International Women’s Day, to me, marks an important moment to pause and take stock. It’s important to recognise that momentum is building when it comes to women rising to leadership roles in major corporations. Many corporations are actively increasing their efforts to drive equal representation, spearheaded by a rise in flexible working policies and programs aimed at supporting women’s career advancement.

But despite these hard-earned gains, it’s clear that the representation of women in the workplace is not keeping pace. At best, the footing is fragile, and there remains a persistent imbalance favouring men in the upper echelons. According to data from LinkedIn, less than a third of global leadership positions are estimated to be held by women, while in the UK, women represent approximately 45% of senior positions, dropping to 33% at Director level and 23% at Vice President level.

On a personal level, I find it even more disheartening that women of colour clearly aren’t progressing at the same pace as their peers. At nearly every stage of the corporate ladder, women of colour have lower representation than white women and men of the same race or ethnicity. Until corporations directly address this imbalance, women of colour will remain severely underrepresented in leadership roles and mostly missing from the C-suite.

These statistics put a fire in my belly. I know that women are more ambitious than ever – as verified by recent research by McKinsey, which found that nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspire to become senior leaders. So, what can we do?

The power of mentorship for entrepreneurs

While the current discourse has focussed on bridging the education and workplace gap, entrepreneurship remains an area where underrepresented groups continue to encounter insurmountable obstacles. Entrepreneurship is an integral part of economic empowerment and growth, yet often lacks adequate resources and support systems to help it flourish.

Female entrepreneurs in particular face unequal access to capital, limited networking opportunities, and a shortage of mentors – all crucial for successfully starting and scaling businesses. This inhibits women from fully addressing systemic inequities. It is plain to see that successful entrepreneurs do not reflect the gender diversity of the world around us, highlighting the urgent need for concerted efforts to achieve 50:50 representation.

Addressing such a big gap requires mentorship and visible support systems for younger women. Guidance from experienced female founders who can share lessons learned is invaluable, as are communities of like-minded individuals to build encouragement and solidarity, particularly in the difficult early days. Shared stories and collective wisdom help entrepreneurs feel less isolated in their struggles.

Anyone who’s ever connected with a mentor knows that it provides access to knowledge that simply cannot be learned from books or classes alone. It offers a unique opportunity to learn from someone who has already navigated the challenges of entrepreneurship first-hand. Whether it’s advice on securing funding, building strategic partnerships, or overcoming imposter syndrome, mentors can provide critical guidance at every stage. For me, my mentor’s networks and connections opened doors that may otherwise seem closed off. They also lead by example – showing my younger self what is possible and expanding my vision of what can be achieved.

The ripple effects of mentorship

I can think of few other uses of time that have such wide-reaching ripple effects. As female entrepreneurs receive guidance and support, they gain the tools to pay it forward and mentor others in turn. Each woman lifted pulls more women along with her.

Diverse perspectives and experiences shared through mentorship allow us to think bigger, aim higher, and build better businesses. Mentorship fuels innovation by bringing together people with different viewpoints, backgrounds, and approaches. This diversity of thought is key for developing creative solutions and pushing boundaries.

While mentorship drives progress from the ground up, when it aligns with incentives and policy frameworks from the top it can ignite long lasting change. Integrating executive compensation with environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures related to diversity, for instance, helps prioritise representation objectives. Regulations emphasising corporate social responsibility also compel companies to actively cultivate diversity and inclusion.

For International Women’s Day, the need for a multi-pronged approach has never been stronger – combining grassroots efforts like mentorship with leadership commitment and supportive policy. When all these forces work in synergy, real advancement can be made. Mentorship opens doors for individual women to rise, while policy and incentives drive companywide representation. Each effort magnifies the other to enact meaningful, systemic change.

Progress will require tenacity, allyship, and relentless spirit. But guided by those who came before, we can build a future of true equity and inclusion.

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