The Importance of Representation and Mentorship

Framework curated by Meghann Coleman, Director at MindFrame Connect

“Wow Mom – they look like me”.  

Those words were etched on a thank you letter sent by a Mom, as she described the impact of her daughter seeing indigenous models on a Cheekbone Beauty postcard. The daughter brought that postcard to bed with her that night, demonstrating the true importance of kids seeing themselves in pictures and positions of success.

Those words continue to drive Jenn Harper, Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics INC as she grows her sustainable makeup company, which is also Canada’s first Indigenous makeup company. Her company focuses on crafting sustainable colour cosmetics while at the same time, giving back to the Indigenous community – ensuring that Indigenous kids feel their value in the world.  

In June 2022, Cheekbone Beauty partnered with Sephora Canada on a national campaign called #GlossedOver. All Sephora sales of Cheekbone Beauty products in June went to Water First, a charitable organization that works to bring clean water to Indigenous communities in Canada (source: Export Development Canada).

Seeing yourself in the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem is equally as critical as the little girl who saw herself in Cheekbone Beauty branding. The more that founders from underrepresented groups see themselves as entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs, the greater their likelihood to be drawn to these careers.  

According to an article in Forbes, a key driver of improving diversity and inclusion in the workforce is mentorship. In fact, the article states that “women and minorities were more likely to say that mentoring was an important aspect of their career.” Research conducted by David A. Thomas, an expert in Organizational Behaviour and Professor at Harvard Business School, stated in an article for the Harvard Business Review:  

“In my research on the career progression of minorities at U.S. corporations, I have found that whites and minorities follow distinct patterns of advancement. Specifically, promising white professionals tend to enter a fast track early in their careers, whereas high-potential minorities take off much later, typically after they have reached middle management. I’ve also found that the people of color who advance the furthest all share one characteristic—a strong network of mentors and corporate sponsors who nurture their professional development.”

Additionally, this study showed that “close mentoring relationships are much more likely to form when both parties see parts of themselves in the other person.” Therefore, representation is important.

This can be said for the entrepreneurial ecosystem as well. Having a strong network of mentors and sponsors is vital to the success of an entrepreneur. For founders from underrepresented groups, it’s important that they see themselves in the mentors they work with (or at a minimum, feel that their mentor understands their individual history and perspective; wanting to truly learn where they come from).  

Diversity also has significant impact on the success of a business (and in turn, an ecosystem):

  • Research shows that diverse businesses are more profitable.
  • A McKinsey report showed firms in the US that place in the “top quartile for racial or ethnic diversity” are 35 per cent more likely to have higher financial returns.
  • A study by Intel and Dalberg found that the tech industry “could generate an additional $300 to $370 billion each year if the racial/ethnic diversity of tech companies’ workforces reflected that of the talent pool.”

Source: “The Review”, DMZ Ryerson

  • Additionally, companies that put a priority on innovation are worth more when women hold top leadership positions. These companies are $44 million more valuable, on average, according to a multiyear academic study of Standard and Poor’s top 1,500 firms.

Source: “She the People”, The Washington Post

Inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems empower people and propels society forward through impact and innovation while creating greater personal and community wealth. Canada wins as a country when we:  

  • Support diverse founders
  • Increase entrepreneurship opportunities for underrepresented groups  
  • Focus on mentorship, allyship, and sponsorship
  • Develop networks of support for early-stage founders  
  • View diversity as key elements of innovation and competition
  • Encourage diversity of thought and new ways of thinking to solve problems  

The Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem still has a long way to go when it comes to seeing full representation among founders and mentors. But, as a start, there’s simple ways we can make an impact in our everyday life. According to Jenn Harper, a small step for bringing more diversity into our ecosystem is by embracing and supporting brands that have diverse founders (and diverse stories). And, without question, having a role model like Jenn Harper is a major step in the right direction.

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