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Heather Claridge: From mentee to Director

Heather Claridge MRTPI took part in the RTPI pilot mentoring scheme NURTURE. She is Director of Design for Architecture and Design Scotland, a former RTPI UK Young Planner of the Year and also featured in the top 50 women of Influence for 2019 and 2020 in ‘the Planner’.

 

What now? What next? These were the questions I found myself asking in 2021. My 20 month secondment to Architecture and Design Scotland had recently ended, I was halfway through maternity leave, and looking ahead, had little idea what I would return to do at Glasgow City Council, my substantive employer. It’s fair to say I felt like I had been through a revolving door of change and I didn’t know what side I was getting out at.

I was immediately drawn to the call for volunteers to take part in the Nurture pilot mentor programme. I had not seen a similar scheme designed for mid-career professionals like myself, looking for support and encouragement. Consequently, I was delighted to be selected as one of 25 ‘guinea pig’ mentees.

The programme started with an introductory online workshop. At this I met other planners battling with change – either too much, too quick, or not enough, and stuck in a rut. Overall I found the session really valuable to help set the tone for the scheme and gain tools and techniques to ensure we ‘mentees’ could get the best out of the experience. This felt a safe space to voice our career hopes and despairs alike.

Paired Up

Shortly after the workshop, I was partnered with a mentor who was in a Chief Executive role in a key public sector organisation. Her career was vast and diverse and I would be lying if I said I was not nervous going in to our first virtual meeting. But she quickly put me at ease and was extremely interested and engaged in my story and trying to figure out how she could best help.

Over the course of six months we had a number of online meetings. We talked through areas of concern or development opportunities. As we had never worked in the same location this offered a healthy separation and objectivity to our discussions.

She provided insightful comments on my professional development plan and CV and I always went away from the sessions with things to work on for our next catch up.  One such activity my mentor suggested I do between catch ups was a personal branding exercise. This challenged me to think about what my motivations are, my experiences, key attributes and present this in a clear and succinct way. I really enjoyed this task and found it could be a helpful quick reference point for meetings or interviews, when trying to introduce yourself and articulate who you are professionally.

I learnt a lot from just listening to my mentor describe the ways she built relationships, coached her staff and created an environment where people could take more autonomy for activities.

Overall, I felt stronger and more assured entering in to conversations with my managers at the Council to identify a suitable role for my return, following maternity leave and secondment break.

Fast forward a year, and an unexpected job opportunity as the Director of Design at Architecture and Design Scotland arose. While it was a difficult decision to leave the Council, where I had thoroughly enjoyed working over the last 13 years, my experience from the mentor programme helped me make the leap.  

I didn’t find any challenges or obstacles to the mentor scheme. I invested time in doing my homework before each session and was open to the honest and sometimes challenging feedback I received. I was always surprised at how great my mentor was at identifying my blind spot in my activities or career thoughts. Overall I would highly recommend the programme to anyone who is looking for some supportive advice on advancing in their career.

 

How to apply 

The second year of the RTPI’s NURTURE pilot mentoring programme is designed specifically for RTPI Chartered Members in the UK and Ireland who are at a mid-career point and looking to advance in their career. Applications are now open. The closing date is 5 March 2023.

 

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