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Why mentoring really matters for women in tech

Holly Brockwell argues for professional mentoring as a positive choice for women in technology roles

It's not easy to be a woman in the tech industry. Whether you're working in a distinctly undiverse team, dealing with daily microaggressions or just trying to explain to the client that you are not, in fact, the boss's PA, there's a whole lot of gender-based burdens for women to shoulder.

One of the ways to lighten the load is with mentoring - not just informal mentoring from people you happen to know and trust, but formal mentoring programmes whereby people senior to you commit to spending time helping you move up.

Professional mentoring programmes have enormous benefits for women in tech specifically, because no one knows the awkward landscape we face better than women who've navigated it themselves - often in even less enlightened times than we have now. But finding a mentor isn't always straightforward, especially if your company doesn't offer a formal scheme.

Nonetheless, it's vitally important that women in tech find mentors, because men get them almost by default, and we don't deserve to be disadvantaged in yet another way. Old boys' clubs and off-the-clock bar banter ensure that older industry men find young protegés who remind them of themselves, but unfortunately the same doesn't seem to happen with women.

Often it's because we're not invited into the informal spaces where those conversations occur (or we don't sufficiently remind old men of their younger selves, what with being female and all), but sadly it's also because some higher-up men are worried about looking "a bit Weinstein" (actual quote) if they take a younger woman under their wing.

That's a real shame, because men who take on female mentors can make a huge difference to their career progression, and gain benefits themselves in terms of learning to see tech from a different angle.

An endorsement from a respected industry veteran goes a long way, and in our industry - again, sadly - male backing seems to carry more weight. While that's disappointing, it's also something women can use to their advantage - teaming up with a male mentor can help you overcome some of the barriers placed in your way through no fault of your own.

That's not to say a male mentor is better than a female one - it's not. The main factor that determines how much mentoring will help you is how well the two of you click - both sides need to be able to be fairly honest with one another, and that's a lot easier if you've built up a good rapport.

It can be helpful to choose someone from a similar background to you - for instance, if you're a woman of colour or LGBT, someone from the same community might well be able to offer valuable insights into how to deal with the particular challenges you might face.

However, there's also an argument for choosing someone from a different walk of life. For instance, tech has a class issue, whereby people from privileged backgrounds are more readily accepted.

If you're not from that kind of background yourself, it could be beneficial to pair up with someone who is, to help you navigate the unspoken social codes that are often spoon-fed to the fortunate few. (The Class Ceiling by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison is a great read on this issue).

Source: Computing


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