Accelerate Her Future is a Proud member of ICUBE — University of Toronto’s place for social entrepreneurship! Thanks to ICUBE’s Startup Experience Grant (project-based micro-placement), AHF was able to hire University of Toronto Bachelor of Business Administration student, Vanshika Agarwal. 

As Special Initiatives Assistant during the Fall 2020 semester, Vanshika had an opportunity to work closely with Nadia Alick, AHF’s Community Engagement Lead, on campus outreach and community engagement initiatives. Vanshika completed her experiential learning placement with us before the new year and made a big impact.

With reciprocal mentorship a central part of AHF’s culture, read on to learn more about Vanshika and Nadia’s work together! Thank you Vanshika for your contributions — we miss you and wish you all the best with your co-op work term and studies!

Tell us about your mentoring relationship. What shared values have driven your mentorship relationship?

Sharing fundamental values of open and ongoing communication, active listening, and genuine interest in each other as individuals helped to keep differences aside for Nadia and Vanshika and come up with the best ideas to work towards shared goals. Both see themselves as results-oriented and initiated the work by setting SMART goals, which they believe made it extremely easy to work together. Their shared passion and zeal to improve experiences for young women aided in their collaboration. 

Vanshika recalled the first time she met the AHF team at our pilot summit in October 2019. “I was taken aback by the enthusiasm and passion of the team, leading me to reach out and join the organization as an intern the following year,” explains Vanshika. Working with Nadia on business development and community engagement projects for college and university students was a great opportunity for Vanshika. Vanshika adds, “Nadia has always been a constant support and I’ve learned so much from her.”  

As the Community Engagement Lead at AHF, Nadia has the opportunity to work with many inspiring students such as Vanshika. “I have always enjoyed working with youth and listening to their perspectives and commentary on the world as they see it- what music they liked, what is happening in their day to day, what moments make them tick,” Nadia explains. “For me our mentoring relationship is a reflection of this.” 

Nadia recalls how their mentoring relationship evolved organically, through day-to-day conversations to building the foundation for some of their community engagement initiatives together. 

What has made the relationship work for each of you?

According to Vanshika, the open communication and Nadia’s openness made it extremely easy to work together. “Nadia was always available throughout our work together with insightful solutions and readiness to provide support for any problem I may have encountered.” Vanshika recalls that despite working full-time in another day-job, Nadia was available and responsive to her questions with transparency and enthusiasm! 

Nadia reflects what made the relationship work for her was that the two maintained a solutions-oriented approach to their work and collaborated to find creative solutions to problems they encountered. “Vanshika was great at coming up with ideas to address issues and brainstorm designs for our activities,” recalls Nadia. “With both of us willing to use various channels to communicate with each other, it made it easier to complete tasks and produce exemplary outcomes.”

What impacted you the most in your mentoring relationship? What have you each learned from one another?

Vanshika felt it was rewarding to see the tangible impact of her work in the community which also motivated her to work hard. “I view this opportunity as a catalyst and my contribution to elevate young ambitious women — similar to how I would have liked to receive support! The work being done by AHF is truly remarkable.” Vanshika reflected that she believes a crucial aspect of AHF’s work is how we incorporate a student lens in every stage of our work. “Some key skills I developed throughout my experience with AHF were communication particularly in a virtual environment, critical thinking and collaboration.” 

Nadia was impacted the most in this mentoring relationship by being able to give back in whatever capacity she could. “In a small way, I felt I was paying it forward, because I also have benefited from great mentors. I was able to apply approaches that had an impact on me in my mentoring relationships.” These approaches included finding opportunities for her to speak to her work and gain visibility within various committee meetings.

Nadia believes that as an early-career woman of colour herself, having the opportunity to mentor, supported her growth as a leader by allowing her to build some key leadership competencies. “I’ve learned to foster and promote trust and accountability and build consensus in my working relationship with Vanshika.” Nadia believes these experiences at any age or stage of a woman’s career, especially for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, can be transformative in accelerating their leadership potential and building inclusive leaders in the workplace. 

Nadia believes these experiences at any age or stage of a woman’s career, especially for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, can be transformative in accelerating their leadership potential and building inclusive leaders in the workplace.

At AHF we believe that in order to foster more equitable workplaces for BIWoC we need to reimagine traditional mentorship. What was one thing you learned from your mentorship relationship that you feel should exist in all mentoring relationships?

The one thing Vanshika learned from working with Nadia is that “a crucial aspect which should drive mentorship is an organic connection which can be transformational, as opposed to one that is forced and transactional.”

One thing that should exist in all mentoring relationships, according to Nadia “is a reciprocal approach to mentorship, which we adopt at AHF.” Shifting from the hierarchical approach of traditional mentorship to a relationship in which power is shared between the mentor and mentees allowing for mutual learning. “By establishing that we are both equals with unique perspectives, experiences and knowledge, we were able to create a safe judgment free space, psychological support, and open communication,” recalls Nadia. “I have learned and continue to learn so much from Vanshika.”

The two add that mentorship at the workplace should emulate the culture at AHF, where there isn’t a top-down approach to mentorship. We all learn from each other and that is only possible because we have strived to create a safe and inclusive space. We are comfortable asking difficult questions because we know that each of us wants to see the other flourish both professionally and personally.

What is one thing that inspires you about your mentor/mentee? 

Vanshika recalls how Nadia was an extremely dedicated and goal oriented individual who was able to manage so many things simultaneously. “If Nadia sets a goal, no matter what, under any circumstance it is achieved with utmost dedication,” Vanshika explains. “I think her work ethic is inspiring and something I aspire to emulate.” 

Nadia is inspired by Vanshika’s confidence, which she exudes when speaking her mind. “Vanshika always shares her ideas at meetings and when working together on a project, ”recalls Nadia. “She offers a unique perspective to our discussions, showing a level of self-awareness and self-reflection on her experiences and how to apply this learning to new situations. Vanshika is a brilliant young woman with a bright future ahead of her.” 

What suggestions do you have for early-career women of colour when it comes to navigating their mentoring relationships?

Vanshika reflects that from her experience having tangible outcomes and what you wish to learn and take away from the relationship are key. “I recall a few takeaways from the Mentoring Circles at AHF’s summit revolving  around: have an ask, be specific in your goals, take up space, ask mindful questions, and don’t be afraid to share personal struggles as well.” Mentoring that focuses on the whole person and provides psycho-social support is important. 

Vanshika reflects that she sometimes found it hard to navigate herself within capital markets where she found herself in spaces with older, White men. “At networking events and  coffee chats, I felt I did not belong or felt out of place” reflects Vanshika.  “Being vocal about these experiences and being intentional to work towards my career aspirations have helped me rise above and achieve my goals.”

Nadia adds without hesitation that students and early-career women shouldn’t be afraid to bring the personal into the professional. “Reflecting on my own mentoring relationships, advice I found most valuable was when I opened up and shared personal struggles I experienced within the workplace or shared stories about my life.” Nadia reflected that by vocalizing to a mentor her struggle in pushing back on her heavy workload (because of having a hard time saying no — we get it!), she has learned important strategies like asking for realistic deadlines and better prioritizing her time. “While I’m still learning to say no (it’s hard!), it’s a practice that I follow.” 

Focusing on the whole person in her mentee gives Nadia a space for mutual learning as a mentor. “It gives me valuable insight on how students are navigating their career journeys, life and what challenges they face and how I can use my power and privilege to be a better ally.”

At AHF we believe in celebrating and amplifying those who have paid it forward in our lives and careers. Who has been one of your greatest mentors, allies or sponsors and why? 

Vanshika reflected on how grateful and fortunate she has been to have had exposure to study at a prestigious institution surrounded by brilliant individuals. “My parents – especially my Father- have been a driving force for all key decisions in my  life. It is extremely significant for a young woman to know she CAN do anything she sets her mind to and work hard enough- which was constantly reinforced at home by my father.” 

“My parents – especially my Father- have been a driving force for all key decisions in my  life. It is extremely significant for a young woman to know she CAN do anything she sets her mind to and work hard enough- which was constantly reinforced at home by my father.”

“Ever since I was little, my father reinforced the message that nothing — including my race or gender — can hold me back. When I would question not seeing women who look like me in power, he would revert back with this is exactly why I need to be there!” Having such a strong support system has been a driving force for Vanshika to work hard to achieve her goals. Vanshika’s father ensured that there was always a platform for her to voice her opinions, while helping her realize the importance of being a genuine, good person with a moral responsibility to give back. 

Nadia reflects on her fortune to come across many special individuals who have become a mentor and ally throughout her life and career. One particular individual who stands out to her is Tigist Abebe, a Team Lead and Senior Policy Advisor at the Ontario Public Service. “We instantly connected when I first was an intern on the team (over the lack of greens in my lunch of all things) and our relationship continued to grow as she took me under her wing. Over time, she has pushed me out of my comfort zone to take on leadership opportunities to increase my visibility. I’ve learned to be tactful, outcomes-focused and build consensus amongst various groups.” Nadia added that Tigist is one of the most genuine individuals she has met and who is honest with her. “One of the things I admire the most about her is that she stands in her power and always speaks her truth regardless of who is in the room and that is powerful!”

Nadia adds, “I also have to give a shoutout to Sumayya Daghar, AHF’s Operations & Strategic Initiatives Lead. I am very grateful she invited me to be a part of the AHF team and our meaningful work which has been life-changing for me. Sumayya offers great insight and perspective, always brings an element of fun and speaks her mind. Sumayya you’re brilliant!”

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash