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Civil Service

Mentoring and Me

A great mentor encourages a person to progress, giving valuable advice and encouragement. But it isn’t a one-way street. Many mentors find building the bond just as rewarding and gain fresh inspiration. Below, Bernie Thompson and Melissa Crawshay-Williams share their journey.

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The 'mentor' is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person, or 'mentee' –

Bernie Thompson


Bernie Thompson joined the Civil Service in 1998. She is a Deputy Director in MHCLG, responsible for Inclusion, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement and co-chairs the cross-government network, Race to the Top G6/7

It’s important to note the word ‘relationship’ in the above definition: you don’t just click on day one and the relationship grows over time.

So, does mentoring stop during lockdown when we’re working from home so differently?

Absolutely not! Mentoring relationships must continue to evolve and flourish.

There are several reasons why creating, growing, and sustaining mentoring relationships during these emotionally challenging times is fundamentally important. However, from a wellbeing perspective, there are huge benefits.

Mind, the Mental Health charity, provides five ways to wellbeing and three of them can be obtained through mentoring:

  1. Connect - Strong evidence suggests that feeling close, and valued by other people is a fundamental human need, that contributes to functioning well in the world. It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people across all ages.
  2. Learn - Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Mentoring is a form of learning.
  3. Give - Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Mentoring as a leader, is a form of giving back.
Mentoring can give great benefits such as increased confidence and stronger communication skills

I was delighted to connect with Melissa via the Civil Service Live spot mentoring session when she asked if I’d become her mentor as part of the Crossing Thresholds programme.

I said yes, and the rest is history.

Since we started mentoring, adapting to the ‘new normal’ is what we’ve all had to do. It’s why I wanted to ensure Melissa’s mentee experience was just as stimulating as meeting face-to-face.

Injecting humour

This meant ensuring our meetings were firmly in the diary, injecting humour in to the conversation and using our time as an opportunity to have the very important wellbeing conversation. I also wanted to ensure that all the usual activities that I would undertake with my mentees continued and creativity really was the name of the game.

Our mentoring relationship has flourished through lockdown, with both of us gaining something valuable from working together.

For me, seeing Melissa grow in confidence has been such a wellbeing boost.


Melissa Crawshay-Williams is a SEO working in the Trade and Europe, Governance and Secretariat team in BEIS

Melissa Crawshay-Williams

Last summer I approached Bernie to be my mentor as I found her so engaging during our Civil Service Live 'spot mentoring' session. We hit it off straight away.

Initially I felt nervous, though Bernie soon inspired me with her ‘can-do’ zest, and I was fired up after our first meeting. I outlined my goals and she helped me prepare for my next career challenges. Now I’m excited to be starting a new policy role next month in the Office of Life Sciences in BEIS.

Bernie steered me on rewriting my cv, empowered me to step out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to be assertive about my aspirations.

For example, I recently joined the Crossing Thresholds course, and Bernie encouraged me actively to promote it to colleagues and share new insights. At times, she has questioned my negative assumptions, low confidence and helped pave the way by coaching me for a new career challenge.

Bernie’s mentoring has been so worthwhile. She gave me so much encouragement. I’ve been able to bounce ideas off her, learned a lot and feel more knowledgeable with stronger communication skills. Thank you, Bernie!


Just do it - lockdown has been is a great time to get involved with mentoring as virtual meetings make it so simple to organise.

Lead the mentoring relationship - plan your career priorities and how your mentor could add value. For instance, you may need help reshaping your behaviour examples, or a fresh perspective on your career goals. Your mentor wants to encourage you to reach your full potential, so be curious together about opportunities.

Share any work setback - your mentor will give you experienced advice on how to overcome challenges and suggest ideas to get back on track

Agree mutual expectations and a feedback process. This is important as a check and balance of your progress.

At a click of a button you can shadow senior management meetings - a great opportunity to watch senior staff dynamics in action. Seeing your mentor interact with the senior civil service (SCS) is exciting. It was fascinating shadowing Bernie at MHCLG’s HR senior management team. I also virtually attended MHCLG’s weekly senior civil service Round Up chaired by Perm Sec Jeremy Pocklington, and Bernie’s diversity team meeting. I’d probably never be able to attend these meetings if we were face to face.

Final words from Bernie and Melissa

Don’t let lockdown stop you from finding a mentor. We may be dealing with unprecedented circumstances, but starting a mentoring relationship might just be the right path to help you thrive.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Jaq posted on

    Thank you both for sharing your experiences in this illuminating post. Congratulations Melissa on your new post. You grace any company.

  2. Comment by Darrellwoulk posted on

    не работает

  3. Comment by Olu Alade posted on

    Thanks Bernie and Melissa for sharing your experiences. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have a mentor. I have benefited, and still benefiting from both the traditional and peer mentoring relationships.

  4. Comment by Brendan Vanner posted on

    Being new to the Civil Service this has been a welcoming read. I am currently "floundering" my way around the ways of the Civil Service and would welcome the guidance of a mentor. Would anyone be able to point me in the direction of how to get one?

  5. Comment by Lola posted on

    Interesting read, brings to light the benefits of mentoring for both parties especially for the mentee who learns from the experience of the mentor.

  6. Comment by Ailsa Harris posted on

    Great blog!

    Thank you Bernie and Melissa for sharing your experiences, the point about the greater opportunity in a virtual world for things like shadowing is really important - glad to see this example of making the most of it!

  7. Comment by Sheldon Ferguson posted on

    Thank you this is really helpful and encouraging. I have benefited greatly from my mentor, who has been an excellent sounding board in my development and professional growth. Time to return the favour, this article has prompted me to seek out and add the mentoring modules to my CS Learning plan.

  8. Comment by Erinyoja posted on

    Thanks for the posting an interesting blog Bernie and Mellissa.
    Its much appreciated!!!

  9. Comment by Liza Berresford posted on

    This is so wonderful to read! Thank you Bernie and Mellisafor sharing your mentoring experiences and encouraging others to take it up. I think lockdown has stopped people from taking as many opportunities as they otherwise might so I'll be directing anyone worried about virtual mentoring to this blog!

  10. Comment by Funke Oham posted on

    It is always a joy to read mentoring stories and good to see it's been extremely beneficial. I really loved the fact your meetings incorporated wellbeing conversations which is very crucial, moreso in these times. Indeed, the lockdown has provided unique opportunities and definitely a great idea to seize them.

  11. Comment by Sanchia Brown posted on

    What a wonderful article! It is so good to hear about the positive impact this mentoring relationship is having on the mentee as well as the benefits felt by the mentor. I agree that maintaining the mentoring relationship is particularly important during lockdown because so many things in life have become so volatile and uncertain. I am very fortunate to work with Bernie at MHCLG as her insights, energy, drive and positivity are a true inspiration. It was really nice to meet you Melissa at one of our recent D&I catch ups, you are always very welcome!

  12. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Bernie and Melissa for sharing with us your reflections on your Mentoring experience. I especially like the way that you have sought to link the guiding principles to wellbeing with the process.

    Having just completed a pilot Reverse Mentoring programme, where my Mentee was a Director, I would agree with the points that you have made. I was very fortunate, in that I had a Mentee who shared my passion in the D&I space to seek to make a difference.

    I would certainly agree with you that it can provide a great L&D opportunity for both the Mentor, as well as the Mentee, and that I would encourage colleagues to consider it as part of their personal development.

  13. Comment by Rose Odudu posted on

    Absolutely inspiring. Well done to the both of you for keeping the relationship going despite the lockdown. What is even more inspiring is the fact that you started during lockdown, so gives hope to people that we shouldn't be limited by not being able to meet physical. Bernie, you are an awesome role model, keep shining. Melissa, congratulations on the new role and well done for taking that step. Thank you both for sharing your story.

  14. Comment by Grace Moronfolu posted on

    A great article that emphasises the importance of everyone to get involved in the mentoring cycle as mentors and mentees

  15. Comment by Catherine posted on

    Inspirational, thank you Bernie and Melissa.

  16. Comment by Godfrey posted on

    This is an amazing blog thank you! Such a great insight into mentoring