Why You’re Worth Mentoring

Conquer imposter syndrome and find yourself a rad mentor

Gwenna Kadima
6 min readJan 18, 2021
Two women in casual clothing sitting across from each other at a table engaged in conversation
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Last Fall, I launched and co-led Accenture Canada’s first BOLD Student Mentorship Program where 58 BIPOC post-secondary students and recent graduates were paired with current Accenture Canada employees for three months of networking, professional development, and one-to-one mentorship. This article is the first in a series of reflection pieces from the program.

Consider if any of the following statements resonate:

  1. I have never had a mentor before.
  2. I am either a student or early-career professional.
  3. I identify as a woman, any other gender minority, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, a Person with Disabilities, a newcomer/immigrant, or with any other visible or invisible marginalized identity.
  4. I hesitate to reach out to professionals for coffee chats or advice because I don’t want to inconvenience them.
  5. I have used the phrase “sorry to bother you”, “sorry for the inconvenience”, or another apology when requesting someone’s time.
  6. I am reluctant to ask for a follow-up after a positive initial interaction with someone because I feel I’ve already used enough of their time.
  7. Imposter syndrome? I know her well.

If any of the above had you nodding your head…

This article is for you.

Especially if you identify with #3, you deserve and need a mentor. Specifically, a mentor who looks like you or has similar lived experiences of marginalization.¹

For the prospective mentees out there who fear they aren’t worth mentoring or who wonder why so many incredible, successful people are inclined to invest in us as mentors, I’ve summarized their most common reasons for mentoring below.

Spoiler alert: all of these reasons revolve around the undeniable value we (as mentees) offer, just by being ourselves.

Your Experiences are Valuable

Evidently, I am not a biologist. Nor do I claim to be. Despite this, I clearly remember my high school biology unit on the three types of symbiotic relationships: parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism. Apparently, it’s my framework of choice to give you a bit of inspiration. Here goes:

Prospective mentee, you are not a parasitic tick that has latched itself on a disgruntled host. Nor are you a commensalistic suckerfish who’s taking a free commute to its next meal on the underbelly of a none-the-wiser tiger shark. You, my friend, are a proud aphid. An aphid about to embark on a happy, mutualistic relationship with a kind farmer ant who likely has a network of other farmer ants who would also benefit from exposure to your unique experiences and skillset.

Without getting too specific about the intricacies of the ant/aphid relationship (the gross details may undermine that 10/10 metaphor), trust me when I say that the experiences and perspectives you bring will be both interesting and valuable to the right mentor.

Whether you’re a first-year undergrad at a tiny post-secondary or a vice-president at a large organization, your knowledge is yours alone. Everyone can benefit from learning something new.

Considering the traditional age and/or experience gap between mentors and mentees, your prospective mentor is likely far removed from the day-to-day that you consider mundane. Even if you have the same alma mater or work in the same industry, chances are that those spaces are quite different as you navigate them today versus when your mentor did in the past.

This difference of perspective is critical. Exposure to the lived experiences of others builds empathy — an essential trait for successful leaders.²

Reflection is Mandatory

Being a mentor is self-reflection of the highest accountability. Why? Because mentees ask great questions. Questions so great, the mentees may not even realize how great their questions are. Ironically, the best questions are usually the most fundamental.

Personally, if a mentee asks me a seemingly simple question, it hits different. The stakes of my response are higher.

Regardless of the question, best believe that if my mentee’s asking, I will do everything in my power to drop some major wisdom on them. Eleven times out of ten, that level of intentionality requires more thought and reflection than I would invest if I asked myself this question.

Are my responses always earth-shatteringly insightful? No. But that’s beside the point.

For example, a student recently asked: “why do you do the work that you do?” A very simple, reasonable question that without a doubt, I have asked myself and others in the past. Yet hearing it from this individual completely stopped me in my tracks.

At that time, my professional purpose wasn’t exactly top of mind. I had a major project deliverable due later that week, the BOLD program was well underway, and I was rushing to get as much off my plate as possible before going on vacation at the end of the month. I was completely stuck in the administrative “get it done” mode. My strategic “why” was the farthest thing from my mind. Honestly, it had been for quite some time.

Regardless, I gave my response and we went about our conversation. What this student didn’t see was the lengthy period I spent after the session, thinking further about my answer and how it reconciles with where I am at in my career. An unexpected, but valuable way to spend a Tuesday evening.

Topics like this and the many others that are reasonably top of mind for a mentee seeking guidance (i.e. employment prospects, determining fit within an organization/team, negotiating salary, navigating workplace disputes, etc.) can often be put on the back burner for mentors who’ve found a rhythm in their professional day-to-day. As a result, these questions can be a much needed moment of unexpected yet, beneficial self-reflection for a mentor.

I recognize every question a mentee asks may not trigger existential recalibration (nor should it), but I’d wager a guess that your mentor will consider and appreciate the conversations they have with you for much longer than you’d expect.

Small Investment, Big Return

The practice of mentorship, especially in a professional context, is over-inflated. It can be conceptualized with grandeur and treated as this inaccessible, one-stop ticket to career success. Some folks’ descriptions of their process of finding the “perfect mentor” evoke images of a multi-year pilgrimage ended with a blood pact between them and their soon to be professional soulmate. This rhetoric is obnoxious. Unfortunately, it scares a lot of individuals seeking mentorship.

In practice, being a mentor truly is not a lot of work. When we designed the BOLD program, we asked our mentors to commit to meeting with their mentee once a month for 30 minutes. That’s absolutely nothing!

Regardless of time spent, the good mentor/mentee relationships won’t feel like work. Mentorship is a simple thing: two people, with differing experiences, repeatedly coming together to share perspectives with the goal of personal or professional growth for all involved parties.

Think about it. Mentorship is just another form of volunteering. Lucky enough, Canadians love volunteering. In 2018 alone, almost 12.7 million people volunteered for charities, non-profits, and other community organizations. The same year, almost 22.7 million people dedicated hours to informal volunteer efforts unaffiliated with a group or organization, for example, mentorship.³

To be very clear, this association between mentorship and volunteerism doesn’t mean that you’re a charity case. These statistics hopefully demonstrate that your potential mentor is likely one of the 74% of all Canadians accustom to committing time towards supporting others.³ For them, it’s a small investment with a big return. You can bet that your prospective mentor was once, and likely still is, someone’s mentee. They’ll recognize the value of mentorship and ultimately, want to pay it forward to someone else. Asking someone to be your mentor is not asking too much of them.

Whether you’re actively looking for a mentor or the thought of finding a mentor has never crossed your mind, I’m here to remind you that you are worth mentoring and you deserve to be mentored.

Your experiences are valuable. They are uniquely yours and worth sharing. The questions you ask are more insightful than you may realize. They’ll help your mentor reflect and anchor in the fundamentals. Most importantly, anyone worth having as a mentor will look forward to the time they can spend with you. They will recognize the opportunity to spend time with you for the privilege it is. They will not see you as an inconvenience and they definitely will not treat you like one. If they do, tell me and I’ll set them straight.

Now go channel your most proud aphid-self and find yourself an amazing mentor.

[1]: Sadiya Ansari. (July 3, 2020). Why Women of Colour Need Mentors Who Look Like They Do. https://www.refinery29.com/en-ca/2020/07/9871564/mentorship-women-of-colour-media

[2]: Prudy Gourguechon. (December 26, 2017). Empathy Is An Essential Leadership Skill -- And There’s Nothing Soft About It. https://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2017/12/26/empathy-is-an-essential-leadership-skill-and-theres-nothing-soft-about-it/?sh=760f42b9daa7

[3]: Statistics Canada. (December 17, 2020). Volunteering in Canada: Challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00037-eng.htm



Gwenna Kadima

BIPOC Career Activator & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant