1. An experienced and trusted adviser.
Direct access to mentors, role models, and sponsors could play a fundamental shift in encouraging young women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.
Increasing the number of women in STEM fields and in leadership positions is an on-going challenge. Mentoring provides a medium for revolutionizing how we think of women in technology; showcasing the incredible achievements of women in STEM and providing a direct opportunity for women involved with technology to interact with the next generation of females. Through mentorship, we can inspire young women to enter what have traditionally been male-dominated fields, and to want to contribute to positively changing the world.
As a female engineer, I recognize that we need to do a better job showcasing the diverse opportunities in the science and engineering worlds available to the women of Gen Y. Essentially creating an excitement or ‘buzz’ to want to tackle challenging problems that can transform the world. Mentoring offers high-quality opportunities for young women to engage with, ask questions, and interact with someone in their possible field of interest. This provides a gateway to opportunities that these young women may not have otherwise had.
I certainly had female (and male) mentors throughout school. But it was a challenge to find and connect with women in technology. It was oftentimes a struggle to interact with women already in the field; to hear the lessons learned and exciting experiences from women already working with technology. I learned to take advantage of the female mentors I connected with, whether that was female professors, my instructor for my pilot’s license, or even a mentorship program through the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), where I was mentored by Maryse Carmichael (first female Commander of the Canadian Snowbirds).
Access to female mentors in STEM careers is significant because it provides opportunities for young women to ask questions about unknown career paths. This is about connecting the next generation of young females with women already accomplishing amazing feats in their fields. From the perspective of a mentor, it really is rewarding to be able to pass along knowledge and information that may have been hard to come by and to build an ongoing relationship of bi-directional learning and communication. Mentors and mentees are able to learn from each other, cultivating a curiosity for science, engineering, and technology across generations; really revolutionizing what women can accomplish in challenging fields. We as a society need to facilitate access to mentors for the next generation of female game-changers.
We need to be leveraging the fact that women are naturally mentors and nurturers. Fortunately women are very good at building communities and support systems. This will be indicative of a very powerful shift in technology over the next few decades as those who can build networks and provide access to mentors will be very successful. In terms of providing better access to female mentors; this can be done either specifically through mentorship programs or directly in the media. I am a tireless advocate for trying to get more women in tech and engineering at the forefront of the media – networks like Discovery – they need more female hosts on their shows discussing intelligent topics. We need the next generation of women to perceive STEM fields as part of the norm. Paving the way for future generations of female engineers and scientists could be as simple as ensuring that the majority of youth can identify a female scientist or engineer instead of a reality TV star.
The ultimate goal is the opportunity to engage a larger demographic with technology. Ultimately technology can and is going to revolutionize the world. There is something fulfilling about being able to build and design technology that can change the way we live and work. The world would be wise to have a much more diverse population advancing what technology can accomplish.