Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in America, yet why aren’t there more women in the sector? Despite dedicated efforts to educate and train women in tech, female representation in tech has been declining steadily since the 1990s. Today, only 20 percent of all tech jobs are held by women, despite the fact that women make up half the overall workforce.
Experts believe that mentoring can help reverse this trend–and conversely that a lack of mentors for women, particularly in tech, is partially responsible. In an Everwise webinar in late September, a panel of tech leaders who mentor women shared how mentoring can help attract and retain women in tech.
Many female technologists disappear midcareer
One of the major questions the tech industry must answer is: Why do female technologists drop out of the field and not return? Solving this problem is crucial because having more women at the top will help ensure that the younger generation is supported.
Kim Vappie, the Chief Experience Officer for Everwise, said statistics show that many female technologists drop out of the field halfway through their careers. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Mentoring can be used as a tool to keep them. Research shows that employee retention is 25 percent higher at companies where employees participate in company-sponsored mentoring programs.
Heidi Williams, the founder of WEST, a mentoring organization for women in tech, said that women are leaving tech at twice the rate of men. “There are no role models for women, and they’re not getting to a higher level,” said Williams, who participated in the webinar and has worked in tech for more than 22 years. “Women feel stalled and not supported when they reach their midcareer.” That’s why mentors who volunteer with WEST are men and women who are midcareer or later. By having mentors who are further along in their careers, younger female tech mentees have an unbiased voice helping them get over the midcareer hurdle.
Mentorship boosts confidence
Demetrius Comes, a vice president of software for Internet company GoDaddy, said that in his mentoring experiences with WEST, he has noticed that mentees gain a bump in confidence after several months in a mentoring partnership. They’ve learned to test new skills and approaches, and have seen some wins as a result. He also emphasized that when mentees feel like they’re being listened to, the increase in their confidence is apparent.
Gaining confidence is crucial to success in tech, as many managers and leaders don’t have the time or resources to step in and help their people develop these kinds of skills. For women, in particular, having a mentor is crucial to their own success, given that men are 46 percent more likely than women to have a sponsor.
Sumathi Swaminathan, a vice president of engineering at Stride, said that when she works with her mentees on their problems, they’re more confident about entering into hard conversations and feel like they know the right thing to do in difficult situations.
Mentorships can also help keep women get paid what they are worth. Despite all the progress toward closing the pay gap between women and men, women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
“We helped someone realize that they were getting wildly underpaid,” Williams said, “and we helped them interview at other companies who were likely to pay them market rate.”
External mentorships help ensure confidentiality
When mentees work with mentors outside their companies, they’re more likely to speak openly for many reasons–no hierarchy, politics, or rumor mill, just to name a few. And mentoring relationships work best when mentees can let their guard down, which can be harder to do in an internal mentoring program; mentees might fear that what they have said will come back to haunt them if someone finds out.
“Confidentiality doesn’t come up as a concern,” Williams said of external mentoring relationships.
Tim Krajcar, a director of engineering at New Relic, described the external mentoring experience as unfiltered and honest, compared to a detrimental power dynamic that can happen with internal mentoring programs.
“I don’t think I would have gotten that experience if it were internal,” he said.
Mentors benefit, too
Williams said that mentoring also helps mentors develop skills. Mid to senior managers improving their coaching skills makes companies, as a whole, stronger.
Kesha Williams, a software engineering manager at Chick-fil-A corporate, said that mentoring has been a chance for her to encourage mentees to increase their technical expertise as well as a way for her to “fine-tune” her own leadership style.
“I’ve grown so much and become a better leader because of my experience as a mentor,” she said.
Run better mentoring programs using Everwise
WEST runs its successful mentoring programs using Everwise software and services. If you’re interested in running and scaling mentoring in your organization, contact us to discuss how we can help. Whether you’re looking for mentoring to support a Women in Leadership program, or just looking for a stand-alone mentoring initiative, we’ve likely helped organizations like yours and are passionate about the benefits of mentoring in any organization.