Mentorship as Empowerment: Challenging every woman to find a mentor and be a mentor

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The empowered woman is a force to be reckoned with. She is bold and focused, with big goals and even bigger dreams. She is not afraid to learn from failure. She is the key to greater equality in society and the future of women entrepreneurs in Canada.

This International Women’s Day, Startup Canada, Microsoft Canada and Moxie Trades, a Canadian company founded by Marissa McTasney, teamed up to inspire, connect and support the mentorship of women entrepreneurs.

In a breakfast and panel discussion with women leaders who play crucial roles in Canada’s growing entrepreneurial network, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism noted that an estimated 1.5 million Canadians are currently employed at women-owned businesses. “The total contribution of majority-owned women businesses in our economy is upwards of 148 billion dollars a year and each year, more and more women are choosing self-employment,” she said.

Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger

But even as more women are claiming a foothold in the world of business, we still face numerous barriers to success. This may come in the form of the gender wage gap, societal expectations, and more surprisingly – ourselves.

Research has shown that girls in Grade 4 have a higher propensity to enjoy math, coding and technology. But something happens between Grade 4 and Grade 8 when they start to become disinterested in these subjects. What is it that sparks this change? Is it because we are taught at a young age that there are only certain avenues we can succeed in as women? Do we feel that we can’t fit into the norm social settings of the tech community? It is these limitations we put on ourselves that we need to abolish in order to become successful entrepreneurs.

Women leaders from private sector industry, politics, the public service, academia, and entrepreneurship articulated the importance of mentorship during Startup Canada’s live-streamed International Women’s Day broadcast. This panel aired the evening of March 8 and focused on mentorship, growth, and the role women play in the economy.

“We need to make sure young women have the confidence to enter technology industries and other sectors, and to become leaders,” said the Honourable Kellie Leitch, Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey and the former Minister of Status of Women.

Our vision is to see a Canada where diversity is reflected at every level of leadership and organizations see the value of management teams with greater gender parity.

With confidence, women cannot be afraid to fail. At Microsoft, we have a term we call the “Growth Mindset.” As part of our culture, we encourage employees to think about great ideas, try them and fail fast. We believe there is power in trying and failing, as long as we learn from the experiences and use them to innovate successfully. Likewise as women leaders, we need to rid ourselves of the mentality that we need to be perfect in everything that we do. We need to identify our previous mistakes, learn from them and pick ourselves up.

This is a daily lesson at Startup Canada, a social enterprise with a majority women team. In our headquarters in Ottawa and in our Startup Canada Communities across the country, staff and volunteers are surrounded by peer mentors — both women and men — who challenge us to strive for excellence as people, peers, and ambassadors of Canada’s entrepreneurship movement. Seeing failure, fear and the road less travelled as opportunities to innovate drives our team to break personal and professional barriers. This culture is reinforced by the mentorship we receive from inspiring women like Startup Canada Award winners Natalie Dakers, CEO and founding president of Accel-Rx, Devon Fiddler, founder of SheNative Goods and Startup Canada Fellow for Women Entrepreneurship Marissa McTasney.

McTasney became convinced of the importance of mentorship when she participated in an expert panel on championing women entrepreneurs in 2014. “One of the things we easily and quickly identified was the lack of mentorship programs” even though “role models and mentoring” was “the number one ask of women entrepreneurs,” said McTasney. “Not only should you find a mentor, you should be a mentor. It goes both ways.”

This is why we challenged women entrepreneurs to find a mentor and be a mentor on International Women’s Day, and to extend that commitment beyond this day. At startupcan.ca/women, dozens of women accepted this challenge, signed up to be a mentor, and offered their best advice for women entrepreneurs.

But the creation of mentorship opportunities is only the first step in optimizing the potential of this growing generation of aspiring businesswomen. We need to build a larger infrastructure that will serve to continually empower women and provide them with the education, role models and customers they need to be successful.

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We need to keep the larger picture in mind and consider the bigger questions for the future. How can we create a national acceleration program for women entrepreneurs that is created by them and for them? What steps can we take to make sure that suppliers diversify procurement in a way that small businesses and women-led businesses are not overlooked in favour of large male-led multinational companies? We are making progress as we ponder over and act upon these issues.

Our vision is to see a Canada where diversity is reflected at every level of leadership and where organizations see the value of management teams with greater gender parity. With women at the forefront of various social enterprises, Canada stands to emerge as a leader in social innovation, which will be beneficial in creating solutions, products and services that will help to change the world.

There is no better time for women entrepreneurs than today. Whether you’re a seasoned business professional or a budding innovator, join the movement to empower women with the confidence and skills to establish companies, become CEOs and assume leadership positions. Visit www.startupcan.ca/women to offer your mentorship to women entrepreneurs, and contribute to a growing cohort of women changing our economy, country, and culture for the better.

This editorial was co-authored by Victoria Lennox, CEO of Startup Canada and Janet Kennedy, President of Microsoft Canada.

Victoria Lennox

Victoria Lennox

Victoria Lennox is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Canada, global social entrepreneur and is one of the nations’s leading proponents and catalysts of entrepreneurship.