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Ask Women and Work

Question: I have begun mentoring a more junior colleague as part of a program at our workplace. How can the two of us make the most out of the mentor-mentee relationship?

We asked Jay-Ann Gilfoy, chief executive officer of Meridian Credit Union, to tackle this one:

The first thing that has to happen in a mentor-mentee relationship is the mentee needs to be clear on what they want the mentor to help them with. Is it networking? Is it life experience? Is it work experience? Is it leadership skills? I think oftentimes people confuse a mentor with a coach or a manager. For me, a mentor is somebody who’s sitting alongside you as you’re going through your life, to help you, guide you and share with you some of their lived experiences.

The role of the mentor is to break the ice and make sure the environment is set up for success. You don’t need to jump into asking the mentee their life goals. Start off with things like: Tell me about you. What do you like to do for fun? Here’s something about me. Find some common interests. You also need to establish the rules of engagement. How often are we going to meet? Let’s have a formalized kind of structure with regular check-in dates.

I think it makes sense to meet once a month to get things rolling. It’s always good to have more frequency at first so you can get to know each other. Then, as time goes on, you can stretch that out. Maybe it’s once every two months or once every quarter; maybe once every six months if this is going to be a long-term relationship. Then there is the emergency phone call. Let’s say the mentee wants a promotion and they’re going in for an interview. Hopefully they can pick up the phone and say, ‘Can I have five minutes? Because I’m freaking out about this.’

It’s a good idea to work on one thing at a time. I think where things can fall apart is when you’re trying to boil the ocean and take on too much at once. I also think there is a natural time when a mentee might say, ‘Thank you. I really appreciate this relationship and you’ve given me what I needed. Now I need to go talk to somebody else because I need a different mentor to help me get to that next stage.’ Mentors can then become allies, supporters or friends. It shifts to a less formal relationship.

As leaders, it’s important that we champion mentorship. It should be recognized as something of value, and that means giving people time in their schedules to do it. Also, confidentiality is critical. You can’t do this without a ground rule that says, ‘This is all under the cone of silence.’ You have to build that awareness in order to create a psychologically safe workplace so that these types of programs can thrive.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at

This week’s must-read stories on women and work

Take control of your day by putting your to-do list on your calendar and timeboxing

Most of us start the day by checking the calendar and the to-do list. The calendar tells us about scheduled events, notably meetings. The to-do list collects the items we’ll want to fit in between events. We might make some rough calculations of how we’ll combine the two over the day – squeeze in e-mail between morning meetings, perhaps, and work in depth on a pressing project after the 1 p.m. meeting – but most of us don’t go as far as committing to those plans in our calendar.

After all, we want freedom to react in the moment and control our day. But tech entrepreneur Marc Zao-Sanders says we’re making a big mistake. We’ll actually reduce stress, accomplish more and feel more in command if we take 15 minutes every morning to fully plan the day, writing everything in the calendar that we expect to accomplish in the available hours, a process called timeboxing.

Read more about how timeboxing can help squelch procrastination.

The ache of weaning myself off my smartphone

“To wean myself off my smartphone’s wiles, I settled on a conscious uncoupling à la Gwyneth Paltrow: an amicable separation with appropriate contact as required,” says Suzanne Westover in The Globe and Mail’s First Person series.

“A clean break wasn’t a reasonable solution for something as integral to my daily life as a refrigerator or washing machine. Sure, people made do without those conveniences. But just as I am unwilling to keep my ice cream in the snow, or beat my linens on rocks, I’m also loath to return to the era of my hot pink Razr flip phone, hunting and pecking out texts, and receiving pixilated images the size of my thumb nail. (What even is that?)

“My self-imposed parameters included permission to text, talk and check the news (in a measured and moderated manner, not at all times during the day.) I could Google specific queries, let’s say about a lump behind my ear, or a power outage, and I could purchase an item (a book, for example) that I had already settled on buying.

“On the other hand, I could not doom scroll or fall down curated advertising rabbit holes.”

Read one woman’s experience with reducing unproductive phone time.

Women are reshaping the watch industry

The most sought-after men’s watches are mechanical marvels that can do everything from tell the time in multiple locations to display the phases of the moon.

For women, however, the watch industry has traditionally tended to deliver dainty and bedazzled quartz-powered imitations of men’s timepieces – even though watch enthusiasts prize mechanical watches over quartz because of the craftsmanship required to create them. Think of the souped-up engine of a Formula 1 car versus that of a sturdy but unspectacular Honda Civic.

It’s not just the “shrinking and pinking” of the watches themselves, but also the industry’s marketing, which has largely targeted men.

Yet women have always worn and collected watches, those intended for both genders. In the past few years, the boys’ club attitude in the collector community has refreshingly begun to shift, owing in large part to the influence of social media. And the industry is taking notice, with more brands targeting women through collaborations with female designers.

Meet the women busting up the boys’ club of watch collecting and designing.

In case you missed it

Kindness isn’t weakness in leadership

When leadership expert Bonnie Hayden Cheng was asked to write a management book in the early years of the pandemic, talented workers were leaving their companies in droves in what was eventually dubbed the Great Resignation.

“People were suffering, and companies were doing the exact opposite of what was needed,” says Dr. Hayden Cheng, who got her PhD from University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and now teaches at the University of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, companies that were sensitive to their employees’ stress and provided the flexibility and understanding they needed faced less of an exodus, she says. That idea became central to her book, The Return on Kindness: How Kind Leadership Wins Talent, Earns Loyalty, and Builds Successful Companies.

“Kind leaders who build trust with their people create high-trust companies,” says Dr. Hayden Cheng, who examined research on kindness, interviewed business leaders from around the world and continues to collect personal stories at “When you compare high-trust companies with low-trust companies, people are less stressed, have more energy, are more engaged and more productive.”

Read the full article.

From the archives

Muslim women wearing hijab at work face heightened scrutiny, professional consequences

Besides her skills, qualifications and expertise, Muna Saleh has observed an additional factor that people evaluate when determining her “professionalism” – her hijab.

Wearing hijab is a personal religious decision, but many Muslim women in Canada are facing undue professional consequences for exercising their right to wear what they choose.

“For some people, hijab is inherently seen as unprofessional just by itself,” says Dr. Saleh, who is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Concordia University of Edmonton.

Dr. Saleh says that women who wear hijab are stereotyped as being “inherently oppressed, potentially not intelligent or capable enough to make an informed and rational decision about her body.”

Shefaly Gunjal is the manager of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at Citizen Relations, a global communications and PR firm. She notes that an added challenge for Muslim women who wear hijab is that they are often the only visibly Muslim person in their workplace. Because of this, they may experience heightened scrutiny.

Read the full article.

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The Globe and Mail

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