Bridging the Gap: Mentors, Apprentices and Diversity in Tech

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By Scott Macphee
Office Manager, Seattle
projekt202

Promoting diversity in tech is a hot topic for projekt202 this month, starting with some big news for one of our clients:

Mentoring is just one way a small but growing company like projekt202 can inspire leadership potential in all employees, regardless of background.

Karen King, our VP of Talent Management, described how a limited mentorship program in our UX department sparked the idea to go company-wide. “I was hearing positive things [about the UX program] and asked how can we broaden that into a program for high-potential folks, people we believe could benefit from focused development and evolve into leaders in the organization.”

The first cohort completed two cycles of mentorships this year (January – June and July – December). Twenty-seven employees were nominated by their managers. Roughly 50% are women, people of color or members of other traditionally underrepresented groups.

For King, that was an unintended, but significant success. “We're very open. As long as you do good work, we want to recognize that. Anyone here can be successful if they take advantage of opportunities they are nominated for.”

As part of that first group, Director of UX Natalie Greco quickly found value in the mentoring relationship.

“I was in the process of going from Creative Director to Director of UX,” Greco says. “I already had direct reports, but now I had access to a new level of information. There were sensitivities that I had to be aware of.”

Access to a mentor eased her transition. She was able to get direct coaching from someone with experience at that level of management. The feedback helped her add nuance to powerful conversations and changed the way she delivers feedback to her designers.

Greco also happens to be the first female Director in our UX practice, and having a mentor reinforced the feeling that “the company was looking out for me.” There is no doubt in her mind, she said, that mentorships can help level the playing field for women and other minorities in tech.

Greco was so inspired by the process that in the second round of mentorships that started in July, she became a mentor herself and has enjoyed building a relationship with a Senior Designer in another one of projekt202’s offices.

As King begins receiving nominations for the second cohort to begin in January 2017, she has worked with management to evolve the program to better meet the needs of the mentees.

Key learnings from the first year of the new program:

  • Mentors need to be equally invested in the program as the mentees.
  • Mentorships should set their own agenda or specific goals for the relationship. However, some mentees benefit from suggested topics.
  • Cross-office, cross-discipline pairings work well because they offer new perspectives.

Lastly, King has this advice for anyone who has aspirations of breaking through to the next level in their career:

“You don’t need a formal mentor program to make this work for you. All you need to do is identify an area where you want to grow, find someone who is good at that, and approach them about some one-on-one coaching.”

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