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
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.
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.
- 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?
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
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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