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Taking Action in Women’s Mentorship: A Critical Step Toward Achieving a #BalanceforBetter

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From politics to academia to business, the US has seen small upticks in women holding leadership positions year over year. However, there remains a substantial gap between American women and men in terms of representation in leadership roles. Experts agree that closing this gap involves organizations promoting the professional development of women through strong mentorship programs.

We sat down with Rebecca Deery, Director, Experience Design at EPAM, to discuss the current state of mentorship for women in the US and what professionals can do to make it a more valuable practice in the workplace. Here’s what she had to say: 

What motivated you to become a mentor? 

I wanted to pay it forward because I’ve had both good and bad experiences with people who were in mentor roles. The things I’ve learned in each of those circumstances have shown me what’s lacking in terms of mentorship, as well as what I could do to close the gap and how I could set a good example. Currently, I participate in EPAM’s Managers Mentoring Program, but I also mentor outside of work.

Why is it so invaluable for women to mentor other women?

Firstly, it’s invaluable to have a presence, and by that, I mean simply having other women as mentors. In 2018, LinkedIn surveyed nearly 1,000 female professionals in the US and discovered 82 percent of women agree that having a mentor is important. But what is staggering is despite recognizing that mentorship is a critical component to career success, 19 percent of respondents (almost one out of five) have NEVER had a mentor. That’s still a lot of underserved women!

What are some of the most important elements in mentorship?

On the more qualitative side, there’s a concept called Reciprocal Mentoring. This concept looks at mentorship as a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship that has a life-long impact. To qualify as a reciprocal mentorship, according to these studies, the relationship must have three critical elements: humility, shared power and extended outcomes, i.e., results that extend beyond formal mentoring programs. Multiple insights show that women want these qualities in a mentor and want to possess these qualities themselves in order to mentor others. It’s a different mindset than just mentoring for skillsets or company advancement.

Why is mentorship important for achieving gender parity in the workplace?

There’s an annual study that LeanIn.org and McKinsey publishes that shows the current state of leadership diversity in companies. Despite all the evidence of more diverse leadership driving companies’ bottom lines, men end up holding 62 percent of management positions, while women hold only 38 percent. And this gap only grows at senior management levels and above.

So, mentorship of women in a company will have to come from both women and men, offering both perspectives to develop talent and ultimately help close this gap.

What are some challenges women face that are unique to the tech industry and how have women’s mentoring programs helped women thrive in the tech industry?

I’ve talked to women leaders in other STEM fields, even clients of EPAM, about their perspectives on this question in their particular industry, and we all have similar challenges in attrition, lack of mentors, gender biases, etc. I actually don’t think the issues faced by women in tech are much different than the issues faced by women in sciences more broadly. My sister is a microbiologist, and she has shared experiences that are very similar to the experiences I’ve had during my 18 years in the tech industry. I think the good thing about the tech industry is that we’re using technology as a platform to mobilize and gain awareness of issues around gender equity. LeanIn.org, AnitaB.org, Girls Who Code – there are so many great organizations available if you’re in tech.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to women to help them excel at their roles as mentors and mentees?

There’s a huge misperception that mentorship requires too much time. I’m as busy as anyone – I manage a team at EPAM, and also coach soccer, mentor students at Penn State and am a mom and wife. I get it. According to a recent Talent Management study, 75 percent of women say that time commitment is the biggest driver to holding them back from mentorship. Yet, it’s important for your career. I’d find the time, even if it’s just a little, to invest in yourself. It can create life-long benefits.

What can we do to support our female colleagues in mentorship programs? 

Encourage more people to sign up for mentoring programs. I’d also like to see male colleagues consider more female mentees and mentors. t shouldn’t be just women mentoring other women. I think the value people get out of a more diverse mentorship experience could be great.

How does effective mentorship for women extend beyond the workplace into society as a whole?

We spend 40 hours a week or more with our colleagues at work in our own social groups. That’s a lot of time and a lot of opportunity to learn from people who have another perspective. Those lessons learned not only impact our work culture, but they trickle down to our products, services and what we take away to our other social groups outside of work. I’m grateful to EPAM for providing the opportunities I’ve had to learn from other people, and I’d like to think women’s mentorship is just one of many areas available for employees to make a positive impact.