Why women in tech need mentorship that goes beyond good intentions

It’s no secret the technology sector has a problem with gender representation. The number of women working in tech is vastly lower than in most other sectors. In the UK, just 17% of tech workers are female — while in the US, it’s a mere 20%.

Despite most enterprises understanding the strong ‘business case’ for diverse teams — for example, a study by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians — female representation in the sector, especially at more senior levels, hasn’t improved significantly through the years.

Making adequate change is no mean feat, it requires major political and cultural shifts — all this takes time. However, according to Hillary Ashton, EVP and GM of augmented reality at PTC, each of us at our own level can make a major difference through mentoring.

Diversity in technology: The playbook of best practice

What are the best practices for improving the levels of gender diversity within technology, or any company for that matter?

“I don’t think anybody gets to where they get to without being fortunate enough to find people who want to help them be successful,” she said. “Certainly, in my early career, my success was shaped by the people I encountered who were positive role models and enablers.”

To do her part for other women in the tech, Ashton became a member of the ‘Women of PTC’ employee resource group, a global community dedicated to empowering women to take charge of their careers both inside the organisation and in the broader marketplace and community. For her, it’s all about making a positive difference and helping make her workplace more inclusive.

Getting mentorship right

However, while becoming a mentor is great, Ashton explained, if not done right, mentorship programmes will not deliver positive results for women. Her views, in this regard, have been shaped by both her own experiences and Susan Colantuon‘s ‘missing 33%’ TED Presentation (below).

In this talk, ‘the missing 33%’ refers to the financial and commercial acumen women leaders are missing in their progression to the top. According to Colantuono’s research, often when women are given career advice, mentors tend to focus on improving their assertiveness and confidence, such as their ability to raise their hands or speak up in meetings. While men, on the other hand, are more commonly encouraged to improve their commercial acumen. Colantuono’s research also found that men are more likely to mentor other men on the missing 33%.

“Good intentions are one thing, but you want to be learning from the people who are really driving success in the organisation, those are the teams you want to be on and the people you want to be with.” — Hillary Aston

“When I’m mentoring, I always say follow the money; that’s where the action is,” said Ashton. “While it’s great to know how to speak up and be more confident, fundamentally, it’s your ability to have a positive financial impact on your company that will get you ahead.

“For me, all this information is an opportunity to improve on how we counsel women and other diverse candidates — less on the soft skills and more on the important stuff.”

Ashton added that this issue should also be considered by mentorees when they are looking for a coach.

“Maybe pick somebody who is just not trying to do a nice thing, pick someone who is doing it because they want you to be successful,” she said. “Good intentions are one thing, but you want to be learning from the people who are really driving success in the organisation, those are the teams you want to be on and the people you want to be with.”

Making mentorship inclusive

Ashton also argued that if you want to encourage more women up the ranks it’s not enough to focus on diversity alone: you must make diversity actionable. According to Ashton, you can do this by focusing on inclusivity.

For her, inclusivity is the act of promoting diversity and developing an environment where all kinds of people can thrive and succeed.

“Diversity is easy to measure, you can physically see it, but measuring inclusivity is tricky,” she added. “When you’re mentoring, you need to think about your behaviour and consider if you’re taking the right actions.”

To achieve positive change, the tone must be set from the top, argued Ashton. Diversity needs to be an intrinsic part of the living, breathing culture of the organisation. Mentors that are spearheading change are those that consider it daily.

Related articles

CISO: Why the role is no longer about working in ‘black’ and ‘white’

Can collaboration elevate women in the payments industry?

Study addresses the lack of role models and recognisable women in STEM

Bring the women back to tech, or risk a gender brain drain


Avatar photo

Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future

Related Topics

Women in Tech