Gintarė Katkevičienė, Development manager, Asset Finance IT
I've never had a mentor in my life, but there have always been plenty of colleagues and managers around to help me face professional challenges, expand my opportunities, and inspire me when my initial enthusiasm would start to fade. Today, I strive to be this type of mentor and supporter myself – not only in my daily work environment, but also by volunteering with the Women Go Tech mentoring and counseling program – an initiative for women pursuing careers in the technology sector.
Three years of experience, three unique learners, and three success stories conclude the third season of the initiative. The process of teaching and learning doesn’t end with the realization of the project; these women are really active in the IT sphere and this encourages a broader discussion of mentoring and its relevance in today's society.
Why do we need mentoring?
Going into a new field can be a little confusing for anyone at the start of their careers. They don’t yet understand their actual potential very well, don’t know the conditions of the labor market, and don’t know the various nuances of their working life. For these reasons, people in this position often face the challenge of determining which path will suit them best. This is where a mentor can help: someone who won’t just tell you what to do, but will instead analyze your specific personality and needs by asking the right questions. Someone who will push you to think carefully while searching for answers.
Another important topic when entering the labor market is networking. As a long-time professional in a particular field, a mentor will often have a wide range of contacts and many acquaintances who can be introduced to a young colleague.
Later, when things are going smoothly, it can happen that under certain circumstances self-confidence can fade. Imaginary ceilings begin to squeeze down on you. At this point, the mentor has to extend their helping hand again.
People are often just afraid, listening to stereotypes, and my job is to provide them with a different perspective. I encourage people to think not only about financial aspects, but also their values.
After all, there is no single method or template for counseling a person that can be applied to everyone. You have to take into account the situation, the specific individual, all the while responding organically to change. As a mentor I look at each particular situation closely, while shaking off stagnation and preconceived notions.
For this reason, I think that the experience of mentoring is important not only for the mentee but also for the mentor. Anyone with more professional experience, whether they are someone's supervisor or not, can try this out. It provides leadership competencies, introduces people to human psychology, and develops their empathy – allowing them to understand various situations faster and make the right calls.
How are things going?
In the Women Go Tech program, mentor-mentee communication and collaboration lasts for half a year. It is important to clarify what goals the student is trying to achieve, and to plan together how these goals will be reached.
In the field of IT, my students have developed a curiosity and desire to realize their dreams, to acquire new competencies, and to discover new opportunities in the labor market. There are also quite a few women who want to change their field, to give up their long career in another position and start a new career. If I see that they really want it, I support them and share my knowledge of how to do it.
For a team leader, as well as for a mentor, it’s important to be aware and have a full sense of responsibility for their actions. I believe in every member of my team and allow them to go into discomfort with my back-up even when their faith in themselves starts to waver.
Stereotypes are disappearing, but this change needs constant reinforcement
The Women Go Tech project focuses on the integration of girls and women into the Tech labor market, and some may question why one gender is emphasized. I believe that this is necessary, and although we are slowly doing away with stereotypes, we still have to face certain anachronistic views of a woman's position in the world.
According to statistics, barely 17 percent of the approximately eight million ICT practitioners in Europe are women. Similarly, a significant proportion of women, even those with appropriate education, do not survive long in this labor market. This is also relevant in Lithuania, as only a quarter of the female employees in this sector are women.
And while gender equality is discussed daily, change must be nurtured and made visible in order for change to occur. Just like Kristen Visbal's very tangible piece, a statue of a little girl called "Fearless Girl" who one day bravely "stood up" and raised her head to the famous Wall Street bull. Last year the statue was moved and now looks up to the New York Stock Exchange ensuring that her message and impact continues to be heard.
Artistic interventions within a physical environment and mentoring both are valid ways of creating these changes, and contributing to the freedom of society and the ability for everyone to fulfill their potential and expectations, regardless of stereotypes.