On the day we officially launched Women’s TechConnect at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Baltimore, Maryland, I knew in an instant it would have lasting impact. Not just because of the interest among 3,600 technical women from 54 countries who were attending the conference. Not just because the CEO of the conference lauded it in her keynote address, propelling a flurry of Twitter feeds. Not just because of the myriad of companies wanting to sign up.
But because of the look in a young woman’s eyes.
Fatima approached me after I’d moderated a panel discussion on mentoring. She waited patiently as several women stood in a makeshift line to shake hands and ask me about the program. When she stepped forward and looked up, confidence rose in her voice.
“I cannot thank you enough for doing this program,” she said. “I’ve been praying for a mentor for years.” Fatima is a PhD student in computer science at Bahrai Unversity in Karachi, Pakistan. “As a 26 year old woman in Pakistan, I’m out there pioneering my own way. To have a woman mentor would mean the world to me.”
The look in her eyes conveyed the honesty of what she was saying. But the magnitude didn’t strike me until the next morning when I read newspaper accounts of a 14 year old girl in Pakistan who had been shot, advocating for girls’ education.
Standing next to me at the conference was another 26 year old woman, an IT Officer for Save the Children in Haiti. Emmanuella had started her Master’s program in Computer Science when the Haiti earthquake hit in 2010. Her studies ended abruptly when her university crumbled in the magnitude of the 7.0 earthquake, which also killed her mother. But it didn’t kill her spirit or quest to succeed as a technical woman. Through the NetHope Academy and initial work with Inveneo, Emmanuella helped rebuild the broadband network in Haiti, becoming a role model for other young women entering technology roles in her homeland, as well as in other developing countries.
We created Women’s TechConnect for the Fatimas and Emmanuellas of the world. So many young women from Africa, Latin America and other geographical regions have signed-up to participate, excited by the prospects of connecting 1:1 with a mentor, and engaging with like-minded women around the world through WTC’s global community. We also created it for women like Tracy Feliciani, a Senior Director at Accenture, Rahima Mohammed, a principal engineer at Intel, and Rane Johnson-Stempson, a senior leader and STEM advocate in Microsoft Research. The excitement from mentors is just as evident. Professional IT women from world class organizations in the U.S., Europe and around the globe have signed-up because they know the tremendous value of encouragement, empowerment and sharing their own stories. These women learn just as much from being a mentor, as younger women learn from them.
I do, too. I’ve been a mentor for the past five years to a professional woman and civic leader in Aurora, Colorado. Although we’ve only met once in a half decade, we connect every week. Monday mornings at 7:30 a.m. are reserved for Karen, regardless of my work schedule, travel plans or Monday holidays in the U.S. I get so much value from that relationship, I wouldn’t dream of giving it up.
Could the same hold true for you?
As a manager, you may never know the difference you’ve made by offering an opportunity to your employee to step up the corporate ladder. As a mother, you may never know the lasting effect of encouraging your child to overcome adversity. And as a mentor, you may never know the impact of helping your mentee find her voice, excel in technology and become a leader for the next generation.
But think of the women who’ve done that for you. Then sign up, and join us in making a lasting impact in the world, one woman at a time.