Empowering BIPOC Women Through Mentorships

New initiatives aim to increase diversity and support for BIPOC students through personalized guidance and resources

Mentoring is an important part of gaining experience and creating new leaders by giving access to leaders in a given field.

When Nikkjit Gill, Roohi Sahajpal and Arti Patel were journalism students at Toronto Metropolitan University, they were each assigned a faculty mentor but had little in common and were unable to connect with them, and found the mentorships largely ineffective.

Mentorship programs are greatly valued by employees in companies large and small. According to a survey by MentorcliQ, 80% of employees say mentoring programs that are inclusive and provide skill-building are key for DEI programs. The Sponsor Dividend, a report by Coqual, says 56% of people of color are satisfied with their career advancement when they are in a mentoring program.

Knowing some of the statistics, after graduating the trio began thinking about how to create a meaningful platform that combined their personal experiences and expertise to aid members of their community. They eventually landed on Didihood (or the sisterhood), a space for South Asian women in the media, art and creative industries across Canada to connect, support one another and inspire the next generation of Didis (or sisters) to follow suit.

Creating a Space for Mentoring

"Each of us are the first members of our family to go into a creative field, and there was so much we didn't know and we didn't have many people to turn to for advice," Gill said. "We wanted to help fill that need for future generations."

The benefits of mentorship programs in general are bountiful; They offer students career guidance, boost their confidence, provide them with an expert perspective and encourage them to build a strong network. Yet, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students find greater difficulty in reaching out to potential mentors and developing a relationship with them, a Columbia Public Health article relays.

"Having a mentor that has a similar lived experience, that understands what you want to achieve professionally, but also understands your cultural background is incredibly valuable for BIPOC students," Gill said.

Didihood's four-month mentorship program pairs college and university students, or recent graduates, with a mentor that has at least a few years of experience in the industry that the student is hoping to build a career in.

Mentors are encouraged to give advice and provide resources to aid mentees on job hunting, interviewing, networking and even explaining their creative paths to their families.

"For many of our 'didis,' this is something we have all had to navigate at some point," Gill said. "When you are the first person in your family to take a non-traditional career path, it can be hard for parents, siblings and other relatives to understand what you're hoping to achieve and how you will reach success."

While Didihood is a separate entity altogether, many universities offer mentorship programs catered towards BIPOC students.

BIPOC Mentoring Programs Help the Community

At Binghamton University, located in New York, the New Student of Color Mentorship Program offers assistance to first-year students of color to ensure easy integration into their selected field of study, reduce social barriers that may hinder their progress and expand their professional network.

“It is important for BIPOC students to have specifically tailored mentoring services because the needs of BIPOC students can be significantly different,” said Richie Sebuharara, assistant director of the university’s Multicultural Resource Center.

“Students come to our universities with many different experiences, many of which could have direct correlations with their identities,” Sebuharara said. “Having services that can cater to these differences can be crucial for BIPOC students as they look to matriculate through a university.”

The university also hosts a Men of Color (MOC) Summit – a conference that allows attendees to engage with leaders in their community and address barriers that men of color face in higher education as well as help them contextualize their holistic identities and intersections – and has a Sister’s Circle – a space for women of color to come together and share their experiences and advice with each other.

“Challenges can definitely vary from student to student, however, improving the sense of belonging on campus has been a main focus of ours in these initiatives,” Sebuharara said. “We have created monthly mixers in our center as well as semesterly networking events for the New Student of Color program which have been helpful in building community for our BIPOC students.”

Like Binghamton University, several other schools recognize the need of providing incoming students of color with culturally responsive mentorship and resources.

At Columbia University, there is the Mentoring of Students and Igniting Community (MOSAIC) program; at the University of Washington, there is the School of Drama BIPOC Student Mentorship Program; and at the University of Regina, there is the BIPOC mentorship program. These programs can have lasting positive effects on students’ academic and professional lives.

“Students who take part in our program have told us stories about how a mentor connected them with contacts which eventually led to a job,” Gill said. “Others have told us how the resume building and mock interview session have helped prepare them for job hunting once they graduate.”

“Many of our mentors and mentees stay in touch after the four-month program and the mentors continue to provide guidance and advice for the mentees as they begin their career journey,” Gill said.

This article is written by Pooja Rambaran, a freelance writer and recent journalism graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University. She’s written both news and feature articles for outlets like the Review of Journalism, The Eyeopener and Her Campus-Toronto MU. Covering topics ranging from current affairs and education to mental health and social impact, she hopes to continue to grow as a journalist for many years to come.

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