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Monday, April 23, 2012

Positive Leadership: Mentoring Women in the Tech Sector

Women make up half of the U.S. workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry. They lead only 8% of technology start-ups. So why aren't there more female leaders in the tech sector? One of the answers lies in the lack of mentorship - in the lack of both mentors and mentees.

If you look at the entrepreneurship landscape, you still see that it is dominated by men. But without women in high places, younger women lack the role models and mentors to help them succeed. Younger generations of women need to have someone to look up to, someone to show them the ropes and limitless possibilities, to help them believe. That is why it is increasingly crucial that women who have made it to the top of the organisation commit to guiding other women towards similar success, take a larger role and responsibility in 'raising' the next generation of female leaders. 

However, it is also the responsibility of women to ask for mentorship. Women need to actively seek mentorship, male or female. More often than not women in power cite their male mentors being crucial to their success.

A mentor is someone who:

•             Has faith in you, pushes you to be better, encourages you to keep moving forward when going gets tough
•             Is honest with you, even if truth hurts, and tells you to stop whining if necessary ("tough love")
•             Contributes to your knowledge base through sharing experiences and best-known practices
•             Opens up his/her rolodex to you and utilises his/her network to help you succeed
•             Helps you towards your own vision by helping align your actions with your goals
•             Is consistent and disciplined: puts in the time, gives you homework, sets benchmarks, holds you accountable every step of the way.

These are some other observations around mentoring:

•             Mentoring doesn't have to be an altruistic act; it is totally acceptable to have a mutual benefit in this relationship that would help motivate both parties. You can trade your services or help each other in different ways, but it is always best to ensure alignment of incentives.
•             Mentees have to know what they want -- that's half the battle.
•             It is impossible to meet with everyone who wants your time as a mentor. If you are in that position, create a barrier to entry to ensure your mentees are as dedicated as they expect you to be.
•             Don't make gender an issue, don't take it personally. People hang out in familiar circles because of the common interests; that's just how networks work. As a woman, you need to become a part of solution, not a part of the problem.
•             Ageism is often an issue professionally. So if you are a young woman, you can overcome it by sounding confident, being firm, looking others straight in the eye, and firmly shaking hands.
•             As a mentor you have to make a commitment and stick to it no matter what. Your role as a mentor is to push yourself out of the job by your mentee doing it well.


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