This article is a guest blog post by Microsoft employee Fatema Kothari as part of the Humans of IT Guest Bloggers series.
I have always strongly believed in the value of mentoring. As a first-generation woman graduate in my family, I sought out role models who I could turn to for guidance. As a fresh, new-on-the-job engineer, I quickly realized that relying on my network for feedback was critical to compounding my learning in the workplace. Once my career as a tech leader got cemented, I couldn’t help but notice inequities that affected underrepresented minorities in tech. I became inspired as I saw tech icons lend their voice to conversations around these issues, and I started to build my own pipeline. I began training women early on in their careers to help them create their own startups.
Researching initiatives that provided opportunities for women technologists, I came across the TechWomen program. Launched in 2011, TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education (IIE) that has brought more than 600 women from 22 countries across Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia to spend five weeks interning at various tech companies in Silicon Valley. I took a chance and signed up to attend the end-of-program gathering for the 2015 cohort. The room was energetic and filled with women who were raring to go make a socio-economic impact in their communities through use of technology. I had found my community.
The following year, I was selected as an Impact Coach for the 2016 cohort of Emerging Leaders (ELs). Since then, I have mentored with the program every year for two reasons: I love the people I work with through TechWomen, and I love the problems we solve. My favorite aspect of TechWomen is the Action Plan - each country team builds a business plan to answer a basic question: "If you could solve any social issue in your country, what would it be? How would you do it?".
The reason why TechWomen works is because it operates in the sweet spot of technology, citizen diplomacy, and supportive relationships.
Citizen diplomacy is the concept that everyone has the right, and perhaps even the responsibility, to engage across cultures and create shared understanding through meaningful person-to-person interactions. Widely recognized as a powerful force in building and sustaining a secure, economically sound, and socially interconnected world, citizen diplomacy builds individual and collective global fluency and develops leadership skills by solving problems. In an era of unprecedented interconnectivity, technologists from around the world can share information and ideas instantaneously and work together to resolve shared challenges.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, most mentoring programs typically rely on single mentor-mentee matches, pairings that by nature are quite formal and hierarchical, when in fact all the evidence shows that most people - especially women - prefer mentorships of a more reciprocal and mutual form. Even relatively brief interactions can lead to increasingly transformative developmental relationships.
And that’s where the magic of TechWomen is undeniable. Emerging leaders from different countries develop close friendships with each other. Mentors provide feedback and resources to the ELs through their years of experience in the tech industry. Through conversations and collaborations on shared projects, the community constantly engages to form strong, lasting relationships that truly help exchange our world.
If you have been contemplating the value of being a mentor, I strongly encourage you to explore programs like TechWomen within your community. It is, quite frankly, an amazing opportunity to work alongside qualified and talented women technologists to solve real issues that have the potential to change the lives of millions of people. As technologists, we need to understand each other better and come together as a community to solve problems. Sharing ideas and values can only make us better humans.
Not able to commit to a full in-person mentorship program? You can still give back and mentor others by signing up as a Community Mentor via the free Microsoft Community Mentors program. Learn more about the Community Mentors mobile mentoring app below:
We can all do our part to share our knowledge, expertise and time to help uplift, support and amplify others in our community. Will YOU become a mentor today?
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