By Andrea Mullens, VP of Human Resources, Ingram Micro Cloud
Most successful women in tech will likely tell you that they didn’t get there on their own. Whether it’s the support of family, friends, colleagues, investors, or mentors, these networks provide vital guidance for women as they rise higher in their tech careers.
Mentorships are a huge part of this. They provide pathways for women to develop in multiple areas and learn from collective experience to forge the career we want. When you gain a mentor, you are held accountable, experience encouragement, and have a soundboard for your ideas – all things that are invaluable in today’s competitive tech landscape.
If you’re looking for mentorship, there are a few things you might keep in mind to make sure you get the most out of the relationship. Try asking yourself these three questions to understand how to build a mentoring relationship that works for you.
1. What brings me joy?
Regrettably, women are often less likely to chase their dream careers, largely because of the need for financial security and lower levels of self-advocacy. Adding mentorship into the mix, however, can help you establish what your true passion is and work out how to follow it. This added clarity can be inspiring!
To start, you might try thinking about what it is that you find fulfilling, and incorporate this into your quest for mentorship. If you’re looking to pivot in your career and seeking guidance to help you with the shift, it can be vital to consider exactly what it is about this new venture that will give you joy. Once you’re clear on this you can start to talk to people who are further along on a similar path and explore mentorship options.
For me, this thought process was essential. After years of working behind the scenes in a public organization, I came to realize that I was no longer receiving the same joy from my work. Thinking it through, I concluded that what I really wanted at that moment was to move into a smaller, private company and have the chance to work directly with the business and drive a larger impact. Having identified what I would find more fulfilling, and acting on that desire, I was then able to find people who fulfilled a mentor role for me and helped me get to where I am today.
It’s worth remembering that mentors will naturally love to help people who know they’re pursuing their joys and are truly passionate about the skills they’re looking to gain. They’re also more likely to engage with people who they feel are committed to those goals.
2. What’s my endgame?
With fewer women than equally qualified men going for leadership roles, promotions, or career changes we often have less access than men to guidance from senior managers. Mentorships can help to address this and provide vital support to help us establish some key objectives and lay out long-term professional goals that we’re ultimately working towards.
In fact, studies have found that women don’t advocate for themselves as much as men, so having an encouraging space for career exploration through mentorship can help women strive for their career goals just as men do.
When seeking a mentorship opportunity, try asking yourself what you’re ultimately looking to accomplish. Maybe you want to move up within your role, or sideways to another position. By nailing down your endgame and working backward, you can get a better idea of what you need to achieve to get there – whether it’s soft skills, technical experience, or commercial acumen.
In identifying both your endgame and then what’s needed to achieve it you often come to better understand what kind of mentorship is right for you. For example, if you’re aiming for a new role that will require experience with a specific technology, you’ll know to try and engage with someone who’s well-versed in that tech. If your new career goal will involve improving your interpersonal communication, you’ll then know to reach out to someone whose communication skills you have always admired.
It’s also good to consider that mentors don’t always have to be someone who is strictly within your field, especially if you’re after specialized knowledge. I frequently look to developers at Ingram Micro Cloud to help me better understand the technologies we work with and where the space is going, and they are able to mentor me on this front.
3. What kind of mentorships are available?
Unfortunately, studies have discovered that women are not granted the same chances as men for support and guidance in pursuing career opportunities. For women, this makes identifying what mentorship opportunities are available all the more crucial.
It’s great to realize that mentorship can come in many forms, whether that’s a formal, structured program or the odd lunch date here and there. If you’re seeking a formal mentorship program, it can be a good idea to research options and understand which is best for you based on your goals. You could even reach out to current or past mentees within the program to get a better sense of the experience.
However, in my experience, most mentorships don’t take the form of a structured agreement between two parties – many evolve out of informal conversations and chance interactions. One study in fact found that for 61% of people, the mentorship relationship evolved naturally, while 25% of people had someone offer to mentor them, and 14% had to ask their mentor. At Ingram Micro Cloud, we have created guidelines to foster informal mentoring across the business to give a boost to naturally-evolving mentorships.
If you’ve identified one or more people who you think could be good mentors, you might reach out to them and invite them to lunch or to join a Zoom call. You may be surprised at how many people are more than happy to have a conversation with you. If you present them with a formal mentorship agreement, they may be unlikely to have the bandwidth to commit, so it might be best to start on a less formal basis. With informal mentorships, you can often get access to busy high-performers who may not be otherwise available.
In the end, the value of mentorships can’t be overstated for women in the tech industry. As we all aim to provide opportunities for growth, learning, and a safe space to explore our passions and goals, I advise my fellow women in tech to seek out and embrace the mentorship opportunities they have available. These can truly be special opportunities.