Mentoring – is it different for women?

I was at a meeting organised by Amanda Davie at Reform, which looked at the need for a mentoring scheme aimed specifically at women working in the digital industry.

It was a great meeting.
I met some great women.
The mentoring potential in the room was awesome.

Ah, if only I was 30 years younger and had just one of those women going into bat for me. I could have invented facebook, or, at the very least, been running Microsoft.

I’ll tell you how the scheme develops over the coming weeks, but, in the meantime, the meeting got me thinking about the whole area of mentoring, whether women need specific schemes and what is it about the nature of digital disciplines that might make women less, or more, enfranchised?

I started to think about my early year’s in the newspaper industry. One thing I remembered was that, when I started out, I was my own worst enemy. I remember attending an interview and saying that I had ambitions to work in the magazine industry. Why? I was asked. Because I thought that it would be easier for a woman to get on in magazines than in newspapers, I replied. I was in a room full of blokes, all with newspaper backgrounds, and you could have heard a pin drop.

The fact is I’ve seen women struggle through glass ceilings only to pull the ladders up behind them to prevent other women getting through. I’ve seen men and women extend the hand of support and give me and others, opportunities that I can only wonder at in retrospect. They had faith. They gave us a chance. They gave us the confidence to give something new (and scary) a go.

And I suppose that’s what we all need – faith, opportunity and confidence. And, I suspect, that’s what good mentoring comes down to.

I distinguish mentoring from other types of ‘help’, such as old boy networks. Old boy networks are predicated on something different entirely. They’re based on giving someone a leg up because they happened to go to the right school (or be the ‘right’ gendre).

Modern mentoring is all about spotting the potential in someone, or coaxing out that potential, so they can be the best they can be. In that respect, perhaps women are more able to spot potential in other women. And as digital disciplines are relatively young, the women who have experience in them are even more valuable (as younger industries don’t have a large population of veterans to call on).  These woman have seen their areas of expertise evolve at a breathtaking pace. In some areas they may well be the minority gendre. They recognise the issues – a lack of confidence, perhaps; lack of technical training, concerns around combining work and family…

I mention the latter but this is not about women needing different mentoring because they also make babies. Some women have families, some women don’t. It may be part of what makes you, you. It certainly isn’t all of what makes you, you. Not by a long chalk. But a mentor could just as easily be dealing with someone who wants to combine a fulfiling professional role with time to volunteer in the charity sector.

The fact is I warm intuitively to the idea of women, such as the ones in the meeting I attended, using their experiences, empathy and objectivity to mentor other women. And, as a woman, I set great store by my intuition.

» Find out more about Mentoring Women in Digital on LinkedIn