Reciprocal Group Mentoring of Women in Technology: A Project
While there is definitely a push to attract and retain more women in technology, we can’t deny the complex problems that women face in the field: sexism, lower wages, and lack of role models. Without meaningful mentoring relationships women can be discouraged by these challenges and may not reach their full potential.
At the time I entered the field of technology, my best friend, Karen, had 20 years of experience as a developer. She and I decided to research mentoring programs for women. Karen wanted to give back to the community as a mentor, and I wanted to meet new women that I could look up to as role models. Some programs like ARA weren’t operational in our area, or did not have enough mentors to partner with the number of mentees applying. Other programs, such as Design Mentors, had you choose a mentor from a database of willing participants, but that became hit or miss depending on the time constraints and location of mentors. Still other organizations require you to pay for a mentor like Rookie Up, but we felt that such programs might create problems for developing natural relationships and building trust since you were now a customer.
As Karen and I were evaluating mentoring programs and learning about the mentoring dynamic, we came to believe that the key to successful mentoring was a reciprocal approach where each of us were — at the same time — both a mentor and a mentee. This allows each person to feel appreciated and builds equality in the relationship. For example, Karen mentors me in terms of technology, troubleshooting, and career trajectory, but I have started to mentor Karen with respect to using social media, blogging, and presenting at conferences. We both have value in the relationship. It’s the give and take that makes the mentoring work.
However, we recognized that it is already difficult to find mentors, and pairing mentors/mentees based on reciprocity would be even more challenging. That’s when we decided that group mentoring would ease those burdens.
Karen and I created a group for reciprocal mentoring and asked four other women to join us. Karen invited a woman she had started mentoring through the Junior Development Mentor program who is currently in a Bootcamp as well as a woman she works with who wants to explore new options for her career in technology. I invited a close friend who just started learning to code. I also invited a woman I met through the FreeCodeCamp study group who is furthering her career by learning new programming languages. Each of us is at different stages in our careers, but we all have knowledge to share. We created a Slack channel for our group for discussions, pledged to meet in a virtual hangout once a month, and try to meet in person once a quarter. We have encouraged each member to discuss their immediate goals, share successes, ask questions, and even vent when the need arises. As the process unfolds, relationships are growing from the common goals we all share: to be successful in the field of technology.
In the future, Karen and I hope to identify strategies that members use to support each other and understand how the reciprocity within the relationships empowers members. Eventually, we want to expand the number of mentoring groups we run.
If you are interested in joining future mentoring groups, please leave a note with your email address.
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