‘Alice’s story felt like a sneak peek into my own future’, says Charlota, the Design Lead at IDEO, who completed the Femme Palette Leadership Program. ’For me, mentoring was a great reminder of my junior years’, says her mentor Alice, the Partner at EY. Thanks to the program, the two female professionals formed a work relationship that can last a lifetime.
Alice Machova is an EY Partner, responsible for innovations and trendsetting in a financial consultancy. Charlota Blunárová works on innovative products and services as a design lead at IDEO, a global design firm working with clients like IKEA, H&M, Ford or Google.
Despite various industries, the ladies found they have a lot in common and share similar challenges. We discussed their experience with the Femme Palette leadership program and what they would recommend to the prospective mentors and mentees.
What inspired you to join the leadership program?
Charlota (mentee): I was participating in some of the events, read the blog, but since I was living in Munich, felt a little excluded from the happenings in Prague. And so, probably the only positive thing about the pandemic was that I could participate in the program and join the various workshops remotely.
The deal-breaker for me was that one day I would like to return to the Czech Republic, and wanted to connect with other female professionals who work there, and whom I could learn from. I also recently moved to a new role of a Design Lead in our consultancy and wanted to get support and inspiration on how to navigate the transition.
Alice (mentor): I first noticed Femme Palette on Facebook and liked that the co-founders brought back their international experience and founded a global network. I have lived abroad myself, so the idea strongly resonated with me, and since I have already done some mentoring before, I decided to join the community and become a Femme Palette mentor.
How has the shared international experience shaped your mentoring relationship?
Ch: I was very excited after the first chemistry session with Alice, during which she talked about her experience from London, returning to Czechia, and starting in a new work environment. Alice’s story felt like a sneak peek into my own future and allowed me to visualize my prospective career. It showed me what elements of my current life I can replicate in another cultural or professional context. For that reason, I am very grateful for this match! And curious to hear what Alice will say…
A: I agree and thank you for describing it in such a nice way. Our first call, despite being via Zoom, felt like meeting an old friend. So well done for the match! The international element played a key role, too. Charlota mentioned being transferred into the future, whilst for me, mentoring was a great reminder of my junior years. That is why I enjoyed it so much since I could recall my memories from London, and before that from Canada, and remember what it was like settling in in a new country and a new company.
It was great to see Charlota’s courage, and being reminded of my personal journey. And then, of course, discussing the challenges of coming back, was something we talked about a lot, but mostly only at the beginning. Then we transitioned into other topics.
What other topics have you covered in your mentoring sessions?
A: From the beginning, we set a flexible framework. Since we both enjoy reading, we utilized my favorite book Nice girls don’t get a corner office, which has plenty of advice on leadership and other topics. And we also used the coaching tips for some homework (but not too much!).
Ch: One homework I remember doing was to count how many times I said 'no' at work. Not many, which surprised me – but helped me navigate better where to put my energy and say yes only to things that align with my long term goals.
And did you try this exercise again?
Ch: I have become more mindful about how I do things. And thanks to the awareness, I can now focus on why I do things a certain way and try to change and improve them.
I would also like to add that both of us work in consultancy but in a very different field. I am in design and Alice in finance. She works with CFOs, whilst I usually work with clients in marketing and product. Previously, my mentors were from the design industry, design leaders with years of experience and expertise in my field – so it was helpful to have someone like Alice with a completely different background. Surprisingly, many of the topics overlapped, e.g. team and client relations.
Going back to frameworks, is there something you would recommend to mentors & mentees?
A: Thanks to my vast mentoring experience, I can tell that every mentee is completely different. I always try to get a feel of what the mentee needs - see how they work and try to adapt. The key priority is that the mentee comes prepared and proactively suggests new discussion topics. This also makes the work of the mentor much easier. Since Charlota and I are very busy, we aimed to make our calls as productive as possible, sharing useful tips and applying them into practice.
Ch: I appreciated Alice's flexibility. In parallel to the mentoring, our leadership program included themed workshops so often I brought back a topic that Alice was then open to discuss in more detail with me.
Can you give an example of the topic you learned about in one of the workshops and then discussed it in more depth with your mentor?
Ch: During Cristina Muntean’s workshop, I wrote down her definition of a leader. ‘Leader is a conductor of human energy’. I imagined a picture with a person responsibly orchestrating the precious human resources - time, energy, and attention. That helped me reflect on my communication style and make sure I'm not adding noise or confusion in interactions with my colleagues. Especially now in the remote work environment, when written communication became essential, I wanted to make sure I can articulate my thoughts and requests clearly and efficiently to not waste my team's attention and energy.
Alice also introduced to me the DESC framework for more effective conversations. I prepared for some challenging discussions, and this helped me think about how to deliver the message when stakes and emotions are high.
A: I enjoyed when Charlota brought new ideas, so I could share my insights and experience. The great thing about mentoring is that, unlike with coaching, you don’t need to prepare much as a mentor. All you need to do is share your story and inspire. Because, although the world is evolving constantly, people’s stories remain the same.
What is the one thing that differentiates you the most?
[Both hesitate for a while.]
Ch: We share a lot of interests also outside work, for example, we got very engaged in a conversation about Instagram and influencers once... Well, I don’t play golf.
A: We both also love fashion and design. But Charlota takes incredible photographs.
Will your mentoring relationship continue?
Ch: Since my partner and I are planning to return to the Czech Republic, I hope we will keep in touch and maintain this connection also in the future.
A: Definitely, we are already following each other on Instagram! And it would be even better, of course, if we could meet in person again.
And where do you see yourself in the future?
A: I see Charlota founding a successful startup and me putting in on the stock market.
Ch: No pressure, right? :) But let's write it down so we can come back to it in years or decades... I'll try to not let you down, Alice!