Mentoring the new multi-million dollar industry: Should women pay?
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Business mentors are invariably described as "invaluable" and "priceless" by the entrepreneurs and business people they work with, but a growing industry now surrounds what was traditionally an unremunerated position.
Mentors like Anthony Robbins, who has mentored Hugh Jackman and Andre Agassi, reportedly charge millions but for many entrepreneurs like the founder of Carmen's Fine Food and the chief executive of the Oroton Group, the idea of paying a mentor is anathema to the idea of mentoring.
Dr Hilary Armstrong, director of education at the Institute of Executive Coaching, believes there is room for both paid and unpaid mentors in business.
Senior mentors at the Institute of Executive Coaching charge around $800 to $900 an hour but if you have ten sessions that cost goes down.
Despite the high cost, Armstrong describes mentoring as "a very valuable thing" and believes there is a historical divide between mentors that are paid and mentors that are not.
"I think what this reflects is the history of mentoring, it's an ancient tradition going back to the original mentor in the story of Ulysses, Ulysses asked an older wise man in the village to look after his small son while he went off to fight in the Trojan war and the mans's name was Mentor and that was where it came from," she says.
"That could be viewed as informal mentoring, but these days we are finding there are both formal and informal mentoring structures in organisations.
"I think long term mentoring relationships are usually an unpaid relationship and sometimes that emerges out of a more structured program."
However, Armstrong says there is a role for paid mentors as well as informal unpaid mentoring.
"It's sad to say but people seem to value them more particularly if they are short term relationships, if they are saying for them," she says.
That's news to Carolyn Creswell, founder of Carmen's Fine Foods, who does not pay for mentoring or charge the nine people she mentors.
"I'm not one to just have one guru, I've had a range of people over 20 years, and that's exactly the same for people that I try and mentor," she says.
Creswell tells the people she mentors to take her advice but to also listen to their own "gut instinct" and cautions them "not to just hang off every word".
Creswell mentors "very informally"; two of the people she mentors are the founders of Emma & Toms drinks company and Creswell says after spending a couple of hours mentoring them they take her out for dinner or give her some free product.
"Generally the people I mentor can't afford to pay or I don't need them to pay me," she says.
"The whole crux is what does it mean to mentor someone, I pay someone as a business advisor but I guess a mentor is someone who has done it before as opposed to someone who is professional in the space."
Sally MacDonald, the chief executive of OrotonGroup, told SmartCompany she doesn't like to define the advice she gives and garners as mentoring.
"I have never had a paid or unpaid mentor, I prefer to speak with friends and colleagues and seek advice from time to time – but not in a formal setting," MacDonald says.
That said MacDonald does mentor others and says she believes mentoring is a key part of her role as chief executive of OrotonGroup, although her mentoring is not part of a formal program.
"We have over 600 team members and I am very focused on their personal and professional development – as any smart employer should be," she says.
As for the debate over whether mentoring should be paid or unpaid, MacDonald says she personally has never paid to be mentored but there is a year long paid mentoring program available for a small number of managers in the OrotonGroup.
"My belief is that mentoring doesn't suit everyone, and is often over-played in importance for women seeking to advance their careers, but it still can be an effective professional development tool for those it does suit," she says.
This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on Women's Agenda sister publication SmartCompany. Check in with SmartCompany for the full story.