Mentor Program 2020: Q&A with Julie-Anne Whitfield & Melissa Denkinger
Left to right: Julie-Anne Whitfield / Melissa Denkinger
Women in Hospitality is committed to supporting women in the industry, and none more so than with our Mentor Program. We caught up with one of our recent Mentor/Mentee pairings to find out the impact such a partnership can have, especially in the current climate we are facing.
This time we focus on the wisdom that hospitality professional and mentor, Julie-Anne Whitfield of Allara Training has shared with her mentee, Melissa Denkinger, Cert II Hospitality & Kitchen Ops High School teacher and qualified Chef.
What were your original goals of participating in the Mentor Program?
Julie-Anne Whitfield: I wanted to connect with an Industry professional, whom I could mentor and assist to achieve their potential and assist them on their career path and life journey. I also wanted to gain a life-long friend with whom I could share the highs and lows of working in this amazing yet challenging industry.
Melissa Denkinger: I set out to be involved in the mentor program as I know how important building a mentor relationship is in developing my leadership goals and career goals. Also, being in a regional area of WA, there are limited women who understand the kind of work that I do, or the passion that I have for the industry, so I wanted to work with someone who could provide network links and industry guidance – and also listen to my venting or stresses when I needed it!
Did you find it challenging to set these goals, and how have they changed?
JAW: No, we pretty much were in sync from the first email, then phone catch up. We have gone above and beyond our goals especially given the addition of COVID-19. We started by just sharing openly where we were at in our lives and where we wanted to be and discussed how we could get there and that laid out the goals for us.
MD: I did not find it challenging to set our goals and they have largely remained the same except for the disruption of COVID-19. Largely however, we are still working on what we set out to achieve – timeframes and strategies may have changed but by and large – it’s the same.
What is the best thing about your mentor/mentee partnership?
JAW: We have accepted each other as equals and share equally in every conversation. We are open and honest and listen to each other’s challenges and offer an ear, assistance or a chance to just have a whinge. Distance hasn’t been an issue at all we have found ways to overcome that and COVID-19.
MD: Julie-Anne and I hit it off in the first email! I just adore working with her and hearing about what is happening in the industry at the level that I am aspiring to get to. I want to leave high school teaching and work in hospitality training – back in the heart of the industry that I love. I am loving being able to pick Julie-Anne’s brains about things and eventually tap into her networks! Plus, I would now call Julie-Anne a friend and when these restrictions get lifted, she is on my list of people to visit! (we are in different states)
Can you talk us through one of the successes of your partnership so far?
JAW: Melissa has used her school holidays and COVID-19 isolation to upgrade her Hospitality Qualifications and has completed her Certificate IV in Hospitality. She is now taking on a Certificate IV Leadership & Management Online course to further her skillset.
MD: Sharing a common passion in both training and hospitality, and a mutual understanding of organisations like RTO’s and what a training unit is etc – it helps when explaining difficult situations or challenges – she knows what I am on about! Also, being open with each other (professionally and personally). I have had to share some of the areas that I need help in and that is always difficult when you first meet someone.
How have you helped each other over the past 3 months?
JAW: Melissa makes me feel relevant, respected and trusted as a source of knowledge, as a mentor and as a friend. She is a great listener and has enormous empathy and has added a new perspective to my way of looking at things.
MD: Julie-Anne is non-judgemental and very forthcoming on how to improve myself and make adaptation for future success. She is also very good at reminding me that I am ok and to not be so tough on myself! Julie-Anne herself has had a few challenging things happen to her during this time (due to C-19 and other things) and she has been open and willing to tell me about them. It has built a solid grounding or trust and respect in our relationship.
What advice would you give potential mentors/mentees who are considering undertaking this program?
JAW: Go into it with an open heart wanting to help and be of assistance in any way you can. Don’t have expectations of what you can give or get out of the relationship, just let it organically happen but ensure you set your goals and stick to them and have a realistic structure around your catch ups and timeframes.
MD: Be open and honest – show your raw sides and the sides that need help! Be honest about what you need help in and how your mentor can help you. And invest the time and commit to the program – it is such a buzz to be involved with such an incredible network of women! I hope to be part of WOHO for many years to come.
Your professional backgrounds are similar; has this helped you on this journey?
JAW: Absolutely, we speak the same language and its essential to have common ground as a base it makes it so much easier to build from there.