The Accelerate Mentoring Programme: a new initiative by Odgers Berndtson in partnership with the FDF and Grant Thornton

19 May 2022

The Accelerate Mentoring Programme: a new initiative by Odgers Berndtson in partnership with the FDF and Grant Thornton

At a virtual launch run by Odgers Berndtson, the FDF and Grant Thornton, Leendert den Hollander (CCEP) and Emma Heal (Lucky Saint) speak about how to create the right environment for diversity to thrive and how mentoring can play an important part in helping accelerate the development of female and non-binary leaders.



In a recent, and well-attended webinar organised by Odgers Berndtson and partners, Harriott Brigden (Associate), ably supported by Nick Claridge (Partner), launched the Accelerate Mentoring Program. Odgers Berndtson work with boards who request diverse shortlists on every search which, even in this dynamic and innovation led industry, is sometimes hard to deliver.

Odgers Berndtson alongside The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and leading business and financial advisor Grant Thornton UK LLP, saw an opportunity to contribute to the accelerated development of female and non-binary leaders through mentoring. This new initiative seeks to shift the gender dial at board level and more broadly pave the way for a more inclusive, connected and diverse workforce.

Currently, female and non-binary leaders account for just 31.7% of board roles.

We open with Karen Betts, Chief Executive of the FDF, who offers a few thoughts on equality, diversity and inclusion, saying that although it is an improving picture, much more must be done to promote equality, particularly at the boardroom level.

Analysis conducted by Grant Thornton on the proportion of women in FTSE 350 food and drink businesses, shows that the proportion of women has increased from 36% in 2017 to 41% in 2021. If the current trend continues, gender parity will be achieved by 2032, but manager-level parity will not be achieved until 2045. There is simply not enough talent progressing to board-level and clearly, this must be addressed.

Leendert den Hollander, Vice President and General Manager of Coca-Cola Northern Europacific Partners (CCEP), is excited about the potential of Accelerate and has committed to becoming a mentor. He tells how CCEP has adopted a philosophy of inclusivity and openness where each individual can ‘be themselves, be valued and belong’.

“Diversity won’t survive in a non-inclusive culture.”

he says, and CCEP’s success is a result of a “people driven company philosophy where people can’t opt-out”.

Leendert shares five key learnings that have contributed to an inclusive environment for diversity of talent to thrive:

  • Communication “and over communication” of the philosophy to “try and get everyone on the same page”
  • Having open conversations, such as “when was the last time a team member felt excluded?” or “do we make an effort on diverse hiring?”
  • All taking responsibility – inclusion starts with ”I”
  • Setting targets, benchmarking and sharing best practice - “hold each other to account and drive improvements”
  • Action and accountability encouraged from within

Leendert shares the benefits of his own mentoring experiences and reinforces how mentoring can be a catalyst for diversity. “Don’t always seek a more senior mentor, consider reverse mentoring. I’ve learnt a lot from mine in the way he looks at things across the business, talks about things and the questions he has on his mind.”

As part of the Accelerate Mentoring Programme, we believe that both parties should benefit from the mentoring relationship.

For a mentee, the relationship aims to build greater ambition, allowing the opportunity and time to reflect and devise action plans that can support in achieving certain career-related objectives. Mentors will be challenged to see things from a different perspective and build empathy and insight beyond their regular network.

"You shouldn’t be afraid of having a mentor who has a different background, or who has chosen a different path to challenge your thinking."

"However, it is important to have a 'connection' between the parties for mentoring to be effective.” says Leendert.



Monica Relph, a former Client Partner at Moving Ahead and a passionate advocate of mentoring, leads the panel discussion. She opens with how effective mentoring can aid connectivity and retention, promote two-way learning and develop transferable skills, which are vital for today’s modern leader.

The panel includes Emma Heal who is Managing Director of Lucky Saint, the UK's leading non-alcoholic beer brand. Emma is passionate about championing women in the industry to be their best selves and currently mentors four women in Tesco's 'Women In Product' program.

Jenn Barnett, also on the panel, is Head of Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing at Grant Thornton and has led various internal culture-change and senior-level leadership and development programmes. Emma is animated as she discusses her forays into mentoring both as a mentor and mentee. She extols the importance of mentees becoming mentors to develop their skills further and tells of the excitement she feels when a mentee achieves success as a result of her guidance.

Emma makes the time because she has the motivation; she believes in role modelling, “paying it forward” makes her feel good and she has also found it great for recruitment help. She stresses, however “that I have never poached a mentor before but they have a wonderful network of other people that you can tap into to help with recruitment”.

Advice to mentees included “when interacting with your mentors find your motivation, be specific and to the point” says Emma. “Don’t just have one mentor, have a few” and if the mentee has several mentors it is a good idea to target the mentor who can best answer your question and be direct with your questioning.

Watch the full video below:



As mentors have limited time, preparation is vital. Monica says “as a mentee, prepare; come with a list of questions; drive the scheduling; come with curiosity, and keep it regular”. Emma also builds in some immediate reflection time following her mentoring sessions to maximise her take on the interaction.

Emma finishes by telling of her determination to continue her mentoring contribution due to the overwhelmingly positive influence mentoring has had on her career,

"They pushed me to take the bigger promotion a bit earlier than I would have done."

The benefits Jenn highlight touch upon the “impact mentoring has on positive mental health. Mentoring gives you that cognitive release to think about your future, to think about opportunities with a different perspective and it gives you as an individual the time to do it. It also has organisational benefits as it affords longer term thinking in career development and hugely impacts on psychological loyalty in particular, through greater social connections”. While Jenn accepts that it will take a conscious effort to commit to a mentoring program, she feels that the individual and business rewards far outweigh the time investment.

Harriott Brigden, Associate, Odgers Berndtson gives an overview of the programme including the qualities sought of a mentor and mentee; the frequency of contact expected and how the matching process will work. The programme will run for a year from July and the closing date for applications is Friday 10th June.

Trefor Griffith, a partner at Grant Thornton, closes the meeting by saying that although some progress has been made regarding inclusion at board level, there is much still to be done.

Every organisation is wrestling with the issues of a lack of diversity at board level. Mentoring can make a vital contribution in the personal development and the acceleration of careers for female and non-binary leaders across food and drink manufacturers.


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Accelerate Mentoring Programme

Read more about the Accelerate Mentoring Programme by clicking below.