Mentorship in technology is broken. Many minorities feel unwelcome in tech. The number of women in technology is actually decreasing. The only solution which is proven to increase positive outcomes is mentorship. Unfortunately, winners in tech either don’t realize their help is needed or don’t know how to get started. Beginners are often afraid to ask for help or don’t know where to find it. We at Hack The People bring together mentors and mentees. We’re teaching mentors to improve their interactions with mentees and teaching mentees how to develop real relationships with their mentors.
We’ll premiere clips from our web series, as well as showing some of the first footage from our small mentorship groups. We’ll show how our small mentorship groups connect the people who can help with the people that need it.
Ever wanted desperately to tell someone that it’s their clothing or their attitude keeping them from being promoted? Our groups teach mentees how to succeed at interviews, job performance, promotions, entrepreneurship, and provide mentors with a new network of potential hires. Now, mentees can finally get real constructive criticism, and mentors can honestly help others without fearing for their own careers.
Most people are at least tangentially aware that diversity of thought comes from a diverse workplace. Why then are the numbers of gender and ethnic minorities in technology actually falling? We know for certain that “Women's share of bachelor's degrees in computer sciences, mathematics, and engineering has declined in recent years.” In a profit-driven economy, every company should want to increase diversity in order to increase the probability that people who think differently will catch errors, come up with ideas, and contribute to teams in ways in which a homogenous company will miss out. There's no easy way to fix society as a whole, but there is a way to hack the pipeline to the top of technology, and it's mentorship by winners of beginners.
Plenty of groups exist to increase the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in technology. Many of them are focused on creating safe spaces for their particular group. We agree that groups limited only to a specific demographic (e.g. only female participants) have their place. They provide a safe place for people to enjoy their nerdiness without having to encounter power struggles and communication situations that are stressful, triggering, or conflict-ridden. However, tech is not a field in which you can avoid meeting anyone who is not like you. You'll meet with, negotiate with, work for and work with all different kinds of people, from genderqueer black people to white males to Muslimas, and understanding how you can best work in your field while making room for others and demanding respect for yourself is the key to success and happiness. Hack The People was originally a group called LadyCoders. Though we were completely open to all people (LadyCoders was the name we called ourselves, not the people who were welcome to come), we had several unfortunate incidents where women at LadyCoders meetup groups actively verbally harassed and antagonized men for showing up to the meetups, rather than being happy that straight white men were showing their support for a diverse workplace and learning to transform their communication styles. We realized then that we needed to change the way we were presenting ourselves, and to focus on what mattered. We ran seminars and training camps to teach women and minorities how to present themselves during a job interview, how to 'talk the talk', and how to handle a workplace where they might be the only member of their particular demographic and asked to be the 'token voice of their people'. We started to realize that one-shot critiques of clothing and handshakes were not nearly as effective as creating personalized mentorships where senior people were deeply invested in the success of their protegees.
There are some serious problems in pairing off winners and beginners. The very, very few women and minorities who have made it to the top in technology are often extremely overburdened with mentorship requests, while straight white men often want to help but do not know how—or are understandably hesitant to offer help and assistance to young women especially. We have personally experienced situations where our gender made it very difficult for older men who wanted to help us to reach out to us. Many of the professional situations that people find themselves in, such as traveling to conferences and staying in hotel rooms, and eating in restaurants, can be easily misinterpreted as having romantic connotations, and this is no longer limited to just a dynamic between young women and older men. A substantial percentage of people newly entering technology are genderqueer, and this can create a question of legal liability as now anyone at all can be seen as a romantic interest or at least a potential compromise.
The answer is small group mentorship with open communication and a structured approach to helping and listening. A 50-year old man might be very hesitant to mentor a 25-year old woman, because he may have information she needs but doesn't know how to communicate it without being inappropriate. Imagine being that 50-year old man, who has a very valid opinion that a young woman is dressing inappropriately in terms of her career path and stated ambition. How does he transmit that information without getting fired or sued? We're the answer to that question. We run meetups that are available to anyone who needs and wants mentorship. We pair multiple groups of winners and beginners together, so that any personal critique is diffused and supported, and many possibilities for strong mentorship connections are created. We're in seven cities now, with more groups beginning each month in new cities, and groups splitting apart to create multiples in three cities now (we limit our group sizes to either 16 or 24 to make sure small group activities are helpful and not overwhelming. We invite local engineers, social justice advocates, and anyone with a good story to tell to speak as keynote speakers and participants.
Our small groups are deliberately structured to provide a controlled, comfortable experience for the participants and attendees. We mimic the structure of many interviews and networking events while actually explaining why we all connect with each other, and how to do so in any situation. There are over 800 people in Hack The People meeting groups so far, and we're experiencing unexpected growth. The demand for help penetrating the dim recesses of tech's highest ranks is surging, and we're glad to be able to help.
Tags: mentorship, hacking, diversity, safe spaces
Primary Author Name: Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack Primary Author Affiliation: Hack The People Primary Author Email: [email protected]
Additional Author Name: Liz Dahlstrom Additional Author Affiliation: Hack The People Additional Author Email: [email protected]