This year I had the opportunity to become a professional mentor with the TechWomen program. I am thankful to LinkedIn and Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives at Institute of International Education (IIE) for giving me this opportunity.
What is TechWomen?
TechWomen is a US-state sponsored program run by Center of Women’s Leadership Initiatives (CWLI) at Institute of International Education on behalf of US State Department. Participants include women in mid to senior level experience from countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South Asia. These Emerging Leaders come to the United States for a period of four weeks and get exposure to technology in Silicon Valley and interact with tech communities here.
There are three tracks of mentorship in the program cultural, professional and impact. If you are interested in becoming a mentor you can directly apply with their website or find out if you company has a formal program and apply through that channel. There are many other ways to get involved apart from mentorship — you could work with your company to host a TechWomen event, provide sponsorship or seed grants. Check here for some more suggestions.
A little more about being Professional Mentor
I applied to be a Professional Mentor this year. It was my first year and I was quite anxious about what was expected from me. At LinkedIn we have quite a few TechWomen alums, this is the fifth year we participated as a host company.
This year the LinkedIn WIT team put together a group of volunteers to make sure that basic processes are in place to set the first time mentors up for success. We paired the professional mentors in groups of three for each Emerging Leader. For example, for my EL Hiba Shabrouq from Jordan, we had Shakhina Pulatova, Group Product Manager; Sigal Traister, Senior Technical Program Manager and myself from Engineering as the three professional mentors. It was the first time for all of us and we participated with equal vigor, enthusiasm and energy.
As a Professional Mentor, you work very closely with the Emerging Leader for the three weeks that she spends at your company. You develop a close relationship with your mentee. You are there to help her achieve her professional goals.
Listen carefully to her ideas, her desire and her hope from this relationship before offering any advice.
You will have the opportunity to guide her and suggest certain projects, talks, or networking opportunities tailored toward her objectives. If you think something might be beneficial for her professional development, present it to her, but don’t push her to be a part of it, leave that choice to her.
It’s important not to treat her as an intern. The Emerging Leaders who are selected in this program are professionals and have experience in their respective industry. They are crème de la crème from their countries and their field of study. For example this year, out of four thousand applicants only a hundred were selected to come to the United States. So treat them respect and honor their wish.
Even you stand to learn from their diverse perspective and experience.
They also have a lot of things on their mind, a lot of events to attend, a lot to achieve. If she wants to work on her project, work with her on it. Ask her to present her project to you. Share the project management tools and tips from your experience, connect her with experts who are in the domain she wants to explore. It’s a lot like coaching, where you provide support where there is need but allow her to grow at her pace at the same time.
What did I get out of this?
My experience as a professional mentor has been very fulfilling. IIE does really amazing programming from planning the mentor kickoff and cultural kickoff to the delegation trips to DC and to the participating countries like Kazakhstan, Jordan, and others.
- Quality Relationships & Connections
TechWomen is a very vibrant community of passionate women leaders both mentors and Emerging Leaders. By being a part of this group, I connected with a lot amazing people inside and outside of LinkedIn. The commitment of Arezoo Riahi, Jillian Scott and the entire IIE team is so inspiring. The passion of professional mentors some of who have been a TechWomen mentor for six years and many other TechWomen mentors and ELs that I got to meet over the period of one month in the Bay Area and then connect again in Washington DC has been a very humbling experience.
Finally when you see your Emerging Leaders get the certificate at the end of the rigorous month long program, you feel like you’ve achieved something. I guess that is the same feeling a coach gets when her team wins the championship.
2. Lunch at Ben Franklin room
The special lunch for all the TechWomen mentors and mentees at the Diplomatic Relations room, Benjamin Franklin room was the cherry on the top. There was even vegan lunch served on request.
3. Chance to meet amazing women in tech
The entire program of TechWomen brings together a very amazing set of well accomplished women and male allies as mentors and Emerging Leaders. In Washington DC we got to listen to women leaders like Dr. Gale Allen, Acting Chief Scientist at NASA, Rebecca Keiser, Director of International Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation and Andrea Razzaghi, Astrophysics Division Deputy Director, NASA and many others. It was truly very inspiring. The three key pieces of advice that these women gave us to unlock our future and achieve our dreams were:
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask in a way that is comfortable and natural to you.
- Failure is necessary for success.
- Build your network of mentors, friends and champions. Keep in touch.
- Also give back to the community. Mentor a child from underrepresented community.
And, in the words of Andrea — “I never tell a girl how pretty she is, instead I ask her what she is interested in. So from the childhood you teach girls that looking pretty is not the first thing the world notices about them.”
Will I do this again?
Definitely. I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. It’s like fulfilling a bigger purpose. It opened up new avenues of partnership for me as well as increased my awareness of the world around me.