Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Why every woman should become a mentor

I believe strongly in the idea and outputs of mentorship. Over my lifetime I have been motivated to grow, push boundaries, break rules, and create new ones because of my own exposure to talented individuals. I have also been gifted with the ability to watch the growth of those that I have been able to support over the years and it has taught me to be both teacher and student every day.

Erin Burrell with Linda Hughes one of her long time mentors

As a woman in tech in a leadership role, I think that this is even more important since our field is desperately low on women at all levels from intern to CEO.

Technology is a male dominated world. I have faced more ugliness and misogyny than I care to relate, but can tell you that both words and actions have served to damage me in such a way that I am motivated to make a change.

I never set out to be a mentor. Quite honestly I am incredibly flawed and have made more than my fair share of mistakes, but those things are what helps me to give back. So many of the obstacles I have faced would be easy to defeat with a little insider knowledge and it is this that I seek to share with those I mentor.

My gift to each person comes in many forms, but most often it is hindsight and the ability to help silence their inner critic. My aptitude for retrospection comes from my mistakes. Those of relationship, career, and life have informed many of the items I share with the people I have been lucky enough to work with. I use my battle scars as cautionary tales that teach people that there might just be more than one right way to do a thing.

Some have been stuck repeating versions of my mistake, whether through intention or accident and have often returned to me to share that now they see the moral of my story. Others have been lucky enough to leverage a hard earned shortcut to slay the figurative dragon without losing too many lives. Either way the lessons shared help to grow both of us at the same time.

Mentorship creates bonds that last

If we haven’t been in real contact with someone they slide into our history and stop being a part of our present. We have all seen those faces on our LinkedIn feed that we haven’t tripped across in person in ages. We recall the snapshot of who they were to us way back when and often cannot see their progression as real. This is the reality of our digitally connected world.

The people I have been mentored by and have been lucky enough to mentor are part of my current world. I check in happily with the smart humans I have been impacted by on a regular basis. I watch the career and personal growth of each of them with interest and excitement when they achieve goals we talked of in abstract terms years ago.

I am able to feel their victories as my own and celebrate along side each one despite the time and space that separates us.

There are lessons for each of us

Smart teachers realize that they have as much to learn as they do to share. We may become masters of a particular topic, but cannot ever claim to be experts at insight. There is a reason that scholars can still seek to create new spotlights on topics thousands of years old, and that is purely because insight is not limited.

Personally I have learned more from my mentees than I have ever taught them. Their fresh eyes allow me to see how new combinations of existing ingredients can serve to feed us different meals. While sharing my battle scars to keep them safe, they offer inspiration on alternate approaches that are informed by their unique stories. Mentees teach me every day.

We need more women in leadership

This is one of the things we see in statistics every day. There just aren’t equal numbers of women in the top third of organisations despite the fact that those declaring themselves female are half of the physical population. The likelihood that this will change over the next fifty years relies heavily on those who hold the sub fifty percent roles today. We need to remind our youth that they CAN.

They CAN hold the desk they want or be the person they want. They CAN choose to take on a role that isn’t full of other people who use the same washroom. They CAN be brave and face circumstances that might be ugly and hurtful because of their gender. They CAN because you did. They CAN surpass you, because you surpassed someone else.

I don’t think that women should have to be part of equal opportunity programs to become leaders. I believe strongly that women should earn their desks and be encouraged to take the next level because they are confident in their skills, but in order to do this they need to learn how.

Progress comes from work

In the twentieth century women earned the right to vote in most of the western world. They did this through hard won battles arguing that they deserved the right to an opinion in how their countries were run. So far much of the twenty-first century has been focused on equality and I have to say that mandates to put an untrained woman on a board or in a leadership desk is not equality. It is a prescription for failure for most of the people squished into positions they aren’t prepared for.

When women began to push for the vote, they didn’t just want the right to cast their mark on a piece of paper, they pushed to cast an informed mark. The suffragettes who championed the movement taught those in their remit about the responsibility their decisions held. They prepared women through education about more than just the physical act of voting, they taught them about politics.

Women seeking the vote: image source

Progress and true equality comes from not just having a box ticked, it comes from having a box ticked with a person who is the better person for the role. The only way we can make that happen is to grow women to be that more talented and capable person.

It’s not just a volunteer gig

Mentorship creates relationships critical to helping people grow their skills and careers. It offers everyone involved chances to discover new approaches and to challenge status quo. A mentor can be of any age, race, or gender if they feel they have something to share.

Mentors can change the world and reset the statistics by sharing insights and opportunities to those who are crafting the twenty-second century today. Most of the leaders of today won’t be around to see the statistics shift dramatically, but we can ensure that those we support have the vision and ability to make our dreams happen tomorrow.