Brown Bag: Mentoring in 2013 [Event Recap]

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January is not only the month to start fresh into a new year and make resolutions, it is as well National Mentoring Month. Started at Harvard University in 1997 and formally put in place by the U.S. in 2002, the celebration of Mentoring Month has since then been adopted by many other countries, including Canada.

In professional development having mentors is key. Especially for women and other minority groups, the lack of mentoring opportunities is a frequent barrier to career advancement. A mentor can act as advisor, supporter, fair critic or friend and is often an important role model for his/her mentee.

These are some of the hard facts about mentoring, with which many of us will easily agree; but, being a mentor or a mentee actually means being in a mentoring-relationship with a mentee or mentor, and many of us seem to be unsure about these soft facts of mentoring.

In anticipation of National Mentoring Month, the SCWIST BrownBag Lunch Meeting at UBC’s Point Grey Campus on January 30, 2013, addressed the topic of Mentoring. For this event the UBC BrownBag Team reached out to the Women in Leadership Foundation (WIL), Vancouver Chapter, and was proud to present Gwen Gnazdowsky in collaboration with WIL.

As a Personal & Professional Development Coach Gwen has touched the lives of many people for more than twenty years. In addition to her private practice, she is the owner of One Conversation Coaching & Consulting, and a strong advocate of mentorship. Gwen believes that there is something missing in higher education in Canada, as you cannot learn many of the necessary business and career skills at school – here, mentorship is key! As the Mentorship Advisor for WIL she facilitated an engaging 90-minutes workshop for the lively SCWIST BrownBag crowd at UBC.

To start things off Gwen collected questions from the audience, and many of these questions reflected the worries and doubts about the soft side of the mentoring-relationship.

The main question asked was: How can I find a mentor? Mentorship is like every relationship an evolving process. It could start with admiration for someone who might have a skill you would like to develop yourself, who has achieved a level of ability you would like to reach, or who has perhaps successfully managed a career change that seems appealing to you, too.

All it takes to make a first connection is to ask that person if she/he could answer some of your questions – simple as that! In general, people are happy to share their knowledge and experience; people want to contribute and use their skills. It is true peer power, as everyone has something they want to learn, and something worth imparting to others. It is just a matter of getting yourself out there.

Approach somebody you would like to talk to and do not be afraid to get a “NO”. NO simply means next, either next person or next time. A NO probably means that the person is currently busy or distracted, maybe did not really understand what you were asking from her/him, or didn’t feel they could help you any further.

Gwen suggested that instead of taking a NO personally, one should see it as a game: e.g. try the How-many-YESes-can-I-get-for-one-NO game or the How-long-does-it-take-to-hear-ten-NOs. After all, the phrase to remember is Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Somebody is Waiting or SWSWSWSW.

But, what if:

  •  The relationship between mentor and mentee has developed into what feels like a “wrong direction”?
  • There are cultural differences and misconceptions to overcome?
  • The relationship is unequal?
  • One feels the need to set stronger boundaries?


As in all relationships in life, one has to remember that every person carries their own personal history and emotions. For this reason, when two people are not able to get along, it is often an earlier experience that is still affecting the person in her/his life today. Gwen highlighted the importance of expressing honest caring concern in such situations. Especially in times of conflict, it is vital to acknowledge the other’s background and life story. Let the other person know that you value your relationship with her/him, and let other people know how highly you think about her/him. Often such conflicts are rooted in the fear of a power struggle; therefore, if you paint a fabulous reputation of the other person, recognize and acknowledge her/his achievement and tell her/him how grateful you are, the other person eventually will relax and see that you do not want to harm her/him. Such trust is the foundation of a stable relationship.

The workshop was highly interactive. Embracing Gwen’s advice – everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn – the audience asked a lot of questions, discussed each other’s problems, shared experiences with the group and provided advice. Voices from the audience commented positively on the “Interactive Exercises”, the “Collaborative Discussions”, the “Openness” and the feeling of “Sisterhood”.

I am sure many people left this BrownBag session with a spinning head full of useful hands-on information on the topic of Mentoring, a personal list of potential next steps to reach new goals and the wish for some time to work through the information and work sheets which Gwen had handed out to each participant – I certainly did.

Written by Katja Dralle, BrownBag Coordinator

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