Sep 20, 2021

Promoting mentorship for inclusion and success


What’s the value of a mentor? Research has demonstrated the importance of mentoring in academic careers in health professions. The Department’s new Mentorship Programs aims to bring the benefits of mentorship to all our faculty members, in a way that furthers equity and ensures that members of marginalized groups have access to the many benefits mentorship provides.

Mentorship supports professional development, academic outcomes and wellness. Experienced faculty who take on mentorship roles also benefit, gaining leadership experience, learning from their mentees, and discovering new ideas.

Mentorship is also important because of how it relates to equity. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ people all remain underrepresented in academia. When mentorship only happens organically, it runs the risk of perpetuating those inequities, as implicit bias may impact the formation of mentor/mentee relationships.

The Department of Psychiatry has been home to many exemplary mentors who have served an invaluable role in supporting the career success of many of our faculty. But in 2020, a Department survey found that over 60% of faculty members who didn’t have mentors would like one. Additionally, 75% of faculty mentors were found to have received no training or resources to support mentorship.

The Department of Psychiatry’s new Mentorship Program aims to tackle these problems head-on.

“The goal is have all new faculty who join the Department have access to a mentor, and to gradually expand the program to support faculty in the early, and mid- career years of their appointment until, ultimately, everyone who wants a mentor has one,” says Dr. Mary Jane Esplen, Vice Chair of Equity and one of the Metorship Program’s primary architects. “We want a program that offers better management, transparency and accountability, and that values and supports all types of appointments.”

The program will match mentees with a primary mentor who has specific responsibilities related to the progress and success of their mentee. It will also facilitate networking and peer mentorship within specialized mentorship teams, as well as coaches and facilitators to support with specific aspects of mentorship.

One of the pillars of the Department’s current strategic plan is Equity, and the new mentorship program is a key aspect of how the Department will ensure all its faculty members feel as though they belong and are provided with opportunities to progress their careers.

As the Program was developed, great care was taken to ensure that equity and inclusion were incorporated at every level. The Program’s framework recognizes how hierarchies, systemic bias, and power dynamics shape relationships across the Department, university, and society as a whole. Matching of mentors and mentees will take into consideration the importance of social identity and intersectionality, and will take into account the qualities that are important to mentees in relation to their mentors and mentorship teams – ensuring mentees are matched with mentors who are able to understand their experiences and provide insight. Mentors will be supported to expand their understanding of the role of social identity in their mentorship relationships. The Program will also look for opportunities to support psychological safety and wellness at all stages, from mentor matching to its evaluation.

With so many factors to consider, designing the system was not without challenges.

“The literature on mentorship is vast. Taking into account the myriad of ways systemic bias can negatively impact mentorship and designing something that’s truly inclusive, that’s no small task,” says Dr. Esplen. “With so many hospital sites, various cultures and levels of faculty with different needs, there was a lot to take into account to design a comprehensive program.”

Fortunately, with strong support from leadership and a mentorship working group committed to collaboration, a plan for implementation emerged. So far the program has been greeted with optimism as faculty members have demonstrated their passion for mentorship by engaging wholeheartedly with the process.

Dr. Esplen understands their enthusiasm. She knows the value of mentorship from her own experience. “I would not be where I am today without my mentors! I have always had them since my PhD days, and I continue to have time with them (including some of my very early mentors). I have had MD and PhD mentors, research mentors and leadership mentors and I’ve been mentored by both men and women. All of it played a role in my success in academic outcomes and throughout my career. In challenging times, whether the challenges were personal or academic, I have benefited from my mentors’ support and input and now consider these relationships as lifelong friendships.”

“I’ve also learned mentorship is a two-way street. I’ve benefited from the insights and expertise of all of my mentees.”

Ultimately, Dr. Esplen and the mentorship working group want to see all the Department faculty members experience these benefits and they’re excited about the wider changes this will bring to the Department.

“I’ve seen firsthand the success that occurs because of strong mentorship. It’s a key tool to battle marginalization and foster diversity at higher academic ranks, empowering people to consider promotion regardless of gender or race. It improves academic output, and it can help us center wellness and address potential burn out.”

The new program will launch this fall, starting with training for mentors and mentees and the introduction to a new online platform. It will be a work in progress, with ongoing evaluation and refinement where needed. It promises to open the door to a more equitable, fair, and dynamic Department, where faculty members benefit from each other’s experience and abilities, and lift one another up.