Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive Officer, WES
Mentoring can help women to build the confidence and connections they need, to break down barriers and rise through the ranks, in male dominated industries.
“A lack of confidence is probably the single biggest factor that holds women back in fields dominated by men,” says Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). “Having a mentor can really help to build confidence and also provide women with the advice and guidance they need to break down barriers.”
Mentoring should be widely available
Mentoring is certainly not a new phenomenon and many larger companies have established schemes to help new members of staff settle in. However, there are countless opportunities within STEM industries and Bodley believes that women can benefit from the impartial advice and guidance offered by external mentors too.
Another key problem is that women can’t see themselves represented within STEM industries and are therefore discouraged from entering the profession in the first place. This issue could be addressed by providing mentors even before individuals join the career ladder. “There is a lot to be said for providing university students with mentors who have just started in the industry and can welcome them in,” says Bodley.
Role models are vital
It’s hard to refute the benefits of mentoring, but it remains difficult to fulfil requests simply due to the lack of role models within the industry. Bodley wants to see this issue addressed by encouraging a more creative approach to mentoring that sees women at different stages of their career stepping up to support others.
“You don’t have to hold a senior position to be a mentor, and distance shouldn’t stand in the way either. There are some very successful mentee relationships that take place using phone, email and Skype,” continues Bodley. “The most important thing is that it’s a non-judgemental relationship, focused on helping the mentee to achieve their goals.”
While the needs of the mentee are paramount, mentors also gain a lot from the process too. “I’m a mentor for a number of A-Level students through the Social Mobility Foundation and, as well as being both rewarding and satisfying, you also gain confidence in yourself and learn vital communication skills,” say Bodley.
In 2002, WES established their own mentoring scheme to support women working within STEM industries. It has continued to grow in popularity and many, like Bodley, would like to see mentoring become a core component of everyone’s professional development.