In sharing her knowledge and experience as a mentor, Sanja Marais finds that she is also learning.

‘It’s a two-way process,’ she says, ‘not so much about giving advice but more about listening and using your critical thinking skills to help.’

As Chief Technology and Security Officer, Sanja appreciates the opportunities she’s had in her six years at Aspen Medical and now wants to give back, doing so in the new mentoring program, TEACH (The Employee Advanced Coaching Hour.)

‘We have many diverse people here with great skills but we don’t always see them. Being a mentor is highly rewarding.’

One of Sanja’s mentees, Georgie McWilliam, is equally impressed with this formal program. ‘When I initially joined Aspen Medical as Marketing Co-Ordinator, my then boss, Eamonn Quinn, mentored me in an informal manner and I valued that greatly.

‘I had a few promotions to my present position as Digital Marketing Manager. And, after being asked to host a panel discussion on TEACH recently, I realised how much I’d missed having a mentor and that drove me to apply.’

The panel discussion gave Georgie more insights into the mentorship process. ‘Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Katrina Sanders, talked about the benefit of mentorship over an entire career, not just at the start, and also about the value of including someone from outside your industry to provide a different view and new ways of thinking.’

Sanja previously had a mentor in a different organisation. ‘It made me realise that the “Imposter Syndrome” many women grapple with, thinking they’re not up to the role, is just in their head. The sense of belonging is missing. Yet they are there through merit and experience. I teach them to acknowledge they have the right to be there.’

What other skills does a mentor need?

‘Everyone is different and there is no right and wrong way. It’s about showing someone how to look at their particular circumstances and then advising rather than prescribing.’

For a successful mentorship, compatibility between mentor and mentee is vital.

Georgie sees Sanja as ‘a powerhouse of a woman. I admire female leadership and want guidance from other women, especially those at the executive level to which I aspire.

‘I think it’s important to look at the issues that women experience in the workplace, to get their insight and understand their struggles. I want to learn from their experiences and be guided by them.’

The one big thing Georgie says she has learnt from mentorship is confidence, ‘the confidence in your own ability.

‘I’ve heard say that women are reluctant to apply for a new job unless they feel they meet all the criteria perfectly while our male counterparts don’t think that way.

‘In each session with Sanja, we tackle self-confidence and belief in your ability from a different angle. It’s incredibly eye-opening and I leave with a bunch of things I want to action.’

These sessions take place online as Georgie is based in Canberra and Sanja now in Brisbane. They previously worked in the same Canberra office.

‘Sanja’s so stylish, an inspirational leader. She’s the whole package and I love her,’ says Georgie.

‘I do many courses around digital marketing but that benefits my job and not necessarily my career.

‘You can always get better at your job, but your career will never progress unless you have a mentor in your life.

‘The self-confidence I have is only getting stronger.’

Sanja agrees. She says she’s seen growth in both Georgie’s personal and work journey. ‘Reassurance from a perspective other than your own helps to build that confidence. I articulate what I see in my mentees and how they work.

‘On a personal level, I can provide support. Sometimes I need to be a sounding board. When someone shares something personal and you listen, it reassures them.’

Sanja also stresses the importance of self-care. ‘It is okay to push something off until tomorrow and realising that you’re allowed to live a life outside of work as well.’

Are there any challenges for Sanja as a mentor? ‘Making the time for a session and sticking to it can be hard in my busy job. But I make mentoring a priority.

‘To be the best possible mentor, you need to have a growth mindset, an open mindset. You don’t know everything, you are still here to learn. And I’ve learnt from both my formal and informal mentees.

‘I see how calm some stay in intense situations, prioritising work and being highly effective through their personal struggles. That’s impressive and I tell them so.

Sanja emphasises the confidentiality of each session and the development of trust between the mentor and mentee. ‘When someone is struggling, they can become emotional and you need to be prepared for that,’ she says.

‘In my time at Aspen Medical, I’ve seen the business change, I’ve seen it transform and grow. I would definitely stay with the TEACH program and, where my time permits, make room for another mentee.

‘The more mentors we get out there, the better the outcome will be for our business. Growing people internally is fantastic.’

And, as for the mentees, ‘I hope they will, in time, become mentors themselves.

‘This is an amazing program and I think we need to do everything in our power to keep it alive.’

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