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Men: Want to Increase Diversity in Tech? Be a Mentor

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“How can I help?” A question that I’ve asked myself over and over as I became more aware of the disadvantages that exist in tech for people of diversity. As a white, privileged male, what could l do?

After thinking about this for quite some time and speaking to my peers I realized that mentoring women could be a powerful way to have an impact. Several years ago I started focusing on just that and began mentoring a variety of women from a diverse set of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and I am starting to see the positive effects it has.

I believe it is essential for men to mentor women. I want to share my experiences as a mentor, and give you some pointers and guidelines to get started.

Why Men Should Mentor Women*

Today Men dominate the tech industry and thus are in the the best position to effect change. We can help women who are at a disadvantage. We can help women of color who have even more challenges. We can create opportunities. We can break the molds that exist.

*It is also vital for women to mentor men as is covered in this post. (Thanks to Rachel Appel for emphasizing this)

Having an Impact

It is gratifying when you see the people you are helping advancing toward their goals. As one example, the other day I received this message from Irma Mesa, one of the women I mentor.

“Hello friend! Long time no see 🙁

Had some news — I was extended a job offer and accepted it for a Product Manager position at a company called (omitted) :tada: Our calls definitely helped me influence landing that offer”

Reading this filled my heart with joy. Only four months ago we met after I posted on a tech mentoring Slack that I’d love to talk to anyone about product management. After that post she messaged me:

“I’m down for talking product management! Mind if I ask you a quick question?”

That question evolved into our mentor-lationship (kudos to Irma for that term). After our initial chat in Slack, we got on a ZOOM call for about an hour, where we talked about product management and her goals.

Her current role was not challenging enough, nor did she feel like it had a good product culture. She wanted to move to a new job where she could excel in the PM role. We then started to chat regularly over the next four months. Most of our chats were Slack-based, so they happened over time, and it was manageable. We talked about strategies for her to explore at her current job, we discussed the PM role, we talked about my experiences as a PM, learnings, mistakes, and more. We also worked together on spicing up her resume. All of this helped build her confidence that she could take this next big step.

Irma did it , and she’s now in a new company reporting directly to the CPO!

This is just one example of the positive impact you can have on diversity in tech by being a mentor.

How mentoring women helped me

Being a mentor is not just about helping others. Aside from it being an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience, it will help you. I have learned a ton. It has made me more aware of unconscious bias, it has helped me build empathy and be more sensitive to women, and I have a better understanding of the challenges women in technology are facing in their careers. It has also helped me to improve my listening skills (still a work-in-progress), be a better manager, and has just made me a better all-around individual.

How to get started?

Now that you’ve seen the value and benefit of mentoring for both you and for the people you will mentor, how do you get started?

Learn

If you’ve never mentored, read this article which gives some great tips. As you start out, it may take some time before you find your groove. You will make mistakes, but you can learn from them.

Get Involved

Get involved with communities that focus on diversity in tech and mentoring. For example join your local Women Who Code, or the Mind the Product Slack to give a few examples. You can even use Twitter to reach out and offer help. Stephanie Hurlburt has done an excellent job of using Twitter as a vehicle for mentoring. You can dm her, and she’ll amplify your tweet for you.

Mentorship Programs

Many organizations have internal mentoring programs, which is is how I found my start, as Microsoft had one. Initially, I was a mentee, but over time I became a mentor. Even if your company does not have a program, there are often internal communities, co-workers you know, etc. that you can talk to.

Offer To Help

Let women know you are available and willing to help. You can also reach out to others if they request mentoring or help.

Diving In

Setup your first meeting. If I know the person personally, then I’ll often meet them either at my work, or in a cafe. Barring that, I tend to do these virtually, using something like ZOOM or Google Hangouts. I think this is preferable because it is more “safe.” Both ZOOM and Hangouts allow getting a link which you can quickly pass to the other person. They both support video which can aid in getting to know the other person.

Make a difference and mentor women

If you are a man and feeling frustrated at the state of diversity in tech (as I was), and are not sure what you can do, consider being a mentor for women. Make a difference in someone’s career (like Irma’s) and increase diversity in tech.

In the next post we’ll look more in-depth at the initial meeting, how to determine whether or not to move forward, and general guidelines for the mentoring relationship.

Thanks to Irma Mesa, Nabiha Zahra, Rachel Appel, Donna Malayeri, Layla M. Sells, Bobby Johnson and Michelle Grover and ESPECIALLY my daughter Sumeya, for reviewing and advising.