Inclusive Mentorship

Framework curated by Alfred Burgesson, Founder and CEO of Tribe Network and Erin Wynn, Manager of Education and Evaluation at MindFrame Connect

“We shouldn’t just talk about issues, we need to talk about solutions.
Let’s not just talk the talk – let’s walk the walk.”

—-Chipewyan (Chip) McCrimmon

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Canada has work to do to ensure that founders from all backgrounds feel included, supported, and celebrated. At MindFrame Connect, we believe mentorship can be a key pillar in supporting that mission. Mentors not only provide practical advice and guidance to their mentees but welcome founders into networks and spaces they were unable to access before. For mentees facing structural and systemic barriers, this access can be crucial for the success of their venture – and for their sense of belonging in the world of entrepreneurship.

Working with Mentees

  • If you are a mentor from an underrepresented group, seeking mentees who share your identity can be a powerful tool for them to see people of their background succeeding and supporting them. Mentoring across difference (with mentees who do not share your background) is also beneficial to the ecosystem, as it allows you to share your perspective with a broad variety of early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • Seek mentorship opportunities with individuals from diverse groups – not only diverse in terms of their identities, but also in how they may be approaching their venture or thinking about their business
  • A common mentor bias is seeking out mentors who “remind us of ourselves” – this can become a bias when it results in mentors subconsciously lifting up only those who look, think, or behave like them in lieu of other mentees
  • Affinity bias is when we seek out mentees who follow similar career objectives or pathways as us. Members of underrepresented groups may think about entrepreneurship or venture building in different ways; be open to providing insight that will help them reach their own individual goals
  • The mentor-mentee relationship may already have power imbalance, as the mentee may be conscious of taking your time or be very deferential because of your career stage and success. Address this power imbalance by;
  • Providing opportunities for your mentees to give you feedback on your mentorship approach
  • Encouraging mentees to drive the direction of the mentorship meetings, and
  • Hold space for developing a personal relationship with your mentee

Providing Feedback to Mentees

Constructive feedback is a large aspect of the mentoring relationship. With all mentees, it should be provided in a way that is focused on their performance, with the ultimate intent to help them achieve their goals. Lack of confidence or disparaging your mentee (i.e. “You don’t have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur”) has no role in supportive or inclusive mentorship – rather, provide your feedback in an honest and forthright way, and have conversations with your mentee about the best approach for offering this feedback.

When working with mentees from underrepresented groups, ensure you are not withholding feedback, either. In a recent study*, women were found to receive less actionable feedback than their male colleagues because of the bias that they would be too sensitive to receive it. Not providing appropriate feedback holds your mentees back from development.  

* Doldor et al., 2021. Men Get More Actionable Feedback than Women. Harvard School of Business.  

From the Ecosystem

After 150 interviews, we heard the following as immediate ways we can drive diversity further in the Canadian ecosystem:

  • Approach communities seeking to understand and accept their traditions, systems, and culture, recognize how they are different, and be adaptable to change the way we approach engagement.
  • Ask questions with a listening ear, asking communities where the most impact can be felt and how we can most effectively engage, support, and understand in a positive and constructive way.
  • Be willing to continually re-evaluate and improve ourselves using their feedback.
  • Make sure mentees are an active part of the solution, not just a piece of it.
  • Enter communities with the assistance of changemakers within them who can act as a bridge to introduce and connect us to their community, building a relationship that starts with trust and authentic partnership, while celebrating the differences between our cultures.

Are you interested in mentoring Black, Indigenous and People Of Colour pursuing entrepreneurship and innovation in Canada?

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Celebrating Canada’s Diverse Entrepreneurs. Futurpreneur

An Invisible Ally: 3 Ways Mentors Help Founders Start and Scale Their Businesses. NASDAQ

Are you aware of your bias? Harvard Business Review

The Key to Diversity and Inclusion is Mentorship, Forbes Business

Inclusive Mentoring: What does it actually mean? NW Academy

Men Get More Actionable Feedback than Women. Harvard School of Business

The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada, 2021, Women Entrepreneurs Knowledge Hub

Rise Up: A Study of 700 Black Women Entrepreneurs, Women Entrepreneurs Knowledge Hub

Economic Equality in a Changing World: Removing Barriers to Employment for Women, Public Policy Forum Canada

Project Implicit Bias, Harvard University

Racial Discrimination, Race, and Racism Fact Sheet, Ontario Human Rights Commission

Why Diversity and Inclusion Has Become a Business Priority, Josh Bersin

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