BeCOME an Agent of Change | Mentor

When I first met Isa Mendes, she was looking for her first big opportunity in the tech industry. She was struggling. After graduating from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, she felt trapped in the IT jobs she had landed. Isa wanted to be a product and program manager, but she wasn’t getting the opportunities. Time and again, her ambitions were dashed by hiring managers and recruiters unwilling to take a chance on her.

“I feel like I have the resume, the skills, and the desire, but no one will give me an opportunity,” Isa told me. “I feel defeated, and I’m worried I’ll never get an opportunity.”

It was a familiar story. Many young women I’ve mentored over the years have suffered the same rejection. I can relate to the self-doubt that had crept into her mind. We all can, can’t we? Think back to a time you knew you were the best person for a job, but you were told you just didn’t have what it takes.

What stood out to me about Isa—in addition to her energy and her drive—was her vulnerability. Although her confidence had taken a hit, she was truly interested in learning, growing, and understanding how to break-through. I remember telling her she wasn’t alone and that she needed to believe in herself.

We talked about what she wanted to do and we came up with a strategy. She applied for an internship program at Microsoft, and absolutely shined. When the internship was over, we hired her for a full-time position.

Mentors have played a key role in my success in the technology industry. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the many men and women who have mentored me along the way. They have shared the value of their successes and their failures and have helped me avoid the invisible trip wires and unwritten rules of business. They have lifted me up when my confidence waned.

To return the favor, I’ve always made a point of mentoring others and sharing my own experiences—the good and the bad. I’ve had people tell me that the 30 minutes I spent with them changed their perspective dramatically. And oftentimes, that introduction to one of your contacts, can lead to a job, career change and become a life changing pivotal moment for someone else.  As I see it, when you mentor, you blaze a trail for others to follow and you give back.

In my recent TEDx Talk, BeCOME an Ally: How to achieve gender equity, I talk about mentorship as a key component of the BeCOME framework I developed to help all of us become allies, leaders, and agents of change. I outline four actions each of us can take to help bring 4 million more women into the technology industry. That’s how many we need to reach gender equity in high tech.

In a recent LinkedIn article I talked about Connection, and how we can move the needle by opening our networks and creating access points for women to connect with business leaders and with one another. In another piece about Outreach, I shared how we can create opportunities for women by examining our recruiting and hiring practices—screening-in candidates for diversity rather than screening-out for expediency. Being a Mentor is the third action we all can take.

According to Chronus, a technology learning organization, 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees. They understand mentorship benefits everyone: Studies show that good mentoring leads to greater career success for the person getting the advice. The person giving the advice broadens their network and can strengthen their position as a leader. And mentorship benefits organizations by developing a culture of learning and growth, which increases employee engagement and attracts high-quality talent.

In my team at Microsoft, we talk a lot about the importance of mentoring—not just for early or mid-career employees, but for senior employees as well. As a Corporate Vice President, I currently have multiple mentors I look to for advice. I call them my personal advisory board and reach out to each based on their experiences and skills.  Most of them are former colleagues who know what I may be working through but are now far disconnected from the organization so they can provide me objective guidance and coaching.  

How can a mentor help?

In my experience, a mentor is typically someone who has experience you’d like to learn from.  You may turn to a mentor when you want to learn how to work with different people in the industry, how to navigate the sales organization, or to learn more about specific roles. 

Most often, people think of working with mentors only when they’re planning their next career move.  But I’ve personally reached out to mentors to gain their perspective on a challenge I’m facing in the business and to understand how they would handle it based on their experience.

And it’s not uncommon to have several mentors at once, for different reasons.  When I moved from licensing sales and marketing into product management, I picked two mentors – one in product planning and one in engineering. That way I could understand the perspectives of the people I would be working with and also have a sounding-board from someone with experience overcoming the challenges I would face. 

Mentoring—and being mentored—is a beautiful and fulfilling endeavor. It is a simple action you can take to bring light, energy, and focus to someone’s life. And I know first-hand it is a key component to bring in and retain more women in the technology industry.

I’m sure Isa would have eventually gotten the break she was looking for. But I am so grateful I was there when she needed some guidance and a confidence boost. When she said she wasn’t getting anywhere with recruiters and hiring managers, I told her, “Don’t listen to them! Listen to yourself. Believe in yourself. If you think you’re ready, be bold and don’t take no for an answer.” I encourage you to be that light for someone else. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Isa told me later that our mentoring sessions inspired her to launch her own mentoring circle for early career employees—specifically for women and minorities. Isa, thank you for giving back and blazing a trail for others to follow.

Be sure to watch for my next #BeCOME LinkedIn article where I’ll share the fourth action each of us can take to drive for gender equity in tech and BeCOME agents of change: Empower others.

BeCOME an Agent of Change | Empower

It was April 2020. The impact from the COVID-19 pandemic was tightening its grip on communities around the world. And like millions of others, @Mary Thompson found herself out of a job, filing for unemployment. After a few years working in the tech industry, she was suddenly laid off by her employer. Despite being knocked down, she kept a positive outlook.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” she said, “so I was just trying to figure out what’s my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? Why did everything just get taken out from underneath me?”

After three months on unemployment, Thompson started to worry. She had worked so hard to break into the technology industry once before, and she started wondering if she’d be able to break through again. Then one day, she followed the voice in her head, which lead her to Hannah House—a women’s shelter in Columbia, South Carolina.

“I was driving to the store, and I just knew that I had to go to Hannah House. So, instead of turning left off the freeway, I turned right,” Thompson said.

She didn’t go to the shelter looking for a place to stay. She went because she felt called there. She knew there was work to be done.

Hannah House specializes in long-term housing for women who have fallen through the cracks. Its program is designed to break them out of the cycle that brought them to the shelter. One of Thompson’s friends had found herself in a dark place and could have used an organization like Hannah House. So, Thompson was there to give back and to help the residents learn some computer skills that would lift them out of their current situation.

“I didn’t have a job. So, it allowed me to pour myself into something and have a purpose,” she said.

Caption: Mary Thompson (left) with Hannah House Manager Kiwan Fitch.

Thompson lobbied the local Rotary Club for computers and worked with an internet provider to bring reliable WiFI to Hannah House. She set up a tech center for the women to learn computer skills. Thompson’s son donated his PlayStation so the children at Hannah House could play video games. The impact has been remarkable.

”With computers and WiFi, we have residents who are earning online certifications for new skills that are helping them re-enter the workforce,” said Kiwan Fitch, who manages Hannah House. “The internet connection also means the children of our residents can attend virtual school. This has been a blessing.”

Thompson’s story is the definition of empowerment—giving someone the ability and the confidence to learn, grow and do something for themselves. Empower is the fourth action in the BeCOME framework I developed for my recent TEDx Talk: BeCOME an Ally – How to achieve gender equity. The most impactful thing you can do for another human being is to empower them and help create an inclusive environment where people can be seen and heard for who they are as individuals.

Through her work with Hannah House, Thompson has empowered a community of women who were struggling to find their purpose. They couldn’t see the possibilities that were out there. Thompson has opened their eyes and opened doors to a brighter future. And in creating access for others, Thompson has found her own purpose—thanks to an IT company with a mission of helping others.

During her work with the shelter, Thompson connected with a company called @Bam Boom Cloud—a woman-led IT organization specializing in Microsoft Global Dynamics 365 Business Central. When they learned about Thomson’s work, they provided resources for a technology bootcamp so the women at Hannah House had an opportunity to learn more digital skills. And they paid for a year of Wi-Fi access for the shelter. And the icing on the cake came when they offered Thompson a job.

“We didn’t even have the budget for Mary at the time,” said Bam Boom Cloud CEO @Vicky Critchley. “But within five minutes, I knew that she was right for us and we were right for her.”

Critchley says empowerment is part of the culture at Bam Boom Cloud. They believe technology shouldn’t be a burden for small and midsize businesses. It should be an enabler. Bam Boom Cloud focuses on removing the barriers and empowering their customers.

“There’s a purpose to the business. It’s not just about making profits. It’s about democratizing the technology, being more inclusive, and using the technology to help one another,” said Critchley.

It’s not hard to recognize the synchronicity between Mary Thompson and Bam Boom Cloud. Thompson leveraged her voice and her passion to empower the women at Hannah House with new technical skills. Bam Boom Cloud empowered Mary by supporting her efforts. And together, they’re using their influence and commitment to empower women and business owners with digital skilling and technological access.

That’s the kind of commitment that’s required for real change. It’s an example of the BeCOME framework in action and a reminder that through technology democratization, purpose-driven leadership and allyship, we can become agents of change and close the gender equity gap in the technology industry.

Connect | Outreach | Mentor | Empower

With these four actions, we can build healthier workplace cultures. We can attract new employees, customers, and investors. We can increase opportunities for all women and build a new generation of leaders that understand the value of equity.

We can do it. But it will take intentional action from all of us. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

Click on the words above to read the other articles and join the movement to BeCOME an #AgentOfChange.

Click here to learn more about Microsoft partner Bam Boom Cloud.

BeCOME an Agent of Change | Connect

A few years ago, I was having coffee with a couple of friends of mine. Like me, they were all too familiar with the struggles women face in the technology industry—being the only woman in the room, fighting to be heard and seen. It was over that cup of coffee that we decided we needed to do something about the gender equity gap in the tech industry.

During that conversation we agreed one of the biggest hurdles to gender equity is access—access to business opportunities, leadership positions, venture capital funding, and so on. The door doesn’t just swing open for women in tech. Historically, when we knock, no one answers. And that’s when we can actually find the door. Oftentimes, the entrance is hidden or inaccessible.

I remember after that discussion asking myself, how had I survived 27 years in this industry when the deck was stacked against me? How was I able to climb to a leadership position in one of the largest tech companies in the world, while others couldn’t even find the door?

It was because I had access to opportunities that eluded so many others. Of course, I worked my tail off to make the most of those opportunities. But it was the connections I made—and that others made on my behalf—that set me on a path to success. There was a key in connection and networking. I was one of the lucky ones who had found that key.

With that in mind, a group of women I work with created an organization called Women in Cloud (WiC). It’s a community-led economic development organization focused on access, action, and acceleration. Working with global leaders, corporations, and policymakers, WiC’s goal is to help women entrepreneurs create $1 billion in economic access and opportunity by 2030.   It is led by an incredible woman, @Chaitra Vedullapalli, who is a force!  Without her drive, commitment to action and dedication, we would not be able to reach each of these critical milestones.  And my friends in that discussion, @Karen Fassio and @Gretchen O’Hara, have continued their support alongside me to create access for all women. 

As WiC has evolved over the past three years, we’ve watched the community of women business owners grow exponentially, connecting hundreds of entrepreneurs to a network of peers and investors. Through its Cloud Accelerator program, WiC has helped 22 women-led companies build and market enterprise-ready technology solutions, creating $50 million in opportunity.

That’s what can happen when we take intentional steps to make a difference. And we need to do more.

I recently had the honor of giving a TEDx talk about the gender equity gap in technology. I am on a mission to bring gender parity to the industry. To get there, we need 8+ million additional women in tech roles than we have today. It’s going to take a lot of work. But together, we can do it.

During my talk, I shared four specific things every single one of us can do to close the gap and #BeCOME an agent of change. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be posting articles here on LinkedIn about each deliberate action we can take. The first is CONNECT.

Connect | Make intentional connections with women in your network. Reach out and give women access to yourself and to everyone in your community.

This intentional action can make all the difference in the world. Think about the introduction someone made for you that led to a new role or business opportunity. We all have those connections that changed our path and opened a door. What if that connection hadn’t been made? Would you be where you are today?

It’s time to return the favor by connecting. Join an organization like Women in Cloud or @The Women in Technology Network—another organization I sponsor. There are at least a dozen organizations that are dedicated to connecting women in the technology field and creating access to opportunities. When you #Connect, you #BeCOME an agent of change.

Next week, I’ll share the second way you can make a difference, through #Outreach. Until then, here are some organizations you can #Connect with:

Women in Cloud (Women in Cloud: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women in Cloud is a community-led economic development organization with a massive mission: to take action with global leaders, corporations and policymakers to help women entrepreneurs create $1 billion in economic access and opportunity by 2030. With its Cloud Accelerator program, Women in Cloud helps entrepreneurs build and market their distribution channels.

The WIT Network (The WIT Network: Overview | LinkedIn) – The WIT Network is a global community of professional women and men who encourage all women and girls to study STEM and pursue careers in technology. With more than 80 communities in more than 30 countries, they enable more women to attain leadership positions and career advancement, and help companies change the landscape of gender equality within their business.

Women in Tech (WOMEN IN TECH – Global Movement: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women in Tech is an international organization with a double mission: to close the gender gap and to help women embrace technology. They focus on 4 primary areas of action: Education, Entrepreneurialism, Social Inclusion, Science & Innovation. With a global footprint, Women in Tech aims to educate, equip and empower women and girls with the necessary skills, confidence and opportunities to succeed in STEM career fields.

Girls in Tech (Girls in Tech, Inc.: Overview | LinkedIn)– Girls in Tech is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech. With more than 60,000 members in 50+ chapters around the world, organizers host hackathons, coding bootcamps, startup pitch competitions, and more.

mBolden (mBolden: Overview | LinkedIn) – mBolden is a global community of 10,000+ women working together to support and empower female leadership. They strive to help women raise their voice and visibility in the mobile, digital marketing, and online industries. With 10 chapters in cities across the US and worldwide, mBolden connects female entrepreneurs and leaders.

Girls Who Code (Girls Who Code: Overview | LinkedIn) – Girls Who Code is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmed looks like and does. They’re reaching girls around the world teaching not just coding, but also the values of bravery, sisterhood, and activism.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWiT AiC (The National Center for Women & Information Technology- Aspirations in Computing) | Groups | LinkedIn) – NCWIT is a non-profit community chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation. They convene, equip, and unite change-leader organizations to increase the influential and meaningful participation of girls and women in the field of computing, particularly in terms of innovation and development. NCWIT help 1,400+ organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence, and action.

Women Who Code (Women Who Code: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women Who Code envisions a world where women are proportionally represented as technical leaders, executives, founders, VCs, board members, and software engineers. Through a global community of networking, they empower women for professional achievement. They educate companies to promote, retain, and hire talented women. And they develop role models to support today’s generation of engineers.

Change Catalyst (Change Catalyst: Overview | LinkedIn) – Change Catalyst builds inclusive tech ecosystems through strategic advising, startup programs and resources, and a series of events around the globe. Using culture and behavior change strategies, we convene and advise the tech ecosystem to drive solutions to diversity and inclusion together: across education, workplace, entrepreneurship, policy, media/entertainment and ecosystem builders.