The Technical Torch: Proactive Mentorship At Its Best
It's no secret that professionals are often groomed by others who’ve paved the way in their chosen fields
I was certainly fortunate that some of IBM's most intelligent, perceptive and driven female executives took the time to guide me in the right direction. And, today, I’m happy to have the opportunity to pass the torch by mentoring young women across a variety of scientific disciplines. But, if it’s one thing I’ve learned about being the go-to for anyone in their career, it’s how to embrace being a truly proactive mentor.
Proactive can mean a variety of things. It can be as simple as monthly check-in calls, meetings or emails to stay in touch. For some, it can mean having a mentee assigned by Human Resources. But, to me, being a proactive mentor is so much more than this.
A little goes a long way when it comes to taking someone under your wing. I might think of one of my mentees for no particular reason and send a quick instant message only to find that I couldn’t have checked in at a more perfect time. And it works the other way around: more than once, one of my mentors has called out of the blue, just to say hello, at a time when I really needed to bounce ideas off of someone I trust—someone like a mentor. To me, being proactive is not just making yourself available at regularly scheduled meeting times—it is being there for your mentees any time they need you.
Years ago, I was chatting with a new hire shortly after she came on board. I asked her, just out of curiosity, why she’d taken the job—she was a well-qualified candidate who had her pick of positions at multiple companies. She told me that I was one of the reasons she decided to take the offer. Just by giving her my personal email address, offering her advice on house-hunting and making her feel like she could fit in at the company, we began a 10-year mentoring relationship based on the fact that I was there when she needed me to be—even before I became an official mentor.
Strong mentor/mentee relationships can also make the difference in terms of employee retention over the long term.
One of my mentees was heavily pursued by a major competitor and they made her an offer that must have been difficult to refuse. But when all was said and done, she did just that; she refused the offer from the competitor and stayed at IBM. When I asked her why she said she not only stayed because of her commitment to the company but also because she knew there were people here to support and encourage her achievement. To her, that was more than any amount of money a competitor could offer.
While making these connections is beneficial to the success of the mentor/mentee relationship, of equal importance is the ability to proactively seek out those who are truly looking for guidance—those who really want a mentor.
Every summer, IBM hosts EXITE camps, which are held around the world and target middle school students. During the week-long program, girls are able to meet female researchers, conduct simple science and chemistry experiments, and even give presentations on the projects they’ve completed. Each year, the campers range from young women who have excelled in science courses to those who might need an extra push—perhaps they have expressed an interest in science and technology, but may lack the confidence or means to pursue it. Each of these girls has a promising future and it’s our responsibility to assist them as they find their path, and many IBMers do so by staying in touch with the girls who attend the camp and mentor them for years to come.
In addition to mentoring young women in school and within your company, there is also the social networking approach. By joining MentorNet, an online network for diversity in engineering and science, one can easily make connections with college students who are looking for mentors.
No matter which approach you choose, you’ll soon find that mentoring opportunities come from a variety of places. And, as long as you mentor proactively, you’ll be surprised by how many people you can truly touch. If you truly care about influencing the future of science, technology and engineering, try being more proactive— reach out and make a difference.
Until next time!
About the Author:
Sharon L. Nunes
Vice President, Big Green Innovations, IBM Research
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