Mentoring can truly help squash gender imbalance in tech. Here's how.
By Katie Jansen (VP of Corporate Marketing, AppLovin)
When I attended Think Differently!, a recruiting event hosted by Women 2.0, I couldn’t help but notice how thrilled other AppLovin employees were to be there.
Later Anusha Ramesh and Sonal Gupta, both engineers, told me about how exhilarating it was to be at an event with so many successful women in tech. “Seeing and meeting dozens of women working in tech who have carved out remarkable careers -- and have a lot to say about how to be a successful working mom -- really builds my confidence at this stage in my career,” one of them told me.
That got me thinking about women and mentoring in tech — specifically about how important it is. And how there isn’t enough of it. Why?
Because mentoring is not only key to women advancing their careers in tech, but also to dismantling the overall gender imbalance in tech as a whole.
Anusha recently told me that of the 14 students in her class of Computer Science and Engineering majors at U.C. Davis, she was the only woman. Given that the number of women in engineering is actually declining, that figure is an indicator of the minority, foggy role women play in the field as a whole.
As Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou recently pointed out, the number of women engineers is probably even lower than what’s reported. “Every company has some way of hiding or muddling the data on women actually in engineering roles,” she writes.
Mentoring can change that dynamic forever. Here are my thoughts on what to do to cultivate a culture of mentorship among women in our industry — and in time overhaul it so it is no longer male-dominated.
Mentorship Starts Early and At Home
Supportive parenting is the first building block for girls who later become tech professionals. Both Sonal and Anusha told me that they had supportive parents who never for a moment sent the message that math and science weren’t for girls.
Anusha, for example, built desktop computers with her dad when she was a kid. Both women’s parents supported them when they wanted to take computer classes in high school and cheered them on when they were accepted at universities with top-notch computer science and engineering programs.
I’m the mother of a 5-year-old girl, and I encourage her interest in math and science with educational toys and fun experiments with household items. One of her favorite toys is GoldieBlox, created by a female Stanford engineer, which melds machine building, invention and storytelling.
When my daughter starts school with regular science and math classes, I expect her to do well. But more importantly, she will expect to do well — and I’ll never be surprised or lead her to believe there is anything special about her interest or success.
Find the Right Mentorship Fit
Women often move through the tech world in ways that are distinct from those of men. Our mentorship relationships are no exception. There’s a very particular kind of support that emerges among women who “get each other.”
Sometimes mentoring, beyond that experienced from family members, begins in college with a great professor. A first job just out of school, or even an internship while one is still a student, can also be a great place to find one’s first mentor. Keep on the lookout for women who are not only experts in their field and whom you trust, but with whom you have great chemistry -- women with whom you can share what’s going on with you both professionally and personally as you go about planning your career.
Be sure to look for a mentor who is not only successful but has a good work/life balance and who can demonstrate that yes, it can be done: Being successful in tech and having a fulfilling personal life aren’t mutually exclusive.
Participate in Events for Women in Tech
Just as a relationship with a mentor can be empowering in terms of supporting you in planning a terrific career, so too can participating in meetups and events like the recent Women 2.0 Think Differently! event.
As Sonal and Anusha noted, just being around literally dozens of women who have forged fantastic careers in a male-dominated field is exhilarating.
Be a Role Model to Teenagers and Girls
Even if you’re not yet ready to be a mentor yourself, you’re in a great position to serve as a role model for girls and teenagers.
When you share your experiences at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) event at local middle and/or high schools, you send a clear message that women and girls can excel every bit as much as boys and men in this exciting field.
One great STEM event particularly aimed at girls is Girl Day, an annual event sponsored by an organization called DiscoverE, a volunteer community that engages students in engineering. You can also call your local school district to see if there are STEM events in which you can participate and think about going back to schools you attended to give a presentation on the opportunities for women in tech.
Every opportunity you have, share with girls and young women all the reasons why you love your work in tech. Tell them how incredibly challenging, exciting and rewarding it can be, both intellectually and financially.
If every woman working in tech made both being a mentor and finding a mentor a priority, we’d see an incredible uptick in the number of women in the field. And that’s good for everyone -- great for our careers, but also great for the economy and the world.
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