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Three ways to reach out to women in IT: Mentor, advocate, encourage

A dinner this week on women in IT focused on midlevel women in technology and their challenges in getting ahead, given their frequently high family responsibilities and their own perceptions (realities?) of what advancing really demands. The program, featuring Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and sponsored by CA, featured research on 1,795 women who work for technology companies in Silicon Valley, but sounded out themes that would resonate with any woman in IT regarding workplace realities and work/life balance.

The institute’s mission is “changing the world for women in technology one woman at a time.” You might also say that overcoming this gender gap means improving IT, corporate America and entrepreneurship one person at a time, since allowing success breeds more of it. Here are some of the ways we can all make that happen:

Be a mentor. Women need mentors, and often those mentors are men, who are three times more likely to be in a leadership position, according to Whitney. A story we did on high-powered women in IT also showed that nearly all of them had male mentors at some time in their career. No mentoring program at your organization? Start one. It needn’t (and shouldn’t) be gender-specific; the point is to get senior people involved in mentoring promising midcareer professionals.

Advocate for a family-friendly company culture. Some companies allow job shares or a split workday so parents can be home when school’s out or there are soccer games. My company, for instance, is very big on flextime, and we have a very generous maternity leave (12 paid weeks of time off). You can bet I work with a lot of smart folks who are also young parents.

Encourage our daughters, nieces and granddaughters to consider the sciences. Just one in four college or graduate science students today is a woman.

Then once they pursue the studies, help them get the skills they need for the workplace. One attendee suggested giving them the book Women Don’t Ask. And in that vein, let’s all tell someone today what we need to succeed, or reach out to a younger colleague with an offer of support. We can make change happen too, one person at a time.

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