Starting a Mentorship Program

I have an unwavering belief in human uniqueness. I get really excited about helping others see how their unique experience and perspective can positively impact others. In 2014, the design and research team at Twitter increased the number of women on the team from 23% to almost 50% in 8 months. In addition to providing personalized support and career development resources, it was particularly important to me that we maintained a studio environment where people felt confident sharing their experience with others and be supported by people whose experiences at Twitter may have been different than their own. As a response, I developed a mentorship program that gave designers and researchers at Twitter an opportunity to build relationships and work together to influence the career growth of their teammates.  

In the first 8 months of the program, over half of the Twitter design and research team participated as mentors or mentees. Since then, the program has grown, pairs have refreshed and turned over, and there is a team of wonderful people at Twitter who continue to keep it up and running. Here are some of our stories from the first 6 months of the program... 

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When a relationship is based on being open and vulnerable, it brings a feeling of human support that a corporate workplace often lacks... Through this program, I’ve learned to provide support in an unbiased and constructive way. I’ve also learned to trust my own voice and experience in the process.
— Sana Rao, Senior Product Designer
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For a couple of years I’ve had an idea for a baseball app that I wish existed... and I freakin’ designed it... I learned a TON about product design, (what are the questions, steps, research) Now I’m more comfortable working with the tools (sketch/Invision) and can relate more to the challenges of my colleagues.
— Jeremy Reiss, Visual Designer
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The mentorship program has given me a safe space to talk about my career growth, conflicts I have at work, and ways to improve my design skills. My mentor has pushed me to grow quickly and made me a more confident designer.. I walk out feeling a renewed energy and excitement about the things I could be doing at Twitter.
— Anjani Bhargava, Product Designer

 

How did this happen? and Where did it start? Read on!

 

we had a PROBLEM...

As a Women in UX (WUX) cofounder and lead, I recognized that managers were not always the best people to support more personalized needs. Team members, and especially women, felt uncomfortable talking to their managers about certain topics, and were unsure of the best way to start or participate in difficult conversations. Everyone, regardless of position, tenure, or seniority, ran out of time on their calendars and in their 1:1s to address career development in significant ways.

 

OBSERVATION

However, I saw that across the team, regardless of gender or seniority, designers were actively asking each other for help, building strong relationships with people who had complementary skill sets, navigating conflict, and working with each other to set career goals. I wanted to amplify the ways that designers and researchers were already working together and help new hires, regardless of gender, feel like their voices made a difference when they showed up to work every day.

 

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

Over the course of the next 8 months, and I led the design and development of a studio-wide mentorship program that gave team members as well as managers and leaders easy ways to work towards a particular career goal and strengthen relationships throughout the studio and across product teams. 

This mentorship program was founded in our team's desire to learn and share. I knew that if we could identify what people wanted to learn, and then affirm and encourage the strengths of people who were willing to share, we could help each other move towards our career goals in meaningful ways. The program did not limit or put constraints around what people could pursue, but focused on building actionable, supportive, and trusting relationships that gave people confidence to pursue what they were most passionate about. For example, some people wanted to use their mentorship relationship to learn new technical skills, while others wanted to build relationships with someone from a different product team, still others wanted a safe place to practice leadership skills on a small scale before moving into management.

We focused on building diverse and mutually beneficial relationships where both the mentor and the mentee could contribute. This meant that sometimes, a more senior or tenured member of the team was learning from a more junior member or that a visual designer was paired with a quantitative researcher depending on their personal goals and superpowers.

 

our GOALS & PRINCIPLES

As such, it was important that the program address the needs of mentors as much as the needs of mentees. I created six overarching goals for the program:

  1. Encourage the strengths of each designer and researcher regardless of position or tenure.
  2. Support conversations that clarify personal goals and career paths.
  3. Provide leadership opportunities for team members who are eager to advance within the IC track but may not want to become a manager at this time.
  4. Affirm the experience and knowledge of existing leaders, managers, and role models.
  5. Inspire confidence through consistent and personalized guidance from someone who is not your manager.
  6. Build relationships within a safe and supportive environment.

Then, as an entire team, we defined 5 principles that gave each pair a great picture of what a successful mentorship relationship looked like. These principles influenced weekly interactions between mentors and their mentees, but also had significant impact on our pairing process, feedback sessions, and resource development over the course of the year.

  1. Diverse
  2. Trust-based
  3. Actionable
  4. Supportive
  5. Ongoing

 

Mentorship resources

I created a set of resources for each pair that revolved around 10 topics. These topics were generated in several feedback sessions that I held with all program participants. They are not necessarily prescriptive, but were a guide that pairs could follow or use to kick off conversations. The ten topics are:

  • Defining Needs and Expectations
  • Setting Goals
  • Strengths & Superpowers
  • Navigating Environments
  • Work & Craft
  • Building Relationships & Connections
  • Facing Conflict & Hard Situations
  • Developing a Career Path
  • Talking to Your Manager
  • How's it going? Time to move on?

I'll be updating this post soon with a downloadable version of these resources. Meantime, if you're interested in hearing more about our process, resource development, or just want to know more about how to set up a mentorship program with your team, feel free to reach out.