A group of women from Ryerson – made up of faculty, staff and students – stood side by side facing five parallel lines marked on the floor. They were then asked by Maricruz Rodriguez, mentoring facilitator at Ryerson Tri-Mentoring, to take a step forward based on whether or not they had ever experienced exclusion due to their identity – first gender, then race and so on.
Throughout the activity, each individual moved forward at a different pace. After the final question was asked, Rodriguez encouraged the group to acknowledge that each person ended at a different line.
“This is because each one of us have dealt with different forms of exclusion throughout our life,” said Rodriguez.
The activity was part of the Women Mentoring Women workshop led by members of Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring program, held as part of the university’s International Women’s Day celebrations. It aimed to bring together a diverse group of women to support one another and recognize the barriers that still exist for all of them – some more than others.
“We decided to do the stepping forward activity because it’s important to recognize that even though we all classify as women, there are many of us who face even more barriers that go beyond gender, such as race and religion,” Rodriguez said.
While people moved forward at different paces throughout the activity, she explained, every woman moved forward at least once. “Even though we’re facing a different battle, we all know what it feels like to not be considered or included in something.”
The workshop featured a discussion of gender-based issues, such as pay inequity, and was led by Farrah Khan, coordinator of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education. It also included a sharing session that encouraged women to open up about experiences that have shaped their outlook on what it means to be a woman. “The goal was to make women feel welcome in this space,” Rodriguez said.
Mentoring facilitator Damla Yildiz, who was the recipient of the 2015-2016 Tri-Mentoring Program Community Builder Award, explained the importance of mentoring events such as these. “Inclusion is important every day, but especially today. This was a way to bring people and women together. Mentoring is a big part of that,” said Yildiz.
Growing up, Rodriguez recalls never feeling empowered as a woman, but now loves supporting other women as a mentor.
“For me, encouraging, uplifting and supporting one another is a crucial part of building each other up. That’s why I love what I do.”