During the height of COVID-19 restrictions, Kingston photography gallery business owner Phillipa Leggo began selling jigsaw puzzles of popular images from their gallery.
“We found more than 1000 new customers and had a 70 per cent increase in turnover from those jigsaws,” says Phillipa while talking to Jess Fitzpatrick, the Canberra coordinator of a unique mentoring initiative that matches senior female leaders with aspiring women who walk the talk.
Phillipa and Jess first connected through Mentor Walks, a program that links experienced and successful women who help others take the first steps towards growing their business or just workshopping an idea.
Jess, who recently graduated with a Masters degree in law from Monash University and is now a property lawyer with the Morris Legal Group, says she jumped at the opportunity to coordinate the Mentor Walks group after relocating from Melbourne.
“I was in Melbourne with no way of connecting with senior women who were facing the issues I was tackling and had the ambition and drive that I had,” Jess tells Region Media. “I stumbled across the organisation there so when I moved to Canberra, I found Mentor Walks here and started having a chat with other women.”
In Canberra, Jess connected with the ANU’s director of human resources, Nadine White, who helped launch Mentor Walks in Canberra in March 2019. The initiative has now connected more than 360 local women who have been mentored by more than 40 of Canberra’s finest female business leaders.
Prominent mentors include former parliamentarian Gai Brodtmann, the ACT Government’s community services director, Azra Khan, and Australian Pathology CEO Liesel Wett.
Sydney entrepreneurs Bobbi Mahlab and Adina Jacobs founded Mentor Walks, which now operates in eight cities across Australia.
Jess says she has a passion for bringing people together and enhancing community spirit, from coaching Saturday netball, to student advocacy, to her contribution to the design of new women’s refuges.
She says the networking sessions are completely volunteer-run and put a spring in the steps of women through what is an informal walk.
“The real focus is supporting as many women as we possibly can to create a positive network,” says Jess. “It’s my way of paying forward that positivity.”
Phillipa and her landscape photographer husband, Scott Leggo, opened their gallery and shopfront in Kingston in June 2018 after being online for a decade. A former executive with a large corporation, Phillipa says she fields questions such as asking for a pay rise or promotion, to how it is working with her husband while pregnant with their second child.
“It’s all about women supporting women,” she says. “There are so many amazing women who may just need to have a conversation during a walk around the lake at the start of a morning in an environment where they can just talk.
“The conversations are really interesting and inspiring, and even personal conversations about things they wouldn’t talk to their boss about.”
Jess says women are matched with a mentor for a casual, yet purposeful and personal discussion.
“Each mentee is asked to come armed with a challenge or career question to be discussed on the walk,” she says. “This is then used to connect each mentee with a mentor with specific experience in that area or in a likeminded field of expertise.”
After having to walk their talks in a virtual setting during COVID-19 restrictions, Jess says they are very happy to be stepping out for face-to-face walks. The virtual walks will also be a permanent part of the mentoring schedule, ensuring the program can reach out to women living and working in regional or remote areas.
“Our recent survey showed at least 50 per cent of our mentees had a positive employment outcome this year,” says Jess.
“Feedback on the most recent Canberra walk included practical notes on how to boost your personal brand; tips for starting a small business; some big-picture discussions on how to set boundaries; and how to make an effort to connect and rebuild a career in such turbulent times.”
Canberra’s next Mentor Walk will be held on Friday, 23 October, from 7:15 am, while the last walk for 2020 will be on 2 December. More information is available on the Canberra Mentor Walks website.