Mentoring for women in technology

Mentoring. ©iStock.com/gguy44
©iStock.com/gguy44

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By Athina Frantzana, Ph.D. Candidate at EPCC, The University of Edinburgh

A few days ago, I attended my first mentoring event in the technology industry, organised by Girl Geek Scotland, in Edinburgh. I am not really looking for a mentor myself, because I am lucky enough to already have one. But as I have experienced the benefits of having a mentor, I would like to become one and support someone else the same way. Therefore, I attended the event to find out what these people, who are looking for a mentor, are actually looking for, and if I have the skills to be one.

Additionally, responses to questions about mentoring on a survey I carried out as part of my research for Women in High Performance Computing (WHPC) show that the majority of the respondents (89.7% of the 409 people that answered that they have been involved in mentoring) find that mentoring has been a positive experience. Some of the most common among the respondents’ aspects that made mentoring a positive experience are: expanding knowledge, new ideas, guidance, feedback, having someone to talk to, engagement with new/junior staff members and the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’. Another interesting finding of this survey is that the majority of the respondents who answered that they have never had a mentor or they have never been a mentor (317 responses), would like to have a mentor (117 responses) or would like to be a mentor (91 responses). So, according to these responses, mentoring seems to work and I wanted my attendance to this event to support this idea.

The event started with a ‘delicious’ networking period, with drinks and snacks, and it ended the same way. It was very easy and fun to blend in and meet new people. The vast majority of the attendees were female, but I could say that this was expected since the event was organised by a female orientated community.

There were three main parts of the event: a short presentation, group discussions and a conclusion. The presentation provided us with some information and tips about mentoring and what follows next at the event. The longest and most interesting part was the group discussions. In groups of about 8 persons, we had the chance to meet people, learn about their background, their needs and concerns, and share business cards and even business ideas. At the conclusion, the most important reasons of finding a mentor were revealed, by raising hands. According to that, the majority of the attendees were looking for someone to provide career advice, either for starting or changing career. Other reasons were: tech support, help with interviews and CV, and very few were looking for more personal support about self-confidence issues, inspiration and workplace behaviours. This seems quite encouraging, since these matters are of great concern, especially when it comes to women in tech, and STEM in general. However, I believe that this happened this time, because the majority of the attendees of this event were young women who have just started their career or are about to, and they haven’t yet experienced or been concerned about such issues.

Attending such an event was a great experience, as I had the chance to talk about my skills, concerns and ideas, and listen to others’. Also, I met lovely, interesting people and potentially someone to mentor. I absolutely recommend attending this kind of events, because after all, meeting new people and talking feels good!

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  • Athina Frantzana is a PhD research student in EPCC (Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre) at the University of Edinburgh, and she is a member of WHPC since 2014. Her research focuses on gender diversity in the HPC community, the causes, the problems this brings to the community, and the benefits of increasing diversity. She has participated in several conferences related to gender equality matters (Gender Summit 4, 6, 7), as well as HPC related conferences (EASC, PRACEDays, ISC) as attendee, volunteer, speaker, and with posters. Within WHPC, apart from her research, Athina supports the social media team,and the events and workshops organised by WHPC with administrative work. She has a scientific background with an MSc in Mineralogy-Petrology-Geochemistry. 

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