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The #BeHerAmbassador initiative: Supporting future women leaders

Woman climbing a ladder to reach the top of a structure, where another woman stands.

What do you think of when you hear the word “ambassador”? The people who diplomatically represent a country in a foreign state? Those in charge of a mission? Whatever the case may be, at Global Affairs Canada (GAC), it is a very meaningful term which is also used to name the mentor of someone who participates in the women's mentoring initiative #BeHerAmbassador.

Looking back

In 2017, Christine Laberge, who is now the Ambassador of Canada to the Dominican Republic, and her women friends and colleagues Annie Dubé, Elise Racicot and Cindie-Eve Bourassa noted that women were still under-represented in senior management positions. Taking matters into their own hands, this group of women created the #BeHerAmbassador initiative to rectify the situation. The objective is to foster an organizational culture that not only identifies talent, but also actively supports the next generation of women leaders to achieve their ambitions. The GAC Women’s Network quickly supported this project, which, over the years, has advanced the careers of about 30 women and has reshaped the face of senior management in the organization.

How it works

The #BeHerAmbassador initiative is more than a regular, advice-focused mentorship program. It requires a substantial investment from the participants: having at least 1 meeting per quarter; developing the protegé’s network of contacts; and having the protegé participate in senior management meetings and committees. The executive (the ambassador) commits to leading by example and supports the professional development and growth of a protegé. The main goal of #BeHerAmbassador is to advance the careers of women with high-potential talents and future leaders.

A win-win approach

Min Ji Kim.
Min Ji Kim

Director General Eric Walsh is the ambassador for Min Ji Kim, a foreign service officer currently located in Taipei, Taiwan. For him, there is no doubt that mentors also benefit from the initiative. He humbly admits that through discussions with this young and up-and-coming woman, he has learned a great deal from her perspectives and her concerns. “Mentoring is the most rewarding way to gain a new perspective on the challenges—both good and bad—facing GAC today,” he said. Moreover, he admits that through working with Min Ji, he has even changed his opinion on various issues and feels more open to new ideas.

For her part, Min Ji says that her participation in the #BeHerAmbassador initiative could not have come at a better time in her career. She was able to benefit from Eric’s experience and advice as she began her first posting abroad. The initiative allowed her to learn from her mentor’s experiences in his various functions. He also passed on the lessons he has learned, including building meaningful relationships and a work environment that recognizes personal boundaries and personal time. Min Ji says she is now better equipped to make substantial contributions to her work.

Mawiya Abdourahman.
Mawiya Abdourahman

Mawiya Abdourahman, a deputy director, is also enthusiastic about the mentoring program. She has been lucky to have 2 ambassadors who are ambassadors! Ambassadors Jacqueline O’Neill and Ayesha Rekhi both meet with her every month. They act as real confidence-builders and foster her professional and personal growth. “The #BeHerAmbassador initiative is an invaluable human experience that benefits the mentor and protegé, as well as the organization,” said Mawiya. “For me, it is a unique way of accessing valuable knowledge and experience; and for GAC, it is a way of retaining and promoting talent.”

For Ayesha Rekhi, this mentorship is a really important professional development opportunity with concrete results. It also gives women from all backgrounds opportunities to represent Canada’s diversity. She also explained why a diverse and inclusive senior management is so important: “We do not need to be representative just for the sake of representation. We need to be representative so we can address the major issues we are facing, with a variety of ideas and perspectives, so we can find effective and sustainable solutions.”

What’s next?

The #BeHerAmbassador initiative continues to build momentum by contributing to the development of a new generation of women leaders at GAC. Building on its success, it continues to foster relationships between ambassadors and protegés that are built on trust, honesty, communication and commitment. Ultimately, it is fair to say that #BeHerAmbassador is propelling the career development of talented individuals who will contribute to GAC’s future.
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