Last week I was privileged to participate in the annual meeting of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI), a consortium of universities working to increase the number of Hispanic students who pursue and complete degrees in Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE). CAHSI’s annual meeting had the theme Developing the Next Generation of Leaders Through Mentoring. Since January is National Mentoring Month, I’d like to share some highlights from a CAHSI panel on Mentoring Lessons Shared that included a variety of successful mentoring programs and relationships:
Katy Dickinson of Sun Microsystems described the Sun Engineering Enrichment & Development (SEED) mentorship program, which she manages. SEED uses a formal process for accepting new and established engineering employees into the program and matching them with senior-level engineers and company executives who have volunteered to be mentors. The goal of the SEED program is to make both the mentee and the mentor “more valuable to Sun and more satisfied with their careers at Sun.” Another goal is to foster diversity by reaching out to groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering. Sun has found the SEED program to be cost-effective in producing substantial, measurable benefits for mentees, their managers, their mentors, and the company.
Dilma Da Silva of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center talked about the importance of mentors, including Turing Award-winner Fran Allen, in the development of her own career — mentors who recommended her for positions and otherwise opened doors. Even after formal mentoring programs end she has often kept a relationship going with those mentors. Dilma now serves as a mentor herself, both online and in middle schools, spending about 30 minutes monthly on each student. Her mentoring is done both informally and formally through the MentorNet, Empowering Alliance, and Girl Game Company programs. Her protégés are often grad students and they often came to her in crisis (e.g. is Computer Science really the right career for me, etc.). She advised the students in attendance to remember that “mentoring can be helpful before the crisis!”
Gaby Aquilera of Google shared the story of a new mentoring group at Google that started with an email list for women engineers. It began when a few senior women on the list made time to review and provide feedback for junior women working on their performance reviews. There was enough interest that the group decided to formalize the process and started with 14 hand-matched pairs over 6 months. The program is focused on career mentoring around the performance review process, and mentees were matched with peer mentors at the same level or up. The successful program was then opened up beyond the women and in the next round had 60 pairs. As the program has grown, they’ve moved from hand-matching pairs to assigning the next open mentor on the list. The program has worked well because mentees begin with a goal, such as wanting a promotion, and a starting plan of action.
Amie Aldana of MentorNet discussed their E-Mentoring Network for Diversity in Engineering and Science. MentorNet has been around for 11 years and currently matches STEM students from 107 campuses with mentors from over 1,000 companies and organizations. Mentors average about 15 min/month with their students in an 8-month guided relationship. One special initiative of interest to the CAHSI participants is MentorNet’s Latinas in Computing portal, funded by Texas Instruments, Sun Microsystems, and Rockwell Collins to guide more Latinas to IT professions. Amie shared some interesting result from a recent MentorNet study on the question, “Does a mentor’s race/gender matter?” They found that in a cross-race mentoring pair are just as satisfied as those in a same-race pair, which is helpful because sometimes they can’t provide an exact match. But their findings on male versus female mentors for female protégés are mixed: In some years males are deemed just as successful as mentors for females, and in other years female mentors for female protégés delivered higher satisfaction.
There were a number of common threads in the panelists’ presentations and in the open forum discussion that followed. One was the mentee/protégé’s responsibility to drive the mentoring relationship based on their personal career goals and development needs. Another was the generosity of the mentors who take time to give back to those who follow in their footsteps, and their feeling that they also receive benefits from the relationship. There was a thread of commitment to the value of diversity. And there was one other thread that might not have been obvious to anyone but an Anita Borg Institute (ABI) staff member like me: ABI’s web of connections with the panelists. Sun, IBM and Google are ABI partners; ABI has a formal affiliation with MentorNet; Dilma and Gaby are active members of Latinas in Computing; Katy is a member of ABI’s Board of Advisors and participates in the ABI Ambassadors program, where women starting new technical women’s groups are being mentored by those who have successfully established their groups.