Mentorship and Sponsorship of Young Women are Keys to Reaching Gender Parity

An Executive Perspective on Gender Parity by Natalie Dakers.


There’s a lot of talk these days about gender parity and I’m all for it.


As a proud female CEO, this is a topic that clearly resonates with me and one I’ve been focused on for a long time. Given that only 5% of CEOs in Canada are women, I am very familiar with the lack of gender balance in the executive suite. I think it’s high-time we diversify our leadership pool, but I believe we can’t achieve gender parity by vision or quota alone. We must be intentional in our efforts to build a new pipeline of female talent, and that means we must consciously mentor young women to gain the right skills, polish and business acumen required to become executives. Simply put, I believe we need more training programs to ensure young women get on the leadership track.


When young women have access to experienced mentors, it’s transformational. For example, a recent study commissioned by American Express Canada in conjunction with Women of Influence reports that only 32% of young women believe reaching the c-suite is possible, but that number increased to nearly 50% when paired with a mentor. Clearly, these peer to peer relationships make a difference.


Something else I find compelling: when a company has at least one woman on the executive team, there’s a positive ripple effect throughout the organization.  According to the Financial Post, almost three times more women are on the fast track in companies with at least one female senior leader than in organizations in which all senior leaders are male (21 and eight per cent respectively). We cannot understate the value of meaningful representation.


In my line of work, I focus my efforts on building a steady pipeline of health innovation companies.  It involves selecting the best companies to scale up and then ensuring the right people and the right financing are in place so the company can grow and advance along the commercial pathway. This evolution is not unlike the evolution young women face when setting their sights upon leadership positions. It’s all about recognizing potential and then stewarding that potential in the right direction. I’m determined to be a part of that momentum.


I read recently that young women fare even better in their efforts to advance when they have access to a sponsor. Unlike mentorship, in a sponsorship dynamic, the senior leader takes the young talent under their wing and leverages his or her own social capital and influence to enable the young leader to reach new goals. Harvard Business Review research has revealed seventy percent of men and 68% of women who have a sponsor reported being satisfied with their career advancement, yet women are 54% less likely to have a mentor. There’s an obvious gap here and it’s time to address it.


Accel-Rx currently offers a Mentorship Program (AMP) aimed at entrepreneurs but stay tuned: we’re setting our sights on more ways to engage young women as we move forward. Let’s banish the glass ceiling to the history books once and for all.


Natalie Dakers is the CEO and Founding President of Accel-Rx.