The Role that Mentors Play in Closing the Gender Gap

Mentoring staff members makes a difference. Here's how you can use it productively to develop in-house talent.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

May 1, 2024

5 Min Read
Male And Female Symbol Balancing On Seesaw. Gender Equality Concept
Chee Siong Teh via Alamy Stock

In 2023, women made up 35% of technology employees in the US, and 25.2% in Europe. In the same year, US women earned half of science and engineering bachelor's degrees (50%) and associate degrees (49%) but represented only one-third of the STEM workforce (35%). Plus, their wages were consistently lower than those of men, according to the US National Science Foundation. The World Economic Forum now says, “It will take 131 years to reach full gender parity at the current rate of progress.”   

Many factors contribute to this lack of parity between male and female workers. Among them are technology companies’ long history of hiring and promoting  males; a general feeling in companies and society that males are more aggressive and confident (i.e, leadership-ready) in the workplace; gender stereotypes about what men and women do best (i.e., men “lead” with new technology breakthroughs and tough projects while women are assigned to soft skill areas). Meanwhile, women often need time away from work to have and care for children, which can make them poor promotion candidates.  

However, there is another force at work that isn’t mentioned as often, but that should be. It's the lack of active mentoring of employees so they develop the confidence and skills that the company needs.  

Related:Quick Study: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In tech and in other fields, mentoring happens more readily with males because they can more easily bond with tech-gurus and leaders, who are often male as well. This bonding can occur in active training of new skills and roles at work, or over drinks or on the golf course. A young woman beginning her tech career with equivalent skills to her male counterpart doesn’t necessarily have these opportunities. In fact, she might not even be thought of for the next best tech project or leadership role -- simply because she is not top of mind.   

Should this be of concern to CIOs and companies in general?  

It seems so.  

In its September 2023 Technology Review, MIT reported that 64% of its survey respondents said that candidates for their IT and tech jobs lack necessary skills or experience.  Another 56% mentioned an overall shortage of candidates as a concern. In the same report, MIT referenced earlier Gartner findings for 2021 that showed that 64% of company executives believed that the ongoing tech talent shortage was the most significant barrier to the adoption of emerging technologies.  

In addition, a Korn Ferry report estimated that by 2030, more than 85 million jobs might go unfilled, “because there aren’t enough skilled people to take them.” Korn Ferry estimates that companies could lose out on $8.5 trillion in annual revenue because of tech talent shortages.  

Related:How to Manage a Rapidly Growing IT Team

Given these stark assessments, it doesn’t make sense to leave half of the workforce untapped or underutilized. Yet when it comes to gender, what we are seeing is women bringing skills and talent to companies that are commensurate with those of their male counterparts. However, the women don’t always thrive in corporate environments, especially in tech.  

Why is that?  

In April 2022, Gartner discussed corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Key findings were:  

  • Employees want to feel they belong in the workplace;  

  • Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace results in greater on-the-job efforts and high employee performance;   

  • To build a sense of belonging, eliminate “outsiderness”, bring everyone on board and demonstrate care through benefits and initiatives.  

The report said, “One way to make employees feel ‘at home’ is by actively mentoring them for roles and/or positions that you want them to grow into, based upon their aptitudes and skills.” 

When I was a training director for a software development company, I was tasked with developing a training curriculum for new hires and for existing employees that the company wanted to further develop.  

Related:Diversity in Tech: Leadership’s Uncomfortable Truth

Much of the program consisted of courses and certifications. But what really made the new skills “stick” was actively engaging trainees in projects that used those new skills employees had acquired. It was that work context -- along with a senior person mentoring them -- that cemented the confidence of trainees that they really could do real work with what they had learned.  

Most companies don’t have a train-to-work program. They just train. But they do have an informal means of providing guidance on real work when a senior person formally or informally coaches a more junior person. Over time, the junior person masters on-the-job skills and develops confidence and self-reliance.  

Unfortunately, many female employees in tech don’t have this almost natural kind of mentorship that forms. If they had it, they would most likely develop as successfully as their male counterparts.  

If CIOs and others in corporate leadership assure that everyone in the workforce has mentoring support for new on-the-job skills, they would go a long way in solving the tech talent shortfall.  

The bottom line is that everyone wins when mentoring opportunities are universally available. Employees are also more likely to stay with you for the long term when they see you earnestly investing in them. This is what CIOs need to look at for talent solutions so they can assure that everyone they have on their team has skills and talents that are fully being put to work.  

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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