Written by Alyssa Lai.
Alyssa is a 2018-2019 ELN Communications Lead, 2017 DiverseCity Fellow and Digital Marketing Coordinator at Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation. Find out more about her here.
In my ten years in Canada, I’ve had many mentors, both formal and informal. I’ve benefited tremendously from mentorship in many different ways. From helping me understand cultural nuances, to giving me what I need to progress in my career, mentors have helped me make new connections and gain new opportunities.
But when you ask emerging leaders if they see themselves as mentors, more often than not, they would say no. Perhaps this is because many perceive mentorship as top-down, where established professionals are usually the ones who provide knowledge and guidance to young and eager individuals.
Beyond that, there also an issue of representation. In a survey of almost 200 Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) members, 48% reported that they’ve often walked into a room and do not see people who look like them. A more troubling stat: 91% believed that they were not heard; they felt that opinions of a select few are more likely to be listened to when decisions are made in the GTHA. In an era where many don’t feel they have a voice, how do we shift the power dynamics in mentor-mentee relationships, while unpacking notions of privilege, equity and inclusion in mentorship? And more importantly, how do we make sure emerging leaders see themselves as mentors too?
Those were the key questions that guided the discussion at ELN’s Mind Your Mentorship event. Held at United Way Greater Toronto, the event brought together four panelists, who have unique perspectives to share on mentorship. Here are some of the themes we discussed over the course of the evening
Mentorship is guided by mutual respect
The role of the mentor-mentee relationship is to transform each other for the better, said panelist Asare Kester-Akrofi, whose day job involves providing strategic support to the mayor in the City of Markham. A mentor with the United Way Toronto and York Region GenNext committee, Asare thinks that mentorship is a two-way street, guided by principles of respect.
Underlying respect is the core value of empathy, which is the belief that one can never fully understand what it is like to be in another person’s shoes, said panelist Sarah Hashem, a professor at George Brown College and a former DiverseCity Fellow.
Mentorship takes on many forms
While some may believe that mentorship is only restricted to in-person interactions, panelist Fahmida Kamali encouraged us to think otherwise. A Senior Advisor with Ontario Digital Service, Fahmida founded PS, I’m Muslim, an online community for Muslims working in the public sector. As she shared her experiences in the public sector on social media, Fahmida said that being authentic by sharing her experiences online can provide comfort to others. For example, a conversation about diversity has to go beyond just women issues, and also look at other intersecting issues such as ethnicity, sexuality and gender.
Mentorship is about pushing boundaries
Reflecting on work as an architect in a male-dominated space, panelist Camille Mitchell of KMPB Architect said that it’s important to have uncomfortable conversations. For example, a conversation about diversity has to go beyond just women issues, but should also look at other intersecting issues such as ethnicity, sexuality and gender.
How to be authentic in mentorship?
As the conversation about mentorship evolved, we touched on the tension between being true to yourself versus changing your identity and mannerisms to fit in. How can we reconcile the two? As we mentor others, Sarah suggested that we remain open in sharing the path we took and the decisions we made.
Now, are you ready to step up to be a mentor?
We have a few resources from some of our partners:
Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC)’s Mentoring Partnership program pairs individuals with immigrant professionals to share insights on working in Canada
NIA Centre connects individuals with young artists to provide perspectives in the art and creative field
United Way Toronto and York Region’s netWORKS program mentors young people by giving them the tools and resources to find career opportunities