Lollipop Founder: "Mentoring Is For Everyone"
11 Feb, 2022
In her debut column for MAD//Insight, Maria McDowell, Founder of lollipop mentoring, says there is a mentor in everyone + that you’ll be surprised at the impact you can have on someone.
Monday afternoon and I’m sitting in a coffee shop, taking stock. After decades of a steady income from office jobs, now I’m out on my own, living off my savings while I look for clients who want to change the world. No monthly pay check. But no boss either. And no compromises (not yet anyway). I’m the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been.
I had a long career in advertising as a project manager, but over time I’d learned two things. The culture in the advertising industry wasn’t getting the best out of people. Especially people who looked like me. And I wanted to do something about it.
I’d seen how mentoring could change lives. It was when a white senior manager took an interest and supported me that I had finally blossomed in my own career. Later, as head of mentorship at Brixton Finishing School, I’d seen how young peoples’ lives could be transformed by someone guiding and supporting them.
Cast your mind back to January 2021. We are still in lockdown, the weather is bleak and everyone is skint. It feels like half of the population is either furloughed or are being made redundant and the other half are working longer hours due to staff shortages. Short days and dark evenings stuck in the house, everything felt so depressing. Massively out of my comfort zone, I decide to put some positivity out into the universe. I release two videos - one urging people to find a mentor, the second, tips on how to do just that.
The positive, overwhelming response seemed like a sign. That fulfilment I felt from helping other people catalysed something in me. Almost instantly, I decided to set up lollipop mentoring.
I started with what I knew. Black women like me were affected disproportionately by lockdown, this is on top of the statistics around Black women’s career progression in this country which is a disgrace. There were mentoring initiatives out there focusing on entry level diverse talent, but what about the Black women who are mid-level, already in post? Who is advocating for them? Statistically Black women are least likely to have a mentor and they need support in gaining access to senior leaders who can offer guidance and access to their networks.
A year later and we’ve just finished our first cohort. lollipop mentors are from all races and genders they have given their time and their knowledge to help our mentees. Our numbers are growing daily, with 200 people now involved. I feel like lollipop has been my own mentor, opening my eyes to the possibilities of mentoring to create change not just for Black women, but for the culture of entire organisations and businesses, this has lead to the development of a business services program that will spread the message, fuel the mission and expand the scope. Testimonials and interest are flowing in.
So I sit here, in the coffee shop. Strategising how lollipop can partner with businesses that believe in the same things we do and will provide sponsorship and support for the program. I’ve just finished sessions with two of my mentees. Their fulfilment, the way they told me that after the session they feel ‘two feet taller’, has me feeling like some kind of sensei. But that’s not it. I gave them reassurance, mainly. Some lessons I’ve learned myself, mistakes I’ve made. I gave them time and I let them know that they were seen. That someone had their back. It doesn’t take superpowers.
But there is always room at lollipop for more heroes. Maybe that’s you. If you have a bit of experience and you think you can help someone. Do it, you’ll be surprised at the impact you can have on someone, not least yourself.
Or maybe you feel like you could do with a little bit of help, a bit of perspective? My advice: go and find a mentor. They are everywhere. Deep down, everyone enjoys sharing their knowledge, helping someone excel. Whether it’s a colleague, friend or a complete stranger you admire, pluck up the courage and ask them for a coffee.
Maybe I’ll see you there.