When it comes to mentoring, Kimberlee Robertson wasn’t convinced she was the best candidate.
That is, until she met her mentee, Leanne Bates. Both are from a similar area in London and are passionate about changing lives through sport which, incidentally, is the reason Kimberlee joined adidas in the first place. Once they met, their similarities brought them together — and it’s these similarities that have made them such a great team, proving the power of mentorship, and transforming Kimberlee’s perspective on what it means to be a mentor.
Kimberlee started mentoring as a part of the adidas Breaking Barriers Project, a commitment to breaking down barriers for women and girls across Europe by working with nonprofit sports organizations and empowering local leaders and coaches, like Leanne. Today, Kimberlee mentors Leanne and one of Leanne’s colleagues, Toni Bada, after Leanne convinced her to take on a second mentee. Since Kimberlee began mentoring, she has realized how much she can have an impact and create change in the sports industry through this role — and now she’s encouraging others to get involved as well.
What resonated with you about being a mentor for the adidas Breaking Barriers Project?
I first joined adidas — moving from my home in London to Germany for the job — because I strongly believed in the fact that sport has the power to change lives. Shortly after I started working here, I learned about the Breaking Barriers Project, and what adidas was doing to improve access to sports for women and girls. The message of Breaking Barriers drew me to get more involved, and once I did, it was incredible to actually experience it in person. By doing so much work in London, I got to see the real impact the Project has on the ground and how it’s completely transformed parts of my hometown.
I’d never been a mentor before, so I was pretty nervous to sign up. However, I soon realized that just listening and offering a different perspective was really valuable for Leanne and Toni. To be a mentor, you don’t have to have all the answers — you just have to provide the space for questions, encouragement, and support. Visiting the hubs my mentees work at and seeing their impact on their communities showed me the power of Breaking Barriers and the mentorship program.
It’s inspiring to see adidas represented at the grassroots level, and to see how passionate people are about the brand and the Breaking Barriers Project. The Project’s impact is huge, and seeing hundreds of girls who are positively impacted by that was something I didn’t expect out of mentoring, but it has been an immense addition to my work and my purpose.
What does a typical session look like for you, and how does it fit in with your regular days at adidas?
With Leanne, we started by working on her confidence and public speaking skills. Leanne was very committed to trying everything we discussed, which made a huge difference. The adidas Breaking Barriers Project was her big catalyst to make a change and try new things, and it’s been amazing to see her growth, from giving talks at large events to filming promotional videos for her work.
Today, I’m more of an encourager and sparring partner for Leanne and Toni. I’ve seen the meaningful impact just listening has had on their lives, and I want to create that value in as many lives as possible.
At work, mentoring has made me a better listener, and as a strategist, it has given me even more problem-solving skills. It’s made me follow my own dreams more as well — now, when I tell Leanne or Toni about a project I’m working on or something that might feel intimidating, they ask me what advice I’d give them. For example, I’d been thinking about reaching out to the Global Tennis Apparel team with some ideas and realized I would encourage my mentees to go after it if they were in my position. Now, I’m working on a short-term assignment with the team and loving it. Mentoring has inspired me to go after what I want in my own life and be bold!
What would you say to someone who is thinking about being a mentor?
Becoming a mentor is truly one of the best things I’ve done in my life. In many ways, I feel like I’ve found my purpose and what I was destined to do. It’s made me a better teammate, a better friend, and a better person. I can encourage and support other people and see the impact they, in turn, have on their communities, which is so rewarding.
For anyone who feels passionate about gender equity or that sports can change lives, mentoring is a great way to put this passion into action. So much of what I’m doing is just permitting people to be themselves. There are loads of people around to support — you just need to be bold enough to take the first step.