To Deserving (but not self-proclaimed) Mountain Mentors,
You are not alone in the struggle of becoming a mentor. I have also experienced the struggle to become a mentor along with countless other women and non-binary folx that have participated in the Mountain Mentor program. I had serious doubts about the qualifications I *should* have and the skill level I *should* offer to a mentee. In my head, during my seven years of climbing and five years of skiing I hadn’t picked up enough skills to play the mentor role. And even when I decided to become a mentor, I wondered, “am I enough?”. What I have worked through – and am still working through– is that mentorship might not be so cut-and-dried.
In formal mentorship programs like Mountain Mentors, the mentor/mentee relationship is straightforward. Some seasons you are a mentee, and others you are a mentor. In our everyday relationships this line between mentee and mentor fades. Mentee/mentorship becomes more of an instance in time rather than a label to carry forever. It’s like a teacher/student relationship where students enroll in a course to learn from their teacher but outside the classroom continue to learn from people around them. Rarely do we have established teacher/student roles.
What is being a mentor about anyway? Mentorship looks different for each pair. Mentees come with different knowledge, backgrounds, and challenges they are working through. I see mentorship as being a coach, a way to help people work through these challenges. This is especially true in a sports context because in the end no one can ski, climb, hike or snowshoe for us. Mentorship is giving people the confidence to use the skills they already have – offering a positive voice to win over a negative voice in their head. It could be skill sharing to unlock new aspects of the sport or offering a different perspective or way to relate to the sport. Mentorship is not a one-way street where all the benefits of the relationship go to the mentee. It is having a good relationship with mentees and being open to the idea that people prefer to learn in different ways and are open to instruction.
Many people who are socialized as women, and have the capacity to be mentors, lack the confidence to adopt the title even though they already operate as mentors in the outdoor community.
Outdoor guides play a big role in leadership and, in Canada, only 18% are women. There is no further data breakdown of those who identify as a person of colour, and zero statistics on non-binary people. The model is not there for us, and it seeps into our subconscious because of who we see leading groups most often. We also see this pattern occurring in the workplace where self-identified men are 18% more likely to be hired for a senior role and hold 82% of the executive office positions in Canada (statistic from 2020). This may be why my male counterparts are more confident stepping into leadership positions and more trusted when people are seeking guidance in the outdoors. I am not the only one overshadowed by a man who said the same exact thing as me.
There is a systemic issue that needs correction. We must work together to give women and non-binary folx the confidence to step into a mentorship role. This is for the good of future mentees and the community at large. They will benefit by having more women and non-binary people in leadership roles.
To future and current mentors, know that imposter syndrome is normal (I find myself in this cycle regularly!). Together as a community, we can work through these feelings. We can learn from one another with good communication and an open mind. I’m so grateful to take part in a program like Mountain Mentors. It helps me build the confidence to step up as a leader in the outdoor community, in my career, and my everyday life.
Thank you to Mountain Mentors for providing this space for all of us.
Christina Radvak (she/her)
Mexican-Canadian, queer climbing Mountain Mentor