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Women in IT: Coaching and Mentoring
Contributed by kforce's
Michael Ellis, Feature Author

Women who are looking for career guidance in Information Technology may find it odd to have a man write an article about coaching and mentoring them. At first, I thought so, too. But in retrospect, it occurred to me that after 13 years in the staffing business, I've interviewed innumerable women candidates and listened to their frustrations regarding career growth. I've interfaced with some of the brightest and most talented women managers, discussing career choices that made them successful. Though I may not be able to speak from experience, I'd like to offer some strategies that I've seen work effectively for women seeking career guidance in IT, where they are a recognized minority.

Planning a Career Path
The first step in planning a career path is to know where you want to go. How will you know when you've arrived if you don't know where you're going? It would be like going on a trip without a map. Finding a mentor to guide you along the way gives you a distinct advantage. While most males have the "refuse to ask for directions gene," women's ability to ask for guidance will help them in their career progression. Even if you're not sure of your objective, following a guided path will open doors that you didn't realize were there.

So, Where Do You Start?
The first thing to do is take stock of your skills and where you are right now. Do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the skill sets you need to reach your goal. Then, look within your current work environment. Is there anyone in a position where you would like to be? If so, you may want to approach that individual and ask about their career path.

  • How did they get where they are?
  • What did they need to learn along the way to help them succeed?
  • What detours did they have to take to get where they are?
  • What sacrifices did they make to allow for success?
Don't let fear or intimidation of any person, who may think you want their job, stand in the way of asking about their career. Effective professionals train their replacements to promote more career mobility for their employees and themselves. They don't live in fear of another person coveting their position. In fact, you will probably gain their respect for asking and possibly receive an offer to mentor you along the way. Successful people feel an obligation to assist those who want to pursue their same career path. That's the basis for a mentorship.

Now, if the person you choose to emulate happens to be a woman, your chances of gaining a mentor just increased. Minorities in an organization, in this case, women in IT, feel a kinship to those individuals looking to follow in their footsteps. It's only natural to root for the home team or support someone who faces the same obstacles you might have encountered. But gender should not be the driving force behind choosing a mentor. Quality professionals have a lot to offer, regardless of commonality.

Don't take it personally if the person you choose does not wish to be a mentor. There may be a hundred reasons for declining, ranging from time commitment to personal issues. Someone worthy of being a mentor will be flattered, and the fact that you asked may surface in your favor later on. One very important thing to remember about this process is: Keep it professional! Becoming personal friends with your mentor could have damaging results. Personal friends are less apt to tell the truth, for fear of causing a rift in the relationship. If they are acting in your best interest, mentors will be direct and straightforward.

Above all, it is important for women — especially those who suspect they are victims of the glass ceiling — to remember: Talent and experience are the keys to success at any level in Information Technology. If you want to move up the career ladder, there is no better way than by learning from someone who has "walked the walk." It is said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. When it comes to your career, why not seek out someone with proven results? They can help steer you clear of foreseeable pitfalls.

Take it from a guy who still has trouble asking for directions — as a woman, you're already ahead of the game.

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