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WMC's Women Mentorship Project - PART ONE: Learning about mentorship

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email

Recently, we introduced WMC’s project to increase opportunities to advance women through the piloting of a sustainable mentorship model. In the past few months, as we have visited companies, exhibited at shows and made presentations, many people have expressed their interest in this project – both in its benefits and in the things we all will learn.
Women currently employed in the industry will help identify gaps in programs and services, needs and barriers they face when accessing opportunities to advance within the industry. The project will also examine women’s contribution to the sector and their participation rates in management and leadership opportunities. A mentorship model will be developed in collaboration with key local stakeholders that addresses sector-specific barriers and meets the needs identified by women.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or knowledgeable person. A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. A mentor is a trusted person or guide.
We have learned that mentors are very important during career transitions, especially during the first year of work. To inform the planning of the project and the development of our mentorship model, we identified promising mentorship models that could be implemented, taking into consideration their sustainability, strengths and challenges. Much more will follow on the issues specific to this project, the great team of volunteers and the partners who have stepped up to participate, and about the program being created. The first part of our education is learning about mentorship itself.  
It has been demonstrated that mentoring is an effective mechanism, especially during the initial acceptance period of one’s employment. It is important for women to realize they aren’t alone and the issues they face are not personal. As part of the preparation for the development of the program to come, we learned of a range of mentoring models focusing on women in non-traditional employment (NTE) and found a diverse range of approaches to mentoring in use. We found that there are formal and informal mentoring programs, each with distinct characteristics.
Informal mentoring is casual, self-initiated and does not have formal eligibility requirements or agreements. It evolves naturally over time, has broad goals and no training is required. The relationships can go on indefinitely and the program has no formal monitoring/evaluation mechanism. In contrast, formal mentoring is much more structured. It has eligibility requirements, a formal matching process and has the roles and responsibilities predefined. It has specific agreements, clearly defined goals and may include training sessions for mentors/mentees. Formal mentoring has a defined beginning and end point (although relationships generated from formal mentoring can last a lifetime) and the program would have formal reporting mechanisms that measure progress towards a goal.
Mentoring can be provided in-house by an employer or through third parties and the mentors/mentee relationship can be face-to-face, via an e-mentoring platform, by telephone, Skype or social media. Mentoring is a widely-used strategy to support women in building successful careers and is very useful for women in NTE’s as women can find themselves in rural areas and geographically spread out, and women are underrepresented in most workplaces. We learned that not all mentoring models suit the needs and realities of the advanced wood processing sector, as many small and micro-sized companies lack the resources and mentors for in-house mentoring program.
Mentoring approaches for women are often tailored to their specific career stage: support offered during training/education; transition to the workplace; career progression (including retention-related issues) and career advancement to management/leadership roles. Women transitioning into the sector need support dealing with day-to-day workplace issues and their new career. Women transitioning into supervisory/management positions often need support developing leadership skills and dealing with difficult situations.
The literature suggests that women in NTE’s can benefit from having both male and female mentors. We learned of cases where some companies use ‘reverse mentoring,’ where male managers/employers are mentored by junior women employees to increase their understanding of experiences faced by women in their workplace. E-mentoring has seen success for women in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). This is effective where there is a wide base of professional women who use e-platforms daily and already have a strong female network in place.
Women are often underrepresented in most work places and lack female role models. Mentorship has shown to help increase job satisfaction and is an effective strategy to retain and advance women in a competitive labour market. This was confirmed by female sector leaders. This WMC project will contribute to the message that the advanced wood-processing sector is serious about employing, retaining and advancing women. As mentioned, in upcoming columns we will focus on the specific issues and updates on the program as it unfolds.

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