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This article was originally published on Feb. 4, 2019, and was updated on March 3, 2020.
Taking the leap into a new tech-based career can be simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating, whether you’re a new college grad or making a mid-life career transition. No matter how you feel about the transition, female mentorship can play a key role in your success.
No matter how you got there — or what your qualifications may be — as a woman in tech you might at some time experience doubt, feelings of inadequacy, or worry that you’re just not “good enough.”
And Day One on the new job is not too soon for mentoring to be of value.
Everyone has their own strengths and aspirations. And everyone at some point in their career might experience imposter syndrome, fear of failure, or lack of self-confidence.
Mentoring works for everyone, but women in tech can particularly benefit from mentoring as a means to build confidence, enhance skills, and set achievable career goals.
Female mentorship in tech fosters more than technical skills
Apart from technical guidance, women can especially benefit from mentorship as part of their professional and personal development in a tech career.
Strong communication skills are essential for strong leaders.
Working with a mentor allows women in tech to practice their communication skills with someone who is focused on their growth and success.
Practicing clear, effective communication is possible with someone ready and willing to give feedback.
One way to learn leadership skills is to be mentored by someone who’s already in a leadership position.
Mentors can become role models, and developing leadership skills gets women into the pipeline for promotion.
Adaptation to a new environment
Female mentorship — especially when joining a new company or department — allows women to acclimate to the culture more quickly. Joining and embracing a culture established and populated primarily by men might require different insight.
A mentor can offer opportunities to expand the mentee’s network of personal and professional contacts through invitations, introductions and suggested organizations to join.
As a woman in tech, how can you make the most of mentoring opportunities?
Be selective. Put in the time and effort to find the right mentor.
Be strategic. Know what you’d like to learn from your mentor and make sure they are aware of it.
Don’t be shy. Don’t assume mentors will come find you. Take action that will have others see you as someone worth mentoring: ask for more challenging assignments, speak up with good ideas, get seen.
Seek constructive criticism. Be willing to admit that you don’t know everything and want to learn more. Ask questions, solicit feedback, and be ready to embrace the idea of making changes. Give your mentor permission to provide negative feedback by asking “what can I do to improve?” or “what am I lacking?”
Follow through. Take your mentor’s advice seriously, continually work on development, check in frequently, and don’t leave anything to chance. Be intentional and consistently work to make progress.
There’s value in being mentored by both men and women
While female leaders can offer insight into being a successful woman in the tech arena, you can learn from men as well.
In many areas of the tech industry, men still dominate and are the ones in the best position to effect change. They often have more experience and more exposure to the inner workings of the field, just by virtue of being in the majority.
Having a male mentor can provide insight into alternative perspectives, different approaches to problem-solving, new stances on decision-making, and differing methods of collaboration.
The same holds true for men having a woman mentor.
Benefits to men who mentor women include the same fulfillment and rewards as mentoring men, but they might also become more aware of their unconscious biases, and could become more sensitive to issues and challenges women face in building their tech careers.
Women who select male mentors contribute to their mentors’ growth as well.
Mentoring provides opportunities to develop listening, perspective, self-knowledge, compassion, and courage — all of which enable the mentor to be a better leader in their own right.
Having a mentor prepares women to one day step into the female mentorship role themselves.
Qualities to keep in mind when you’re looking for a mentor
A mentor is someone who:
- has the experience you’re lacking and is willing to pass that experience on to you.
- has a successful career you admire and respect, in a field they are passionate about.
- has the desire, energy and time to meet with you and offer guidance.
- is friendly, a good listener, and interested in encouraging others.
Bonus points for someone who has been mentored in their past, because they’ll have a clearer understanding of the value of such a relationship.
Related: How to become a mentor
Not sure how to start making the most of female mentorship opportunities? Try this approach:
- How can a mentor help you? Identify specifically what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship.
- Once you identify qualities you’re seeking in a mentor, investigate where you might find the right match.
- Find someone you want to be like, who has skills you want to emulate, and learn more about that person.
- Invite the potential mentor to an initial meeting, such as an informational interview over coffee, where you can ask questions you’ve prepared.
- At the initial meeting, was there a connection? Were you encouraged? Did you feel like the person wanted to help you and answer your questions?
- Be sure to follow up immediately with a thank you, to let them know their time was appreciated.
- If the first encounter worked for you, let them know you’d like to do it again. Get another meeting on the calendar and go from there, letting the relationship grow organically.
- If it didn’t go well, move on to finding a new candidate.
Entering into a mentoring relationship provides women in tech with an avenue for encouragement, challenge, and both personal and professional growth. As with any other relationship, mentoring is organic and grows over time based on commitment, respect and trust.