Forbes recently published an interview with Balaji Ganapathy and Seeta Hariharan who both work with the Million Women Mentors program. It’s aimed at creating a million women and men mentors for those looking to go into STEM fields.
Women make up about half of the workforce in America, but they only represent 24% of the workforce in STEM fields. Why should we care? First and foremost, this statistic calls attention to an untapped potential; talent that we need in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to remain competitive from a global perspective. But for women, this is important on another level because careers in STEM industries offer better compensation and more career advancement opportunities. In fact, women who hold STEM positions earn 92 cents to the dollar versus 77 cents for women who are not in these fields.
Yet, creating a pathway for women to be successful in these industries is a complex problem; one that must be addressed on several different levels in order to be effective. Young girls are not encouraged to study these subjects in school and even if they receive STEM degrees, many are not pursuing careers in these fields or staying in STEM professions. There are also cultural stereotypes that young girls face growing up that discourages STEM career choices, and these biases often start at home at an early age. Hence, the Million Women Mentor program was created with the goal of creating a sustainable pipeline of women by mobilizing and engaging one million men and women to serve as STEM mentors by 2018.
Here’s a few selections from the interview but everyone should make sure to go check out the full thing– it’s very inspiring!
Marcus: What advice do you give young women in STEM about mentoring?
Hariharan: I actually tell them that you don’t just choose one mentor. And it’s not necessary for you to choose a mentor that’s right at the top of the ladder. You don’t have to have a CEO as your mentor. You have to choose someone that is willing to give you the time. And I also tell them that mentors can come in various forms. So you may want to have a mentor, as an example, that could help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Another mentor might help you to understand organization dynamics. Another mentor could help you to build a network within the organization so that you’re effective in navigating your career path that you juggle for yourself. So I always tell women that, you’ve got to have more than one mentor. When you pick a mentor, choose someone that you can give something back to. If you can give more than you receive, it will be pretty good, in my opinion.
Marcus: What are you looking for in a mentor and what type of commitment do they need to make?
Ganapathy: A mentor can be anybody who is willing to give back and has the time available to do that. So, from a commitment point of view, we’re looking at 20 hours annually. Which means that, it’s just about 1-2 hours a month that they need to spend on mentoring a young woman, an early career woman. And, there are different pathways that we are prescribing. So it’s not a “one size fits all.” You can do face-to-face mentoring. You can do online mentoring. You can do internships at your institution – whether it is a public, private, or entrepreneurs-led institution. You can have workplace mentoring, or job shadowing. You can also do sponsorships.
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