Why Tech Needs More Black Women, and Mentors For Them
As Black women, we're known for coming together, supporting, and engaging one another in our communities. We have our friends, family, sorors, church members, etc., but there's a gap regarding mentorship in our tech careers. Yes, systematically, the circumstances we face in tech that impact us are well documented- bias in the workplace, lack of resources, limited support in leadership and executive roles, and the pay wage gap (to name a few). Still, we find a way to thrive and succeed.
Although solving these issues isn't on us, there are ways to gain access and minimize the hardships in navigating our careers in tech- having a mentor is one of them. A mentor is someone more senior in their career who offers advice, connections, and industry insight to assist you in attaining your goals, increasing opportunities, and helping you navigate your career. For Black women, there's a significant impact on our careers when we have a mentor, like increasing salary earnings by 37.4% and job satisfaction.
Unfortunately, only Black women are only 3% of the tech industry, making it difficult to find a Black woman to mentor us. Unlike our white women counterparts, 91.8% of whom have white women mentors, only 64% of Black women are mentored by other Black women. This is due to a lack of representation at the executive and C-Suite level, leaving fewer people to mentor entry, mid, and senior-level engineers, developers, and managers. Those in a position to mentor may struggle due to their jobs' physical, mental, and emotional labor causing burnout. This means that Black women have to be more open to seeking mentorship outside their race and gender.
Build a Mentor Relationship
Despite the difficulty, finding the right mentor(s) for you is not impossible, and it's worth the benefits. The key is to build a relationship over time with this person that works for both of you. Set your intentions with them based on your goals, and create a cadence for communication (quarterly, monthly, weekly) via email, phone/video chats, or in-person. Be prepared with straightforward questions and professional topics for the conversation, share updates on your wins and struggles, and most importantly, be open to their feedback. Reciprocate in the relationship by adding value through listening, offering help when needed, and sharing information you have too.
Mentor Closer Than You Think
Mentorship can happen in various ways, and you are not limited to just one approach. Many people go the formal route of researching and reaching out to someone for an initial meeting, asking them to be a mentor. They might even attend conferences to meet successful, big names in the industry to connect with in person. These are great ways to be proactive about finding a mentor, but it could lead to disappointment because of the possibility that the person isn't a good fit or cannot commit to building a relationship with you.
Thinking outside of the box about people you already engage with online or IRL can be more fruitful. There may be people already in your orbit open and willing to mentor you based on a rapport already created. Consider the people you consistently engage with on social media in the comments, stories, or DMs. Maybe someone at your company who you admire from afar and find relatable and interesting during stand-ups or Slack channel conversations. Also, someone recommended and introduced to you by your current or former managers and colleagues. Even the person in your community group(s) you enjoy talking to casually about your industry and often learn something new from, feel inspired by, or give you great advice.
In larger companies and corporations, they have programs that offer mentorship pairing through Employee Resource Groups (ERG), DEI, and HR initiatives. These programs typically connect entry-level employees with senior-level managers to be mentored within the company. During your meetings, they help you navigate your career path (within the company) by listening to your goals, assigning and guiding you on projects outside your current workload, and exposing you to the company culture, including introductions to other senior-level staff. There may be different versions of these programs that you can ask your HR/employee resource team about or even suggest one be started.
Beyond work and reaching out to people directly, there are organizations with mentorship programs. They vary from professional organizations to private programs and non-profit organizations. Typically, through an application process, you'll be paired with a mentor. Joining often provides you with a network of other women to build relationships with via events, meet-ups, a Facebook group, etc., or other opportunities. Joining these programs usually comes with a time limit like 90 days, six months, or one year, and has requirements to fulfill the mentorship program.
Remember, finding the right mentor for you is a process that will change as you grow in your career. Be open to connecting with people who may or may not look like you but are willing to help. Stay encouraged and persistent in your mentor search if you're rejected, it may not be personal, and there are many avenues to take on your journey. Continue to build relationships of all kinds throughout your career; they may lead to people and opportunities you never imagined.