How Can I Be a Better Mentor?
Being a great mentor is much more than having years of experience. It requires strong interpersonal skills (which aren’t always common in the tech world) and a genuine commitment to the success of mentees. Here are some tips:
- Listen: Be willing to listen to the mentee’s concerns and goals. Ask and be available for peer discussions without imposing your point of view or saying “because I know best.”
- Be a Role Model: Act as an example of professionalism, ethics, and respect in the industry. Being a role model is the most challenging job one can have. Failing someone who sees you as a reference can make that person change careers.
- Set Clear Expectations: Define clear expectations for the mentoring relationship, including goals, timelines, and communication methods.
- Offer Guidance and Promote Autonomy: Encourage the mentee to take initiative and make decisions. Instead of providing answers, guide them to find their own solutions. This promotes critical thinking and independence. The goal is to empower them, not control them.
- Be Flexible: Recognize that each mentee is unique, with different needs and goals. Adapt your mentoring style to meet the specific needs of each individual.
- Share Experiences and Lessons Learned: Share personal stories of challenges and achievements to inspire and illustrate concepts. Don’t hesitate to show where you’ve failed along the path to success.
- Encourage Feedback: Foster an environment where the mentee feels comfortable providing feedback on the mentoring relationship. This openness helps both parties improve the relationship in the future.
Mentoring by Women for Women
Women mentoring women is particularly effective in the tech industry for several reasons:
- Identification: Female mentors can share experiences and relate to the specific challenges that female mentees face in the male-dominated tech world. No matter how well-intentioned a man is, he’s not a woman.
- Inspiration: Seeing other successful women in the industry will inspire mentees and demonstrate that success is within their reach. And seeing a woman dedicating her time to help others makes mentoring scale.
- Promotion: A woman who mentors proves her ability to lead and enhance the resources she works with. By working with women, she gains access to an underutilized resource where it’s easier to find talent, thus increasing her chances of success.
- Safety: A mentor not only helps create a network of contacts and seek rewarding jobs but also identifies people and companies that respect and promote opportunities for women.
How Can I Find a Mentor?
Finding the right mentor can be a crucial step towards success. However, there are few women in the technology industry, making them harder to find. Here are the best ways:
- Events and Conferences: By participating in tech events and conferences, you are likely to encounter other women with similar careers.
- Online Platforms: Use online platforms such as LinkedIn or technology discussion groups to connect with potential mentors. There are specific platforms for women like Geek Girls Portugal, Portuguese Women in Tech (national), Women In Tech (global), and many others where professional women meet and evolve together. My favorite, “As Raparigas do Código” is not so much a community of professionals. They focus on education, mainly for children, but also have a strong component for career changers. In other words, those who are there are truly committed to helping you evolve. I think that for a first step, that’s what you should look for.
- Mentorship Programs: Many companies and universities offer formal mentoring programs, where the HR department, happiness department, or alumni department matches the right mentor to each employee/student. Even if it’s random, they already have something in common to start the conversation. In this case, it may not be a female mentor unless you specifically request it.
What Is the Role of Men in All of This?
As mentioned in the previous section, women are less common in this field, and I’ve always had the impression that it’s easier for a woman to seek help/mentoring than for a man. In other words, there’s more demand from women for mentors than from men. At the same time, with a massive wave of events exclusively for minorities and others seeking to increase the representation of minorities on panels disproportionately to their market share, the women who stand out become over-allocated. This can lead to burnout and, in extreme cases, affected by those who wanted to help them.
The role of men is simple. There used to be a saying, “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” How about, “Behind every great person there is another great person“? Even better, “Behind every great person there is a great team“! There are situations where it has to be a woman in the spotlight. For young people looking for a role model, it’s essential that other women are seen at conferences, in leadership positions, and as authors of articles. As mentors, not so much.
The best way to achieve equality is to reduce the backstage tasks that burden women. A mentor can be ideal, but there are many mentoring tasks that a man can do equally well (or similarly). If a man does 80% of the mentoring and connects his mentees (male and female) with female mentors to complement their development with a woman’s view, it’s a similar experience for those receiving mentoring and doesn’t overwhelm the women who are making a difference on a larger scale.
A tip for women who have read this far: As you know, men have some annoying characteristics. One of the most useful is the hero instinct. Men tend to protect and help women (even if they don’t want or need it) to feel important. When they see a damsel in distress, they’ll probably step up. And if asked for help directly, it’s very difficult for them to refuse. It’s genetic.
Of course, he may be doing it because he thinks women are inferior and need help with “manly tasks.” A mentor has to know your limitations but also help you evolve. It’s different to be the knight in shining armor who’s always saving the princess or the one who provides details about the dragon, its weak points to exploit, and offers to fight by your side or divert the fire spitter’s attention while you cut the creature’s throat. Some years later, he’ll be sitting with a bucket of popcorn watching you fight your own battles and will only get up when called.
I’ll leave you with another warning to always keep in mind. He may be doing it with ulterior motives, to become part of your personal life. So when you know that a mentor has a high turnover of female mentees, ask around. He may not be the push you need but rather another obstacle to navigate. I won’t say “trust your instinct,” but remember that group mentoring is always more fun and secure than individual mentoring, and online meetings have the same effect as in-person ones. If he’s asking too many personal questions, set boundaries.
The tech industry is dynamic and full of opportunities, but it also faces challenges in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Mentoring emerges as a powerful tool to break down barriers and open doors. In this mentor-mentee partnership, they are not just building more solid careers; they are shaping the future.
It’s crucial to remember that mentoring is a journey of mutual growth. It’s not a one-way transmission of knowledge but an opportunity to learn, grow, and inspire each other. As more women unite in the tech world, as both mentors and mentees, they shape a more inclusive and diverse environment where female voices are heard, ideas rise higher, and barriers are torn down.
As we look to the future of the industry, we realize that mentoring is a vital part of this journey. Empowering women and minorities in tech is not just a goal; it’s a necessity. The future of technology will be brighter and more colorful when all voices have the opportunity to shape it.
Throughout this article, I highlighted how mentors can guide, share experiences, develop skills, provide strategic guidance, and more. And equally important, being a mentor involves listening, inspiring, and empowering.
I hope this has convinced more people to seek mentors, and I invite all those who have the capacity to be mentors to join the cause. Let’s transform the face of technology and create an inspiring legacy for future generations.
Some people in the OutSystems Community joined my initiative. Here are some names you can contact for mentorship: