The mentoring mandate
And when it comes to bringing and keeping women on board, there’s no substitute for woman-to-woman mentoring. According to the Catalyst study, women who list another woman as the most helpful person in their careers are more likely than other women to have reached the top one or two reporting levels in a company. “Thus, while it is true that support and mentoring by higher-level executives -- both male and female -- are essential to developing leaders, we find that women mentoring women is of special importance,” the study says.
“I consider it part of my job,” IBM’s Carter says. “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here where I am today.”
And it’s mentoring programs that are formed organically, rather than those mandated by HR, that are most successful.
“Organizations that seem to do the best tend to have mentoring programs that are initiated by, led by, and participated in by women leaders in the company,” says Baxter’s Terrell, who spent several years working in the male-dominated auto industry before signing on with her current employer. “When women are supported by the senior line managers of a business, that’s when you see things take off.”
Formal or ad hoc, these programs can prove pivotal for companies hoping to find and guide future directors and execs. Cisco’s Ullal -- who says she has received so many requests to be a mentor that she could make it her full-time job -- serves as the executive sponsor of the Women in Technology Action Committee at Cisco. “It’s basically a forum to get several women of several ranks together,” she says. “I want to identify the next hundred future potential leaders.”
Not only that but, as IBM’s Carter says, banding together makes women more visible at a company, which is important because boardroom decisions still often happen on the golf course.
“If you are a CEO you need to recognize this and set the tone of including women,” Carter says. “Now, every time the guys go out to smoke cigars, I’ll get invited. I won’t go, but I’m invited.”
In the meantime, women continue to face significant challenges building a fulfilling career in IT. And it will take an active, hands-on approach to improve not only the prospects for women but also the ability of IT organizations to attract the kind of talent necessary to compete in an ever-evolving global marketplace. Baxter’s Terrell, as do many women tech execs, takes this challenge personally.
“This is the debt that I owe to the women whose shoulders I’m standing on -- the late-50s women nearing the end of their careers who made it happen for me,” Terrell says. “But I don’t do it out of gratitude. I do it because [quoting Margaret Mead] ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ We’ve not yet embraced the impact we have to solve this problem, and we need to do that soon. My mentors are about to exit the marketplace.”