Why we need mentoring programmes for women in tech
How do we encourage more women to pursue a career in technology? In the current race for talent, this question is key. We know that the number of young women choosing to study technology-related subjects is low – around 20% in 2020 – with only a fraction of those students then opting for a career in tech.
But another equally concerning figure is the number of women who leave the industry. A joint report by Accenture and Girls Who Code suggests the drop-out rate is as high as 50%. By the age of 35, according to that research, almost half of the women in tech careers will leave, compared to around 20% in other professions. Clearly, something is going wrong.
According to recent figures from Forrester, the tech industry is set to achieve 6.5% growth in 2021 and 2022, but we cannot fulfil that potential unless we diversify the workforce. And although we need to do much, much more to encourage more girls and young women to consider careers in tech, it is vital that we also look at ways to nurture the talent we have. This is where mentoring can play an important role.
The impact of mentorship
In a recent white paper, titled Tech’s Leading Women, we spoke to 36 of the UK tech sector’s most prominent female leaders. They spoke about their own career journeys and what had helped them to achieve success. Although they came from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, the one thing almost all of them had in common was mentoring.
Some had more formal experiences than others but the effect of being mentored was near-universal. Whether the relationship followed a formal, structured path or happened to be a looser arrangement made no difference, the simple fact of that mentoring relationship proved invaluable. For some, their mentor acted as a sounding board, someone who could add independent perspective. For others, the benefit was in having access to someone who had a role they wanted and being able to learn first-hand what it took to get there.
It is not just mentees who benefit from mentoring programmes. Research suggests that within organisations, mentoring can positively impact employee attitudes across the core pillars of employee engagement, such as pride in one’s company, making a personal contribution, and forging connections.
There are causal benefits for mentors too. In May this year, Tenth Revolution Group launched Mentor Me, a cross-organisational initiative open to women working in technology who may not have access to a formal mentoring programme. Mentor Me connects those women with experienced leaders -of all genders – in their chosen field for a structured, 6-month mentoring programme. When we launched, we expected a lot of interest from mentees but what surprised us most was the strength of the response from mentors.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised; whether it’s through the development of leadership skills or as a reminder of the experience you have amassed, mentoring provides plenty of opportunities for personal growth. One study even suggests those benefits translate into material gain: research into the careers of over 1000 employees by firm Sun Microsystems found that mentors were six times more likely than their non-mentor counterparts to be promoted within a five-year period.
Why tech needs mentoring
Mentoring plays a vital part in advancing careers across all professions, but there is something about the nature of technology that makes access to mentoring programmes even more important. In an industry where the speed of development is so rapid, it is all too easy to feel outpaced after a career break. Add this to a culture where high-profile roles involve being at the mercy of client schedules and challenging deadlines, and the high drop-out rate for women becomes easier to understand.
Although the pandemic has opened up the debate around flexible working, many people with caring responsibilities (of which the majority are still female) feel the pressure to take ‘less challenging’ roles, swapping prestige projects for more manageable hours. It’s easy to see how this can lead to feelings of disenfranchisement and frustration.
This is where mentoring can play a role as part of a wider employee engagement strategy, helping those individuals to find new ways to navigate their role, stay visible and make their contributions count.
Having access to a mentor at a critical career juncture like this is also vital to building confidence. As one woman told me, “it’s not about knowing everything; technology moves too quickly for that, but it’s about feeling secure enough to ask questions, even if you suspect you’re the only one in the room that doesn’t know the answer.”
Furthermore, while we can—and should—celebrate the fact that there are so many different routes into a career in tech, we must also acknowledge that this means very few people are following a well-established pathway to promotion. Visibility is crucial if we want to persuade a more diverse range of people that tech offers career opportunities for them.
In an industry where the hypergrowth markets weren’t even buzzwords a decade ago, we can all benefit from being reminded of what is possible. Mentoring can open doors to new worlds for so many people; worlds where their talent, perspective and lived experience are desperately needed.
Rosie Ifould is Head of Customer Engagement at Frank Recruitment Group, which is part of B2B service Tenth Revolution Group.