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Novo Nordisk Canada employee Rene Baptiste-Burns, photographed near her home in Bedford, N.S., says that her company’s mentorship program gave her the confidence to apply to more senior positions.Darren Calabrese

Sometimes, it takes a colleague’s perspective to help you see your own potential.

Rene Baptiste-Burns had been working for 13 years as a sales representative at Novo Nordisk Canada when she took on the role of performance coach in early 2020.

She enjoyed this challenging role, which entailed training and supporting others in reaching their own career goals. Yet she assumed she’d risen as far as she ever would herself.

“I had kind of stopped myself at this level,” says Ms. Baptiste-Burns. Living in Halifax and not close to the company’s head office in Toronto, she was sure that her career options were limited.

Then, last spring, Novo Nordisk piloted a highly structured, one-year mentorship program that included training, a regular meeting schedule and ongoing reviews.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to be able to connect with someone at the company, to learn more about being a senior manager,” says Ms. Baptiste-Burns.

Vicky Chan, vice president of clinical development, medical and regulatory at Novo Nordisk Canada, says being a mentor has helped her learn more about her organization.SUPPLIED

She was matched with Vicky Chan, vice president of clinical development, medical and regulatory at Novo Nordisk Canada. While she was initially surprised to have been matched with someone so senior, Ms. Baptiste-Burns says she was keen to learn about the rewards and struggles of being a woman in management.

“I’m a Black woman and Vicky is of Asian descent, so I wondered if there are other shared experiences that we might be able to talk about as well,” she says.

Ms. Baptiste-Burns found all of this, and more.

Thanks to the structure of the program and its consistent meeting schedule, the two got to know each other gradually and found themselves hitting it off. They had meaningful conversations about problem-solving interpersonal dilemmas and shared ideas for business challenges. Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Chan asked questions that made Ms. Baptiste-Burns think more deeply about her aspirations.

“She encouraged me to ask myself if I was really achieving my full potential,” she says. “She pushed me to set higher expectations of myself and not limit myself.”

Anticipating the ‘roadblocks’ to successful mentorship

Novo Nordisk Canada’s mentorship program came along at a time when the company was reflecting on how they could meaningfully improve diversity in senior leadership. While the company has a workforce made up of 60 per cent women, there are just a handful of females in top positions, notes Ms. Chan.

“The leadership team, including the male members, started to reflect on the lack of gender balance at this level,” she says.

Andrew Robertson, associate director, external affairs for Novo Nordisk Canada, was tasked with creating the company’s highly structured mentorship program.SUPPLIED

As a member of iLEAD, the Novo Nordisk Canada’s equity, diversity and inclusion team, Andrew Robertson was tasked with creating a mentorship program for the company. Employee surveys indicated that women and people from other underrepresented groups thought mentorship might help them with career planning.

While Novo Nordisk had run mentorship programs in the past, the committee wanted to be sure this one really delivered, says Mr. Robertson, associate director, external affairs for Novo Nordisk Canada.

“We’ve all been part of mentorship programs. Three months in, things tend to peter out,” he says. “We wanted to predetermine what roadblocks people were going to hit as much as possible.”

After forming a mentorship committee and working with outside vendor Matrix360, human resources helped select and match 10 pairs — aiming to include 60 per cent women.

Angie Ng, senior director of people and organization at Novo Nordisk Canada, says that year two of the mentorship program will have an added global focus.SUPPLIED

Angie Ng, senior director people & organization, says she and her team were thrilled to get involved with the project. She notes that more than anything, many women need confidence around their skills to apply for executive jobs.

Ms. Ng says she felt this new program could deliver because it had the kind of structure in place to help both mentors and mentees get the most out of it, including defining their motivations.

“Sometimes we say we need a mentor, but we don’t know why,” Ms. Ng says. “This program makes sure the mentee is very clear on what they want to develop. For the mentors, it’s the same thing: What do you want out of this?”

Data collected at the end of the program showed that three-quarters of participants felt they expanded their knowledge and professional development, 98 per cent felt more engaged with Novo Nordisk, and 91 per cent would recommend the program. (Ms. Baptiste-Burns says she has recommended the program to many of her colleagues.)

“All signs point to it being a valuable development opportunity,” says Mr. Robertson.

Ms. Ng is particularly excited about year two of the mentorship program — which will remain small at 10 pairs for one more year before expanding — as it dovetails with a global mentorship program launching this summer.

“We can use this at a local level, and then we can look to this larger program for people who want to go global in the future,” she says. “We’re able to tell employees now that if they want to grow, there’s so much out there for them, and we can help them get there.”

Confidence on the pathway to promotion

While the mentorship program has formally wrapped up and another session is underway for 2022 – 23, Ms. Chan and Ms. Baptiste-Burns have agreed to keep up their relationship. It’s proven to be a rewarding experience for both women – Ms. Chan says it’s helped her learn a lot about what’s going on at different levels of the organization.

Last fall, an internal job posting caught Ms. Baptiste-Burns’ attention. She decided to apply, receiving a lot of support from Ms. Chan through the process.

“[Vicky] gave me the inner courage to know that maybe it wasn’t an unreasonable ask,” she says.

Ms. Baptiste-Burns was named district business manager, obesity, for eastern Ontario and Atlantic district in January 2022. As she settles into the new role, she says mentorship was a valuable part of the process that got her there. “I don’t think I would have put my name forward for this role without this program.”

Now, if an even more senior role came up that suited her, Ms. Baptiste-Burns says she would feel confident about applying for that position too.

“I’d be willing if the opportunity presented itself,” she says. “I don’t think I would have said that a year ago.”


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Novo Nordisk. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.