International Women’s Day: A Call to Champion Young Leaders
Notarize Executive Vice President Nicole Booth also contributed to the content in this article.
March is Women’s History Month, and 2021 has given us so much to celebrate. Kamala Harris has brought us one step closer to breaking a glass ceiling by becoming the first woman Vice President. We’re also seeing a record number of women leading Fortune 500 companies, and others are making significant, lasting contributions in our most important economic sectors.
Every day, progress is made that normalizes female leadership for all genders, including in the technology and digital spaces.
Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day – a day that reminds us to “choose to challenge.” We must challenge the current norms by continuing to mentor and sponsor women of all backgrounds in order to work towards the normalization of female leadership in the digital world.
This message is not new, but important enough to emphasize: Those in technology and digital leadership must be challenged to invest, coach, and empower women to break through their personal ceiling.
What's the Difference Between a Mentor and Sponsor?
A mentor is someone who serves as an advisor and provides perspective, guidance, and training as an observer and listener. A sponsor takes an active role in advocating and providing opportunities, and they are a driving force in an individual’s career growth. While anyone can be a mentor, a sponsor is usually someone in a position of power or leadership.
Catalyst, an organization devoted to expanding opportunities for women in business, wrote the following in Leader's Edge Magazine: “Sponsors do more than just provide social, emotional and personal growth development, the purview of most mentors. Sponsorship is focused on advancement and predicated on power.”
Bottom line: Mentors provide perspective while sponsors provide opportunities.
Celebrating Women of Firsts and Their Mentors
As we continue to challenge the digital divide, we must celebrate the mentors and sponsors of females who broke major barriers to become “firsts” in the technology fields.
- Dorothy Vaughan assigned Katherine Johnson to a project in NASA’s Flight Research Division. Vaughan’s sponsorship led to Johnson being the first woman credited as an author of a Flight Research Division research report and contributing to America’s first human space flight.
- Before being the first female electrical engineer in the U.S. or receiving the first electrical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edith Clarke took a summer job as a “Computer Assistant” to AT&T research engineer Dr. George Campbell and led a group of women “human computers.”
- Megan Smith, the first woman to be Chief Technology Officer of the United States, credits a team of mentors for creating opportunities for women in technology, including her parents, Grace Hopper, Rachel Carson, and Rosalind Franklin.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Unfortunately, these positive growth trends don’t tell the full story. All jobs that were lost in December 2020 were held by women, and women lead only 8.2% (41) of Fortune 500 companies, according to a NBC News article.
In technology, women make up only 27% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) even though they make up nearly half of the US workforce, according to the US Census Bureau.
Although we’ve come a long way, it is crucial for technology and digital service leaders to proactively mentor and sponsor young women of all backgrounds.
As more women attain prominent, high-profile leadership roles, we challenge them along with men to remember the support they received – and pay it forward by continuing to lift up and coach the next generation.
We should regularly celebrate women trailblazers and their accomplishments. Let’s challenge ourselves to share not just their stories, but all our stories. Relationships are key to helping young women advance. Let’s build new relationships, extend opportunities, and share our collective experiences to make it an easier path for those history-makers yet to come.
On this International Women’s Day, we “choose to challenge” because from “challenge comes change.”