On women’s events, and mentoring

Last year, I wanted to make an effort to surround myself with more female influences in life and work. As I stray further from industrial design roots, and more into the technology world, I wanted to make sure that I am listening to opinions that are helping to shape a better future for that tech world.

I joined Ada’s list, and now I have a daily addition of news, feedback, ideas, opinions, events, and inspiration from ladies working in stem, from all across the world.
It’s introduced a raft of opinions and ideas into my life, I can see my opinions, outlook, interests and bookshelf all changing because of the conversations I’m now exposed to. It’s led me to join a few more groups; I’ve started coding with codebar, and signed up with Girls inTech.

Last month, Girls In Tech paired with Inspiring Fifty (a group gathering the 50 most inspiring women in technology, from across Europe) to host a round-table and speed mentoring session. A call for entrants, quick google form and 48 hour wait and I had a ‘congratulations’ email. The plan : listen to 50 fantastic women, chat to a few, meet more of my peers, take a tour around Downing Street …. wait, what?
Yes, this partnership event would happen at Downing Street under that watchful eye of Ada herself, who’s portrait hangs in the 1st floor reception rooms. David even tweeted about it.

40 Girls in Tech representatives were selected, we found each other on Twitter beforehand and days later arrived at the security gates in the first grasps of Spring sunshine. You are scanned through, knock on the door to no.10 and immediately hand over all electronics. There are portraits and marble everywhere, a brilliant globe at the base of ‘that’ staircase, some fantastic art and a swingset in the back garden. We enjoyed a tour, including a rare visit the the Cabinet Room where we spoke about the momentous discussions between those very walls, and the revelation that daily practice still includes very little technology. Cabinet Members are asked to hand over phones and laptops too. Discussions at the heart of our government is still noted on paper, with pen.

Meanwhile our sister group were upstairs, elbow to elbow around a giant table. Each was given a few moments to introduce herself and share a few words of encouragement and intention for this grouping of women. Time was quickly running away, and the Girls in Tech group had been promised some speed mentoring and mingling, so we were invited in to listen to the second half of introductions. Entering a room with 50 of the most prominent women in digital is a bit of an experience, and it’s also a physical issue — where do 40 more sit?
We were asked to take seats around the outside of the room, between more marble, oils and walnut. Some brief glances confirmed we were all thinking the same thing; “what would Sheryl say?!” and then quickly “Is it wrong to think that?” A room full of only-women shouldn’t decree the new rules we are slowly-but-surely following; was it the stately nature of our location influencing a new hierarchy?

Needless to say, introductions to fantastic women were made, and it was lovely to be invited in to listen to the conversation. It was slightly unexpected to hear stories from women I consider far above me struggling with the same only-girl-in-the-room issues we read in blog post after blog post. I realised that just because these women have been in the situations longer, doesn’t mean they’ve found fixes to the problems — we all need to begin incorporating new behaviours as the ‘new normal’ in our workplaces and homes.

Now I love an inspirational speech, workshop, tutorial, conference as much as the next gal — but my heart sinks at the thought of networking. I’ve not got the entrepreneurial go-getter attitude that enables people to talk with complete strangers. These situations make me feel incredibly awkward. But when you get invited to no.10 and the networking is branded as mentoring, you suck it up and make sure you’re wearing something name-tag-appropriate.

I had some great conversations with peers, a quick chat with my top pick of the 50, and probably most importantly, a fairly challenging conversation with another:
Unsurprisingly, of the 50 women chosen many have set up numerous businesses, and are keen to encourage entrepreneurship in the next rank. I explained that I’m not looking to set up my own business; that I work to my best ability in a small group, I enjoy the feeling of a common goal within a larger team, that I’m working with brilliant minds and loving the fact that I get to learn from them everyday.
These statements were brushed off and replaced with a request that I DO set up my own business, tomorrow if possible, and rise to the glittering top myself while having numerous babies! I sighed, inwardly.

We have discussed at length that women do not need to behave like men to succeed in businesses, that a new vision of success needs to incorporate many ways of working. I think the language used within startups needs to echo this change, else there will continue to be one personality type who succeeds in those circles.

Which got me thinking about mentoring. About matching an experienced person with a bright-eyed and ready-to-learn younger professional. Typically, mentoring relies on Goal Setting and then finding helpful resources, people and training to work towards those goals. I’m really interested as to how this can flex within the specialist vs generalist debate, and when your 5 year plan doesn’t have a formalised finish line, but is in constant adaption.

Last week I was lucky enough to receive acceptance into a new mentoring experiment. It’s called Glassbreakers, and aims to link women with women across industries. They talk in these words :

“Mentorship is a key solution for professional success. Everyone on Glassbreakers is a mentor. We all have something to offer, something to teach and something to share. Peer mentorship creates mutually beneficial relationships. Approach every connection knowing you both have knowledge to give and to receive.”

Great huh? I’ve found 2 matches already, and am ready to start this version of mentoring. I’m looking forward to honest conversations, finding new inspirations and encouraging ideas. Expect updates.

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