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.