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Opinion: Why mentorship programs help break down barriers for women in business

Supporting inclusion isn't just a moral imperative—it's a strategic business advantage
Mentorship creates pathways for greater inclusion and stronger organizations

As we celebrate International Women's Day, the theme of “inspire Inclusion” reminds us of the ongoing need to create spaces where every woman feels a sense of belonging and empowerment. Despite progress, challenges like the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap persist, and from boardrooms to classrooms, the call for inclusion echoes through every corner, urging us to embrace the role we all play in advancing gender equity.

In business, fostering inclusion isn't just a moral imperative—it's a strategic advantage. Mentorship, both formal and informal, plays a pivotal role in this journey. By providing women with access to networks, guidance, and opportunities, mentorship helps to break down barriers for women to advance professionally. Through these initiatives, women receive valuable advice, support, and advocacy, helping to level the playing field in the workplace.

Mentors not only offer guidance, but through understanding the experiences of their mentees, can also serve as catalysts for change, advocating for policies like flexible-work arrangements or pathways to promotions. Engaging in mentorship programs demonstrates businesses' commitment to gender equity, encouraging a supportive and equitable work environment

At a younger age, the impact of mentorship can be life-changing. For over 60 years, Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland has been igniting the potential of girls through a range of mentorship programs. We recognize the unique challenges that girls face, including significant disparities in mental health and experiences with gender-based violence. Our evidence-based programs offer a solution, with girls and youth who complete them experiencing positive mental health outcomes and achieving greater educational success, including high school graduation and transition to post-secondary education. However, for many girls across the Lower Mainland, a stable and supportive mentor can be out of reach, leaving them vulnerable to bias, harassment, and inequity.

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, here are three steps organizations can take to promote gender equity through mentorship:

  1. Support employee volunteerism in community: Provide paid time off for employees to volunteer in mentorship programs. Employees who are given opportunities to give back to their communities tend to feel more connected to their workplace which contributes to engagement and retention, as they see their employer's dedication to making a positive impact beyond the workplace.
  2. Establish structured mentorship programs: Pair leaders with mentees seeking guidance and support in their careers, ensuring access to valuable insights, networking opportunities, and fostering continuous learning and growth for both parties.
  3. Provide resources and recognition: Allocate resources and offer recognition to mentors and mentees. This can include dedicated time for mentorship meetings, access to training and development opportunities, and acknowledgement of mentorship contributions in performance evaluations and promotions.

The support of a mentor can make all the difference in equipping women and girls with the tools and support necessary to thrive, cultivating a ripple effect of empowerment, resilience, and leadership.

Chantelle Krish is CEO of Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland. For more information on how to get involved visit, or contact [email protected].