Below, Patricia Martin of Cox Communications and Jennifer Watterud of Altice USA describe the outcomes of their participation in the program and how it helped shape their views on what it takes to be a leader in technology. Martin was mentored in 2011-2012 by Yvette Kanouff, one of the early supporters of the initiative. Martin has stayed active in the program and mentored Watterud from October 2019 to October 2020.
What did you hope to gain from the mentorship?
Martin: As a mentee, it was about finding a community who was like me. I loved my community within Cox and product technology, but to be surrounded by women who are mothers taking care of their families [and were involved in] work—the same things I go through—it was really nice to find that community.
As a mentor, I wanted to help give females in tech the same experience I had as a mentee. And, I enjoyed getting to know others in the same field but at different companies within the industry. The networking is a fantastic opportunity not just for the mentees, but the mentors as well. I have to stay sharp as a leader, and reading How Women Rise with someone from another company and talking it through was beneficial.
Watterud: For me, it was about connecting with other women in our industry and other female leaders who have navigated a bit more successfully. And learning how to tackle day-to-day issues with more grace, with greater impact, hoping to get others to take my role and contribution more seriously. I've been in my same position going on 14 years; I feel I've hit a ceiling, so how to achieve career growth successfully was definitely something I was hoping to get out of the mentorship.
Where I work, there are few women in tech roles at any level. There's really a deficit of engineers, programmers, directors, vice presidents in general. Often, I am the only woman in the room. All my direct reports are male; we have a couple of female contractors on my team. I don't have any struggles with sitting at the table; I'm confident in that regard. However, often there are challenges associated with being a female in a tech role and getting the credit you deserve. Are the ideas you bring given the same weight as your male peers?
It's a matter of being patient and persistent. If at first your ideas are not being considered, don't necessarily back down. Be confident. Repeat yourself if necessary. Don't shy away. Gracefully navigate and take credit for your achievements. There are times when you have to gracefully swallow defeat.
What was your mentoring experience like during the pandemic?
Martin: It helped me hear a point of view from my mentee that I may not have heard as fast from my organization. It helped me be a better leader to understand how important communications and connections were in the midst of the pandemic to my organization, and how critical it was to explain the "why" of decisions we were making, even more deliberately than before.
Watterud: The nature of our meetings shifted quite a bit, and I'm so grateful to have had that lifeline outside of my own company, but I almost would like to redo the mentorship when we're not in a pandemic. Some of the networking opportunities, or the way you go about them, have changed, so I think I would have had a different experience—focusing on long-term goals and career as opposed to the day-to-day job.
Mentorships often involve working with people in one's own organization. What are the benefits of mentorship with someone from another company?
Martin: Being paired with somebody from outside my company in the midst of an international pandemic was outstanding to making me a better leader. I was hearing somebody's experiences as an employee at a cable company and realizing what that meant to my employees.
Watterud: I found it extremely valuable because when you work for one company, you have this view of only that company, and you kind of question, 'Is this right?' Perhaps there's something to learn from the experience of people in other companies. Are they handling diversity and inclusion in a similar fashion? Are they handling the pandemic in a similar fashion? What has changed for you because of the pandemic? What is your access to your senior leadership during the pandemic? It was so good to compare notes across all these different levels, which I definitely would not have gotten if I was paired with someone in the same company.
Republished with permission from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
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