Jess Hickman

International Women’s Day – Facilitating Career Growth & Mentorship

Career Growth Mentorship LocelleAs a medical engineering firm operating within a male dominated industry, StarFish Medical has not only been mindful of how we maintain a gender-diverse management team, but deliberate in how we attract female employees and create an environment that supports their long-term career growth.

Although women constitute 47% of the labour force, they represent only 25% in tech, with 50% of women believing that tech companies do not want to hire them. While our industry remains predominantly male, our clients and their customers represent all genders, so we believe it’s crucial that our teams mirror this diversity to ensure our clients – and the medical devices they develop – are successful.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I want to share an initiative that we began over two years ago as part of our ongoing effort to create an equitable workplace.

In 2021, StarFish Medical began to work with an organization called Locelle to provide professional development opportunities to our women-identifying employees. Founded in 2018 by Humaira Ahmed, Locelle is a learning and development platform created for women in male-dominated industries, that uses mentorship to deliver personal and professional growth to women at work.

The program is designed to help employees achieve their personal growth objectives by matching them with a mentor who can provide guidance and coaching. The mentor works closely with the employee to help them overcome challenges and take charge of their career path.

In addition to biweekly meetings with their mentor, employees also have access to monthly workshops and a Slack community. This community is made up of other mentors and mentees who can offer support, advice, and connections enabling employees to connect with others on a similar journey and gain valuable insights into how to succeed in their chosen field.

To date, the results of the program have been impressive. Fifty-two women have completed the program, with 73% reporting an improvement in workplace culture, 43% reporting increased productivity, and 100% finding the mentorship valuable in achieving their goals, growth and improvement.

Participants have reported better communication with their teams, feeling more supported, and have grown both personally and professionally. Moreover, most participants expressed interest in stepping into leadership positions.

Career Growth Mentorship Locelle

Kate Dobson (centre) with members of the Human Factors team.

Kate Dobson, a Senior Human Factors Engineer, has participated in four cohorts (over 20 sessions with 3 different mentors) with Locelle. As she explained, “I was quick to sign up for the program when I learned about it at StarFish because I wanted to connect with other professionals, learn from them, and use them as a sounding board when tricky situations arose in my career.”

Kate believes that having someone to talk to who has had similar experiences and can share how they navigated them before is always helpful. She also emphasized that the real meaning of mentoring comes from the trust, empathy, and encouragement that develop and strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship.

Although Kate has had mentors throughout her career and has found value in their guidance regardless of their gender, as a mom of two, she has found it particularly helpful to have female mentors who understand the many layers of balancing work and life. She shared that during her mentoring sessions, she has discussed with her mentor the “mum penalty” that can occur when taking time off, which can impact career trajectory.

The mentoring program has also given Kate the opportunity to think about her career and plan for growth. She described how the regular meetings provide a dedicated time slot for her to step back from the day-to-day busyness and reflect on her goals and aspirations.

In addition, Kate has been able to share the tools and resources she has learned with colleagues at StarFish who have mentioned their own professional challenges over a cup of tea or coffee. As she put it, “the mentoring program has given me the confidence to indirectly mentor others and positively impact those around me.”

Career Growth Mentorship Locelle

Tina Sokhanvar (left) with members of the Mechanical Engineering team.

Tina Sokhanvar, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Toronto who is currently in her 10th month of a 16-month co-op term at StarFish Medical, has participated in three rounds of mentorship with StarFish and Locelle.

According to Tina, “When I was interviewing for coop opportunities, I was looking for a structured program that would support my growth. I haven’t necessarily had a lot of female mentors in my life or experienced female leadership in tech, so this seemed like a great opportunity to connect with successful women in different avenues of their professional lives.”

She found the program to be a valuable platform for female mentorship, saying “It’s been really nice to have this female mentorship. I appreciate having a platform specifically designed to bring women together and interact with like-minded individuals who are likely experiencing similar struggles and barriers. I hope to learn from their experiences, decisions, and pathways to get a sense of the directions I could take as I progresses in my career”.

Tina appreciated having a platform specifically designed to bring women together in a space where they could interact with like-minded individuals who were likely experiencing similar struggles and barriers. She found it comforting to have a common perspective and the opportunity to engage in female mentorship. Tina believes that this program has been beneficial to her professional development and has given her a sense of direction as she moves forward in her career.

Despite the tech industry’s well-documented gender diversity challenges, StarFish has made significant strides in creating a more equitable workplace. While women make up just 13% of the average tech company’s executive team, a staggering 53% of tech companies have no female executives at all.

At StarFish, we’re proud to report that 35% of our supervisors are female, a number that’s only grown as we’ve taken a more mindful and deliberate approach to gender-diversity and inclusion. In fact, our Senior Leadership team is now 55% female, a clear indication that our efforts are paying off.

We believe that building a diverse workforce isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also good for business. By creating an environment where everyone can thrive, we’re able to tap into a wider range of perspectives, insights, and ideas – and that benefits us all.

Images: StarFish Medical

Jess is the StarFish Medical Senior People & Culture Manager. She spends her time working with people, helping them navigate the complexities of being human in the structure of business. She has been working in consultancies and high-tech companies for the majority of her career, and studied Communication, Business and Human Resources at Camosun College and Simon Fraser University. Jess’ personal values of curiosity, impact and authenticity guide her in all interactions and initiatives. 


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