Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes from Our First Discussion Group

This morning we had a small but enthusiastic group meet at B Java for the first Women & Hi Tech Discussion group. It was a very engaging and enlightening discussion. As promised, I’m posting some highlights of the discussion for the benefit of those of you who weren’t able to join us in person.

So, what would entice someone to go to a meeting at 6:45 on a cold, snowy morning? Everyone who attended expressed a desire to connect with other women in the community who are facing other challenges. These are all women who would like to be more involved with Women & Hi Tech but who found that meeting times and/or locations just didn’t work with their schedules. It is a constant challenge. You can’t ever choose a meeting time and/or location that will work for everyone. I am open to suggestion though. If you have alternate times/days/locations, I’m more than willing to give them a try and see who can attend.

So, now to this month’s topic – Mentoring. We began by discussing the value of finding a mentor outside of your own company. For those of us who work for large companies, we can be a bit insular and not look for best practices outside of our own walls. For those who work in smaller companies, available mentors may be few and far between, so it may be necessary to look outside for the mentoring you need.

Which led us to the topic of finding a mentor. Several of us have had the experience of being turned down when asking someone to be our mentor. You feel like you’re putting yourself out there by asking in the first place, and being turned down can be more than a little discouraging. It can even lead you to give up and stop asking. People who are known to be good mentors seem to be in high demand and tend to get more requests than they have time to support. What would be desirable in that case would be in these individuals could also provide a list of back up mentors. A no wouldn’t sting quite as much if an alternative was offered.

Another interesting topic was when is it too late to get a mentor? If you feel that you have passed up opportunities early in your career for mentoring, can you still avail yourself mid-career? Does there come a point when you should shift your focus from finding a mentor to being a mentor?

One insightful comment was that a good mentoring program consists of a social network of people with the right disposition as well as the interest to be mentors. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor, no matter how successful they have been in their own careers. Good mentors are genuinely interested in fostering the growth of others and willing to make a commitment to their protégés. In order for mentoring to be successful there has to be a commitment on the part of both people to meet regularly. One member of our group shared a story about having her meetings with her mentor cancelled because something else came up. After a while, she just stopped trying to schedule these meetings. She said that now that she is a mentor, she makes it a priority to reschedule as soon as possible when she needs to reschedule meetings with her protégés.

So, what about the perception that your mentor needs to be someone very senior in an organization? We all agreed that this was definitely not our experience and that sometimes the best advice came from those “in the trenches” with us.

We also discussed the differences between having a male vs. a female mentor. The prevailing sentiment was that women mentors better understood our challenges of juggling work and family obligations. Whereas men will be able to tell you what you need to do to be successful. Despite talking a good game about the importance of work/life balance, most successful men don’t seem to practice what they preach.

We found the concept in the article of having a “personal board of directors” an interesting one. We’d never really thought of applying mentoring outside of our professional lives. That being said, when we began discussing the idea we all realized that we do have advisors for many phases of our lives (financial advisors, spiritual advisors, etc.), we just didn’t think of it as “mentoring” per se. It’s about having a support network we can tap into when we need advise, which is really what mentoring is all about.

We talked about the possibility of Women & Hi Tech being a conduit for matching up mentors and protégés. It would be nice if we could somehow develop a list of people who are looking for mentors in a particular area with people who are willing to be mentors. It would be great if people could sign up listing both their areas of expertise as well as areas where people would like advice and mentoring. As an interim solution, I’d like to invite anyone who is looking for a mentor to post a request on my blog. Let’s see if we can’t do some match-making.

We ended by discussing potential topics for future meetings. I’ve already begun working on March’s topic – networking. More to come on that in early March. Here were some of the suggestions from this morning’s meeting:

  • Handling e-mail and other communication – dealing with “information overload"
  • Invite winners of the recent Leading Light Awards to come and talk about the accomplishments that led to their nomination
  • Hosting a “Speed Networking” event

What do you think? What topics would you like to see us explore in future meetings or online?

I’m looking forward to the meeting next week. I’ve had a good response and there’s still time to sign up if you haven’t done so already. Can’t come to the meeting? Please share your thoughts with us here online. I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, thanks to our hostess this morning, BJ Davis. She opened B Java Coffee and Tea about a year and a half ago. It's been tough since Starbucks moved in an opened a drive-through. She is indeed, the best barista in town. Fortunately, there are people who want to support local businesses. It'd be better if there were more. If you're ever on the northwest side, stop by and check out her shop. You won't be disappointed!

More to come!


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