How to launch mentorship programs for women in tech

A lack of mentorship can be a barrier for many women in the workplace. This guide details how to create and run a successful mentorship for women at your company.

How tech companies can recruit and retain more women Learn about the benefits of creating a more diverse workforce and promoting women to leadership roles, reasons why women leave tech jobs, and tips on recruiting and retaining women at tech firms.

A report by ISACA found that 48% of women in tech felt that lack of female mentors was one of the biggest barriers in their workplace. A mentor can provide information and knowledge, stimulate personal and professional growth, offer reassurance and guidance, act as a confidant, and more. Mentorships are also a way to combat imposter syndrome--where one feels unqualified, unprepared, or undeserving of their job position--an issue often faced by women in the tech world.

Companies benefit from mentorship programs as well. Mentorships can:

  • Make companies more appealing to job seekers
  • Increase retention rates of female employees, an ongoing issue in the tech world
  • Facilitate communication in the workplace
  • Create a more skilled workforce
  • Help employees feel more valued and informed
  • Provide a low-cost (or in some cases free) way to enhance the company's workforce

Jen Grant, the CMO of Looker, explains: "There are still too few women at the executive and management levels of technology companies. It can often be isolating to be the only woman in the room. I have been fortunate to have strong female mentors at the early stages of my career that helped me grow into a strong leader."

Grant continues, "I remember great advice on how to stay calm, be seen as a listener, and present my ideas successfully. As I've moved into executive positions I've made it part of my personal mission to bring the same mentorship to other women. There is a huge gap between where we are today and where we should be--the only way to close that gap is to lift each other up."

Follow these steps from Chronus to create a successful female-focused mentorship program at your company. Many of these steps can be applied to mentorships for all employees.

SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. How to design a female-focused mentorship program

A good way to start is to ask women at your company for their input about the mentorship program. Next, establish its design--this includes the goals, connection type, frequency, and duration.

Clearly defined goals at the onset of the program will help it succeed. Is the goal to increase female representation in management by 50% by the end of the year? Would you like mentees to learn new job skills like leadership, time management, or collaboration? Does workplace communication need to be improved?

There are several connection types to consider:

  • 1:1: One mentor and one mentee
  • Group: One mentor leading a group of mentees
  • Team: More than one mentor leading a group of mentees
  • Peer mentoring: People in similar job roles mentor each other

SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (Tech Pro Research)

Frequency of meetings can vary depending on program goals; the mentor(s)/mentee(s) can meet daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, etc. The duration of the mentorship is goal dependent--it may last from one month to one year. Also, by establishing an end date, it can help keep the program on track.

Adding structure to a mentorship program is a critical step in ensuring its success because it increases focus and accountability.

2. How to attract participants to the mentorship program

It is important to make sure that the invitation to be a mentor or a mentee is open to all women within the company, rather than just managers and executive-level employees. One particular benefit of having female managers participate is that it sends the message that leaders at your company support and value the mentorship program.

Also, offering incentives, such as extra PTO/vacation time, stock options, bonuses, etc., might motivate more employees to participate.

SEE: Women in tech: Solving for XX (CNET)

3. How to ensure good connections

Make sure that mentors and mentees are compatible--this will help both parties get the most out of the program. One way to accomplish this is to create profiles by asking participants to list their role within the company, what they want to get out of the program, interests, hobbies, where they went to college, and so on. This will make it easier to match potential mentors with mentees and vice versa.

4. Why providing company guidance is important

Company involvement adds another level of accountability to the program. Companies should inform mentors and mentees about the purpose of the program and provide all parties with the necessary resources.

5. Why it's helpful to measure the program

Depending on the duration and structure, it might be good to check in at intervals during the mentorship, especially in case some additional resources or advice might be needed. Interviewing participants also gives them the chance to reflect on what they've gained from the experience.

Where can I get more information about female-focused mentorship programs?

For more information, resources, and inspiration, visit: #MentorHer, Lean In, Chronus, Million Women Mentors, and the Society of Women Engineers.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes