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Mentoring: A Call to Arms for Advancing Gender-Balance

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It’s so easy to forget our recent past and forget how far we have come, particularly here in Ireland, says Sarah Cunningham, VP of Mastercard’s Dublin technology hub. 

Many women in my generation have had career opportunities that our mothers could only ever have dreamed of.

The year my own mother got married, Ireland’s marriage bar still forbade married women from working in public sector jobs … a ban which kept women out of most private companies as well. Though significant progress has been made, only 18% of CEO positions were held by woman in 2018. 

Sadly many women struggle to progress beyond mid-management not by choice or lack of talent but rather due to a lack of confidence, a lack of support, or difficulty getting their foot back in the door post career-break.

 

If you are a senior business leader and you don’t currently mentor at least a couple of talented, future female leaders – I urge you to make this your 2019 Resolution.

 

Coaching, mentoring and nurturing our female talent is one simple action that all leaders, male and female, can and should commit to in order to achieve faster progress towards gender-balance at all levels of seniority.

After all, it is all of our responsibility to make sure that the future of technology leadership is bright, and it’s crucial we ensure women are part of that journey now and for future generations.

So this article is really more of a Call To Action. If you are a senior business leader, male or female, and you don’t currently mentor at least a couple of talented, future female leaders – I urge you to make this your belated 2019 Resolution.

 

If you are female talent in the early or mid-stages of your career, don’t wait for somebody to assign you a mentor – take control and seek out your own

 

Equally, if you are female talent in the early or mid-stages of your career, I encourage you not to wait for somebody to assign you a mentor who may or may not be the right fit for your needs – but rather to take control and seek out your own mentor(s).

Before you approach anybody however, be clear on your objectives and any specific challenges for which you are seeking guidance. Then think about your network of senior leaders and ask yourself:

  • Who is most qualified to provide guidance given my specific objectives and challenges?
  • Who has faced similar obstacles along their career journey?
  • Who is in a position to sponsor me and help me attain positive visibility amongst the senior leadership team?

Once you are clear on your objectives and your ‘best-fit’ mentor, be bold and approach them. What’s the worst that could happen? If they say they don’t have the time right now, then move to your ‘next-best-fit’ mentor… and keep going until you have sufficient support in place. 

 

Build your network by attending industry-specific or skill-set specific events

 

But don’t stop there. No matter what your level, try to have one or two trusted ‘peer mentors’ who you meet with regularly. These are those colleagues, about your own level, whose advice you revere and whose confidence you trust. And that works both ways. 

The great thing about peer mentors is that you are more likely to be able to catch them ‘on the fly’ for advice ‘in the moment’, unlike more senior mentors whose time you may need to book weeks in advance. 

Another great strategy to build your network is to attend industry-specific or skill-set specific events. Don’t despair if you don’t have the time or budget to attend the big, headline-making conferences, often you are more likely to make a connection at a smaller, informal event.

Websites like meetup.com are a great start to discovering local groups convening on a relevant topic. And if you don’t find a meetup in your area that meets your needs, then take the lead and establish one!

 

Mentoring is not a silver bullet, nor can it solve complex societal issues, but it is a great start and it is something that each and every one of us can get behind.

 

It is my belief that mentors are not “one-size-fits-all”. I myself have multiple mentors: senior mentors, peer mentors, female mentors, male mentors, internal mentors and external mentors. After all, one perspective in isolation may be myopic.

Similarly, I don’t just mentor one colleague. I am a formal mentor to three internal colleagues and one external colleague, a reciprocal peer mentor to a handful of other internal and external colleagues and I was recently invited to join a peer-to-peer group comprising a small mix of leaders from diverse industry sectors, experiences and nationalities who meet once a quarter to share learnings and inspire each other.

Mentoring is not a silver bullet, nor can it solve complex societal issues, but it is a great start and it is something that each and every one of us can get behind. We can all offer our wisdom and learn from others.

Let’s all make a resolution to row together towards one common gender-balance goal, celebrating each other’s successes and lifting each other up along the way.

For more on this topic, check out 25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

About the Author

Sarah Cunningham Mastercard

Sarah Cunningham is Vice President of Mastercard’s Dublin Technology Hub where she is focused on growing the impact of Mastercard’s Dublin operation. The Dublin Tech Hub is Mastercard’s only Tech Hub in Europe with over 400 employees and growing – the majority of whom are technologists dedicated to shaping Mastercard’s global future in payments security solutions, APIs, cutting-edge emerging technologies, and much more.

Over her 20-year career, Sarah has held various Strategy, Marketing and Leadership positions in companies including Google, BT Retail UK, CapGemini and Accenture.

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