being shepherded by the kindness of those around me. The foreign bits of life to me were being sent to the local forces school and mixing with other British families in the formal way ex-pats abroad do.

My brother has already been set home to school the year before. My Mother had not been well, so we arranged to come home as a family. The three week journey by sea back to the UK was the first time I had experience of the British en masse, their way of living, attitudes and food. Having been told I would live going home – a concept I did not understand – I arrived in Southampton in thick fog, wore what were supposed to be my winter clothes in the closing summer months before being sent to a Boarding school.

Even though I Iooked like the perfect English girl - blond hair, blue eyes – I could not understand how the sun could shine, and yet I was freezing cold. I had no concept of cold. Needless to say I had arrived into the coldest winter since 1947. I had not points of connection with my classmates who were gymkhana crazy, pony mad and thought my dolls house was odd as it had no chimneys in the roof or fireplaces in the rooms. The dolls house had been made in Changai jail, the backdrop to a WWII Japanese POW camp in which many soldiers in East Anglian regiments had been interned, and of which ere my classmates fathers. There was later a film made of the book King Rat that tells the story of the camp. All the experiences and interest was naturally not shared by those who’s fathers were the camp’s survivors.

At school were only allowed to have a bath twice a week, three of you bath together at on time, and the favourite song to sing during this ritual was “Slow boat to China” which sounded like complete nonsense to me. I decided the British were barbarian, which was confirmed by being offered pilchards in tomato sauce on toast at school tea one evening. Our cat loved pilchards in tomato sauce and used to lick the sauce off first – now I was being fed cat food!

I always said coming to the England delayed my development by years – the shock and differences were so great. What I find interesting is that there still is little recognition that for children, let alone adults, cultural transitions are character influencing, even if the transition is into their own culture. Recently I surveyed a group of American women living in London for their husband’s work. Even though they had be career girls in the US, they were not allowed to work in the UK. May had started families and concentrated on home life and generally found other US networks and women to create their community and support networks. I asked what the differences and similarities were in their lives, and had they been given any awareness training before coming to Europe. No they all chorused. Had they been sent from the US to France or Japan they would get some sort of induction to local life, but because the US spoke English there was no need.

They made a life for themselves outside the US, but with going through life changing new experiences like starting families, renovating properties and creating homes, they felt now they were more at home in London, and felt they had little in common with experiences and attitudes when they went back to the US on holiday. In fact, many felt they did not want to go home yet, and would prefer their husband’s career to continue outside the US, which they admitted could be detrimental to future promotion and success.

Cross-culture expectations are subtle, but very powerful and have the ability to create either a negative or positive effects instantly. Like the mentoring relationship generally, successful, valuable and sustainable cross-culture mentoring only happens when the skill of open-mindedness is learnt and practiced. Then the exchange of information can be achieved on the basis of the mentor giving experience as they learned it, and the mentee can adapt, leave or take what they need and want freely without egos personal feeling being questioned. No one need feel overawed, or unappreciated.

Nicola can be contacted via her website

3 Responses to “Nicola Stevens - 2. Cross-Cultural Mentoring”

  1. Pey Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this post, thank you Nicola!

  2. Kenny Mah Says:

    Cross-cultural expectations can be even more startling sometimes. If I ever get to writing about my time in Germany… :P

  3. Say Lee Says:

    In a business setting, mentoring is part and parcel of passing on the torch, or grooming.

    Coming from a multi-cultural but decidedly Asian background, I can say that mentoring is more often than not a one-way process. There’s hardly any reverse mentoring. This is typical of a patriarchal order where the mentees are overly deferential to the mentors.

    Transplanted to the US setting more than 3 years ago, I have since enjoyed a much more peer-like mentoring process, which I think is a more fruitful relationship for a company. Both the mentors and mentees benefit from the interaction, adding to the corporate corpus of knowledge. This is because both parties do not take the flow of information for granted.

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