Women in Leadership Foundation is pleased to introduce you to Elizabeth Thorsen (she/her) who is one of our valued mentors in our Mentorship Program.
What motivated you to become a mentor in the Women in Leadership Mentorship Program?
When I got my first job in entrepreneurship / tech it was overwhelmingly male dominated. I was lucky to have a great mentor who helped me to understand the opportunities ahead of me, and supported me in growing my professional skills. Without my mentor, it would have taken me a lot longer to get to where I am, and I will forever be grateful to her for her advice, support, and patience.
I understand the importance and impact a great mentor can make, and I have made it a practice to share the benefits I had with others. Mentoring young women, especially in STEM fields, is an important way we can change the demographics, build a community, and encourage women to pursue their passions in a space that feels welcoming.
How do you approach building a strong mentor-mentee relationship? Are there any specific strategies or techniques you find effective?
Every mentor-mentee relationship is so different. I like to start by asking a lot of questions to get a sense of what my mentee’s goal is, understanding what their ambitions are and how they like to connect and communicate. For me it’s about supporting rather than leading. Letting them take the lead and being flexible to their schedule and communication style. I start with making sure they’re comfortable, which usually leads to them opening up.
I have a few questions I start with, but beyond that it’s just making sure to be there for what they need - do they need a push to go for a big promotion / project? Reassurance? Practice with interview or other soft skills? Recommendations on books or courses to skill develop? Whatever it is, I’m happy to suss it out and try to help.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of being a mentor?
When someone is able to reach one of their goals faster, that’s when I know I’ve done my job. It’s lonely out their on your own, and seeing someone who is able to get that win - whatever that looks like for them - is the best part.
Have there been any valuable lessons or insights you've gained through your mentorship journey? If so, could you share one or two that have had a significant impact on you?
In entrepreneurship there’s a concept called ‘fail fast’. It’s the idea that if something is not working, it’s ok to let it go. Sometimes mentorship relationships are like that. You won’t always ‘vibe’ with everyone, and that’s ok. If a mentor-mentee relationship is not working, in my experience it’s better to identify that, and either help them find someone else or just be honest. Otherwise it can feel uncomfortable or frustrating on both sides.
Personality is as important as technical skills in finding a connection for a mentor-mentee relationship, and they have to go hand in hand.
One of the other key learnings I had was that although we tend to connect to people who remind us of ourselves, it’s important to remember that not every path is going to be the same (and that’s ok!!!). Just because you see an opportunity for your mentee that aligns with your experience or career trajectory, doesn’t mean it’s right for them, or that they’re ready to take that leap. You can encourage and build confidence, but recognize everyone works on their own journey and that’s the right path for them.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a mentor in the Women in Leadership Mentorship Program?
Mentoring can be one of the most challenging, and rewarding experiences in your life. Go slow, learn together, and enjoy the journey.
About Elizabeth Thorsen
Elizabeth Thorsen has worked with start-up and scale-up businesses for over 10 years in the areas of investment and funding strategy, marketing & sales development, and growth planning. With experience in industries including cleantech, digital media/ICT, CPG, finance, and life sciences, Elizabeth specializes in working with cross-functional teams to distill complex opportunities into tangible and actionable strategic plans. She joined the Foresight team in August 2020 as Director of Development, and moved into the Director of Operations role shortly thereafter. Now, as VP Operations, Elizabeth leads the MarComm, Events, Operations, HR, and Finance Teams.
Prior to joining the Foresight team as Vice President of Operations, Elizabeth worked as a part of the Regional Innovation Centre network in Ontario, leading entrepreneurs to success through consulting and mentorship, creation and deployment of start-up competitions, and facilitating connections between industry, SMEs, academic supports, government, and investors. Elizabeth supported the launch of the Synapse Life Sciences Consortium, a health cluster for the greater Hamilton, Ontario region.
Elizabeth has had the pleasure of serving on several boards and committees, including as a
member of the Board of Directors for the International Cleantech Network, Hamilton HIVE, as a member of the Angel One Investment Network screening committee, and as a planner and judge at several ‘hackathon’ events and pitch competitions. She has been called upon to speak at business events & innovation days, and has a strong commitment to supporting the growth of women in STEM fields through direct mentorship and advice. Elizabeth considers herself an intersectional environmentalist, and is committed to enabling a just and inclusive green future.