On International Women’s Day, the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Rotman Faculty of Management co-hosted “Mentoring Women Leaders,” a symposium featuring discussions on leadership, the value of mentoring, and the importance of building inclusive spaces for gender minorities.
In Rotman’s Desautels Hall, the event commenced with a keynote speech delivered by U of T Chancellor Rose Patten, followed by a panel discussion with three speakers: Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President Human Resources & Equity; Rachel Silvey, the Richard Charles Lee Director of the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Takako Ito, the Consul-General of Japan in Toronto.
In her speech, Patten said that the century that we have celebrated International Women’s Day has been a century of “opportunity to celebrate the central role that women have played internationally and in countries around the world in the advancement of peace and justice.”
What does good leadership actually look like?
Before mentorship comes leadership. Mentorship can only exist if leaders allow it to; mentorship can only operate effectively and as intended if leaders allow it to. Throughout her career, Patten noticed the flaws resulting from assuming that leadership is timeless. Context and conditions, she said, need to be recognized, understood, and translated into what is important for the given moment.
“Leadership is not timeless,” she said. “It has shelf-life.”
Hannah-Moffat added that women in leadership introduce the necessary diversity of perspectives to address the increasing complexity of today’s problems.
“Here at the University of Toronto, we recognize this, and we embody this, and we have a deep commitment to both equity and diversity, and inclusion,” she said.
According to U of T’s Employment Equity Report 2016-2017, 47 per cent of faculty and librarians and 66 per cent of its staff self-identify as women. According to Hannah-Moffat, the university’s employment equity rates are 29 per cent higher than the global average for labour markets for public institutions. “But that’s not good enough because we recognize that even though we’re good with equity in employment, we have to ensure that we retain our talent. And to retain we mentor and promote that talent.”
Intersectionality, and when ‘good’ is not good enough
Hannah-Moffat spoke critically of the nuanced nature of promoting gender minorities in work.
“To think about women as a homogeneous category is highly problematic,” she said. Women’s diversity functions along race, sexuality, and literacy lines. “To be as excellent as we strive to be at this university, if we are to embody the principles of International Women’s Day, then we need to look beyond just women and to the complexities and nuances of what [this means].” To simply make room for women is not enough.
Ito spoke to her experience as Consul-General in noting Japan’s commitment to Womenomics, the notion that women’s development and economic strength are inexorably connected in today’s world.
She said that if women are without barriers and allowed the same economic participation as men, Japan could expect a 30 per cent increase in GDP. Similarly, Silvey commented on her research on care work — typically associated with women — and work that is often misunderstood and therefore overlooked. “Care work is essential to making everything else possible. It connects the formal and informal economies,” she said.
Hannah-Moffat stressed that these issues do not end at walls of institutions and corporations. “Gender parity, diversity, and inclusion are not just women’s issues, not just work issues, and not just university issues,” she said. “They’re also economic, political, and social issues that impact all of us.”
The importance of mentorship
Patten referenced the opportunity to uncover both weaknesses and hidden strengths for both mentors and mentees. It is this self-awareness that paves way for better leadership with the ability to adjust and adapt.
When asked about the most meaningful experiences of working with their respective mentors, the panelists spoke of gaining perspective, accepting and understanding one’s own mistakes, and the strength in battling the numerous challenges they faced while simultaneously accepting what is not within their own control.
Gender issues as we understand them today are confined within physical spaces. But as the panelists note, the impacts of good leadership and mentorship go beyond our university and our workplace.
Positive mentorship allows women to make a difference on a global scale.