Last year, AlixPartners launched Growth Circles, a structured peer-to-peer group mentoring program that brought together employees from underrepresented groups to discuss their careers and the challenges they faced. Each circle was facilitated by AlixPartners senior leaders, who shared their personal perspectives and strategies with the group.
Circles addressed a range of topics, including executive presence, brand building, and career development. And mentees had different goals as to what they wanted to get out of the program: one wanted to use their voice more effectively; one hoped to expand her network; another wanted to learn how to get better feedback.
Despite having different expectations, backgrounds, and career journeys, the participants discovered that most people in their group experienced the same struggles and concerns.
“I listened to other people describe their professional challenges and I realized I wasn’t alone,” Immigration Manager Shae Young said. “It was validating to hear from our group leads that they had been able to overcome similar challenges and fears throughout their careers as well.”
Other mentees agreed, saying it was helpful to understand the difference between commonly experienced systemic issues with personal development areas that they could proactively address.
In addition to creating a supportive network and a shared understanding of other’s experiences, one of the advantages of group mentoring is having the opportunity to apply learnings real-time in an immersive, group dynamic.
Catherine Ruster, an AlixPartners Associate General Counsel and one of the circle leaders, said that most interesting aspect of her experience was watching the group dynamic shift over the course of the program.
“In the first meeting, there were a couple people who didn’t say much, but I could see them getting comfortable with the group,” Catherine said. “Halfway through the program, they started volunteering answers and taking a lead in some of the discussions. It took some time for them to open up, and it struck me that their more reserved natures might make it more difficult for them to organically find good mentors.”
Catherine’s observation highlights the importance that personality traits and bias can have on career development. It also underscored the insight that resonated the most with the group—that exposure was the most critical factor for career success.
“That was a real lightbulb moment,” Total Rewards Benefits Manager Michelle Randazzo said. “I love meeting people, but I never realized that was one of the ingredients of my success. Now, I leverage my ability to make connections with people even more.”
Bias can prevent women from receiving those exposure opportunities. From hiring to promotions to staffing, small biases in decision-making processes that happen across one’s career can accumulate over time, perpetuating gender inequality.
For example, research consistently finds that women are more likely than men to get “housework”-type administrative tasks and less likely to be assigned “glamour” work, like a stretch opportunity with a major client that will be noticed by leadership.
AlixPartners Growth Circles program and other peer-to-peer mentoring groups provide an open environment to discuss these common challenges and biases, as well as a forum to share success stories and strategies for getting ahead.
“Increasing awareness on an issue and offering a solution to respond to that issue is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the negative impact of bias,” Senior Vice President and one of WE Matters’ leaders Emily Gallagher said. “The structure of our Growth Circles program enables both things to happen simultaneously in a supportive environment.”
“I always think about mentoring in relation to the ethics and compliance role that I have at the firm,” Catherine added. “It’s important to create a culture where people can speak out and feel valued and where we are attentive to the needs of everyone. Growth Circles helps us achieve this.”