Mentors are invaluable! Mentors help their mentees set and achieve goals and act as a sounding board for solutions to tricky problems, and crucially, over time mentors can help their mentees develop their confidence and self-esteem. For young people in particular, mentors can model positive traits and skills around problem solving, conflict resolution, and resilience, and can provide a look into professional workplaces that students might be curious about but unfamiliar with. As the Technovation Girls season gets underway in January, there are many first-time mentors around the world jumping into the adventure of mentoring girls in tech (or getting started through other programs thanks to National Mentoring Month). It’s an exhilarating and rewarding experience, but it can also be intimidating. For encouragement and guidance, we’ve collected advice for mentors from the people who know best: actual Technovation mentors. Here are some of our favorite “mentorisms”:
Remember what you learned from your own mentors and teachers.
If you’re a first-time mentor, it might be overwhelming. But remember the mentors and teachers you’ve had, and think about the tools they used to inspire and motivate you.
“When I told my engineer friend, Gilda, that I wanted to learn how to program, she couldn’t understand why an English teacher would want to learn to code. But a couple of weeks later, Gilda was tutoring me on my homework. Two years later, we brought Technovation to Central Mexico. Gilda convinced me of the importance of sharing our knowledge and teaching other women and girls about entrepreneurship and programming with Technovation Challenge. And just like she was willing to help me when I first sat down to learn about conditionals and loops, I understood that I had to do the same for young women.”
Build their confidence.
Much of your role as a mentor is building your mentee’s confidence and helping them recognize their ability to solve problems and overcome challenges.
“To mentor the girls, the first thing I did was to make them believe in themselves and their abilities to change their communities with ideas. As a mentor, my job ends in showing the way, the will is invented by the girls, and this is what I make them clearly understand.”
Remind them that failure is normal.
Failure can be discouraging, but is a normal and valuable part of learning and growing. As a mentor, help them see how failure can provide a learning opportunity.
“I also taught [my team] to see failure as a normal thing, and understand that a lot of people fail, but then get better after they try again. I have failed so many times in trying to set my company up, so I use my life experiences to inspire them. “
Point the way but let the students lead.
Your job as a mentor isn’t to solve your mentees’ problems for them, or find all the answers, but rather help them come to their own solutions, build their confidence as problem solvers and encourage them to keep going.
“As a mentor, my philosophy is to give guardrails and be a cheerleader, rather than roll out instructions. Therefore, as a Technovation mentor, my goal has always been to lead the team towards a shared vision for the app they wish to build, and enable them with technical guidance and encouragement as appropriate to help them realize their full potential.”
Remember that you have things to learn – and to teach.
Offer your guidance and support, but allow your mentee decide how to organize their work and tackle solutions. If they get stuck or find themselves off track, help them find their way back by modeling planning, critical thinking, and project management skills
“My first year was a humbling experience when I realized the girls I was mentoring knew far more about current mobile apps than me. The hard part was keeping their efforts and talent streamlined towards a successful project rather than letting them run wild like kids in a candy shop. I mostly achieved that by letting them splash around the first couple of weeks, and then set deadlines, goals, and individual responsibilities, from technical to project management tasks. It worked. The team, diverse in their abilities and personalities, took on parts of the project and worked together towards a shared vision.”
Remember you’re modeling more than just technical skills.
A mentor’s job isn’t only about helping your mentee develop skills, solve problems, and become more confident, it’s also about sharing your experience with them and showing them what professional success can look like, even if it’s different from how success is normally defined.
“I was a virtual mentor to a team of four young women at a high school in Brooklyn, NY, and I had dilemma: I was supposed to mentor this team over Skype while taking care of my infant daughter. So, in absence of precedents, I just decided to skype in with Harriet on our first meeting, and told the girls that I would need to multi-task. They were not only supportive, but enthusiastic to see that it is possible to have a kid and pursue science at the same time.”
Remember why you’re doing this.
When the going gets tough or you feel overwhelmed or underqualified, reflect on why you decided to become a mentor in the first place. Remember the skills you’ve developed, and your own experiences.
“We all know that we have been through a lot (even though we don’t usually say it out loud) just because we are women in technology. This is one way of changing the future so these girls can stand up to things we have never done because they will be more confident than we were. Because we are telling them they can be the best coder, video game developer, designer – or start up their own companies and solve the problems they would like to solve.”
Ask lots (and lots) of questions.
And encourage your mentee to ask lots of questions too! Get to know your mentee and truly understand their problems or challenges so you can provide better advice. And ask questions about their work and projects to encourage them to ask questions too – show them that it’s okay not to know everything and that you can find answers together.
“Ask lots and lots of questions! Even more importantly, make sure you get answers you are satisfied with. Make sure you get an answer you understand. Sometimes this may require you to do some digging on your own, but who knows? That question may turn into your career one day!”
Let your enthusiasms and passions shine through, and help your mentees tap into their own.
“Be passionate about what you’re working on. No matter how many competitors you may have, your team and the execution will differentiate you. People may be able to replicate your ideas or features, but they won’t be able to replicate the enthusiasm you can bring to the product or the community that will rally behind you because of it.”