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Female-only mentoring scheme is 'doing good' says founder Sharpe

Fast Forward 15 founder Fay Sharpe stresses scheme is not aimed at excluding men as second edition launches
19/01/2016

Pictured: The 2015 Fast Forward 15 mentees

Fay Sharpe, founder of the Fast Forward 15 mentoring scheme has insisted the programme is not geared towards excluding men.

The second edition of the mentoring programme launched last week, with the announcement that new mentors had been recruited to help 15 females advance in their career. As a female-only initiative, Fast Forward 15 attracted criticism and sparked a sexism debate within the industry, but Sharpe, also MD of event management agency Zibrant, stresses she is attempting to do good for the sector.

“I personally feel that this is not about sexism, it’s about equality; when there are a decent percentage of women (30 to 40 per cent) and senior level across our industry, that would be great. At the moment there is not enough.”

The FTSE 100, which has been tracking the gender balance of boards since 2001, says 23 per cent of directors on FTSE 100 companies are women. Figures for the event industry are not available however last year a check on the top 10 event companies list on M&IT’s Agency Analytics tool revealed 91 per cent of board members are men.

Sharpe added: “As a woman I have succeeded through hard work and it has been a challenge. Women have different challenges, we have not been given anything on a plate. I am trying to balance it out a bit and this is a helping hand, it’s not aimed at excluding men.

“If they (critics) wanted to do a scheme for males I would not have a problem with it. By all means put a programme on for men. I am trying to do something good for the industry. People who put themselves out there and try to do something good for the industry should be applauded not given a hard time.”

Last year’s inaugural programme attracted 150 applicants, who were whittled down to a shortlist of 50 before a series of interviews yielded the final 15. Sharpe aims for 300 applicants this year and says the scheme is designed to help with anything from earning a promotion to building confidence, or even setting up an events company. 

“Mentors are met on a monthly basis and it is not about coaching the girls, it is an opportunity to talk through goals and ambitions and help them meet those,” Sharpe said. “The initial interviews are based upon what they want to get out of it and addresses their objectives. Substantial goals are then put in place - for some that can take up to three months. We had one mentee last year who just wanted to bounce ideas off a mentor; she needed someone with which to have those conversations.”

This year Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events for London Tourism and Kevin Jackson, founder of Experience is the Marketing, Robert Quayle, meetings leader & head of events UK at AstraZeneca UK Ltd, and Steve Brown, London 2012 Paralympic wheelchair rugby captain, will join the panel, while it is thought that some of the current mentees may become mentors in the future.

“We have some really interesting new mentors this year who bring new ideas, it is a real mix of people,” Sharpe said. “And it is wonderful that people are giving their time; if we were paying for it, the cost would be six figures.”

The scheme remains similar in structure to last year’s although details of the ‘Apprentice’ challenge, which sees mentees team up to produce an awards ceremony with no budget, have been provided at the outset, rather than midway through the process.

“It has been a real learning curve and a really good programme,” Sharpe added. “We have formed a good relationship and I am happy to speak to them whenever they want it, we have a vested interest in that person. And I think most mentors feel a bond and a bit of an affinity with their career.”

Applications are now open at www.fastforward15.co.uk and will close 22 February 2016.


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