Community leaders have the unique opportunity to build the next generation of visionaries. Mentorship can be seen both as a duty and a responsibility towards building a stronger entrepreneurial community.
Jennifer Ménard-Shand considers mentorship rewarding and close to her heart. Following a ten-year career in hospitality with Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, she made her mark in staffing between 2008 and 2018 at The Bagg Group (now Talent World), a full-service staffing firm where she was originally hired by her mentor.
In 2018, Ménard-Shand acquired a portion of the company and created Staff Shop, a full-service staffing firm that serves clients across Canada, USA and the Caribbean. While being a successful entrepreneur, Ménard-Shand remains grounded by her Indigenous roots. Her ability to relate to young Indigenous and women entrepreneurs has been a cultural asset through which she shares her business knowledge as a mentor today.
“I know how difficult it can be as an entrepreneur, especially an Indigenous entrepreneur, plus being a female, there are many entry barriers and I believe it takes representation to understand that and help remove those barriers,” she says.
“As a First Nations Ojibway and French Canadian who didn’t always connect with my roots due to the stereotypes that exist out there until later on in my teens, I faced typical oppression challenges faced by Indigenous women especially.”
Ménard-Shand recognizes the systemic barriers facing Indigenous entrepreneurs through her own experience, highlighting the strength and bravery in their entrepreneurial paths.
“By the time you’re sitting in front of an Indigenous entrepreneur, you can assume that it’s taken a lot for them to get there. It would be a waste to have them not succeed because of a lack of representation or connection to those who can relate,” she says.
Tyra Paul is a young Indigenous entrepreneur who owns the clothing brand Drip Avenue 902. Paul is mentored by Ménard-Shand through Futurpreneur.
“I love Jennifer,” Paul says. “I definitely connected personally with her, and I feel really comfortable talking to her.”
Empathy is part of Ménard-Shand’s approach to mentorship.
“I put myself in her shoes, at her stage,” Ménard-Shand says. “I give her the space to be who she is while I provide direction, ideas, and advice. But it’s really up to her. I try not to force too many solutions or stop her from making mistakes.”
Paul says she appreciates Ménard-Shand’s approach to mentorship – sometimes strategy, sometimes support.
“It was really nice to have somebody in my corner, especially through these challenging times,” Paul says. “It’s made me feel empowered, and when you feel strong you behave in a way that you never thought was possible before.”
Over-mentoring is one trap mentors often get caught in, according to Ménard-Shand. While a mentor is there to provide guidance and wisdom, the entrepreneur is the ultimate decision-maker for their business.
“It’s important that she thinks for herself and learns how to make decisions, takes responsibility for those decisions, and leans on me for what she needs at her own pace, Ménard-Shand says of Paul. “Of course, as soon as I see an opportunity to help with resources or fast-tracking, I will, but I’m also very careful about the balance between my doing versus her doing.”
Having grown a business with the assistance of mentorship, Ménard-Shand shares attributes of good mentorship. She recalls the importance of professional moral support from her mentor.
“He saw potential and invested in me, believed in me more than I believed in myself at the time, and I didn’t waste that opportunity. Fast forward a little over a decade later, and I was able to purchase the service line that I created within his company before he sold the rest of it. And that’s how Staff Shop was born. I re-named the service line Staff Shop and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It has not only benefited me, but the thousands of employees that we deploy across Canada and the hundreds of clients we service across North America.”
Mentorship played a key role in her own entrepreneurial journey, so she doesn’t miss any opportunity to pay it forward.
“I personally wouldn’t have made it this far without all of the mentors and Yodas in my life who cleared the path for me to succeed,” she says. “Our battle cry at Staff Shop this year was ‘Leadership Factory’, and we’re always looking for ways to ensure that our team members are growing in or out of the organization. And if we can create more leaders, there’s mutual ROI for everyone involved.”
For those who have grown their careers to be able to give back, Ménard-Shand has one piece of advice: to pay it forward.
“I would just like to encourage other leaders to donate their time to help create more leaders. It’s our responsibility to give back. I would also advise entrepreneurs to find the right mentor for them. Find the right Yoda, since no one makes it alone.”