Mentoring program helps women thrive



Rafael Brusilow/for metro toronto


Rochelle de Goias, who works for cleanairpass Inc., is a protegée of The Wisdom II mentoring program. She says her mentor, Dalal Al-Waheidi, has helped her find her sense of direction in her working life.


What do Canada’s 100 most successful women in the business world have in common? They share everything they know by mentoring other women who are just starting out.

Hot off its first year in 2007, The Wisdom II mentoring program created by the Toronto-based organization Women’s Executive Network (WXN) breaks through traditional stereotypes of the dastardly things women do to other women in the workplace. Instead of the back-biting and sabotage so readily parodied on many TV shows, WXN’s program proves that — in real life, at least — women can and do build outstanding relationships and learn by supporting each other.

The program’s mentors are selected from WXN’s list of 100 most powerful women in Canada, as awarded by WXN for their help in opening doors for other women in the business world. Successful mentoring applicants for the program, called protegées, get to meet with their mentor regularly and attend about 16 to 20 hours’ worth of in-class sessions presented by top business professionals dealing with common issues women face in the working world.

For 50-year-old Lisa Colnett, a former senior vice-president of human resources at Celestica Inc., mentoring others has been a life-long passion that she can now extend to women in work fields beyond her own.

“I liked the idea of mentoring outside my job and I already love helping people meet career goals. This is something I enjoy doing,” Colnett said.

Colnett met with her protegée for lunch several times per year to discuss things like work-life balance, moving from middle management to senior positions and tricks on how to sell herself best within her own company. Good mentors, Colnett says, don’t just offer knowledge but guidance and insight as well.

“It’s not about what I know, but how can I help them see things they didn’t see were possible for themselves before,” Colnett said.

Rochelle de Goias, 28, a 2007 protegée, says the best part of learning from her own mentor, Dalal Al-Waheidi, operations director of Toronto charity Free The Children, was the sense of direction it gave her in her working life.

“If you don’t have a mentor, it’s uncharted waters, but having someone tell you about their experiences or just listen to you — it’s phenomenal. It made many things clear — I just learned so much,” de Goias said.

The class sessions let de Goias bond with other women like her who had the same questions and concerns about the next step in their careers.

“It really builds your confidence, it builds your networking skills and you learn a lot from your peers. It’s women going through the same process as you — they’re all ambitious, all successful and they can really empathize with what you’re going through,” de Goias said.