Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

How Do We Best Advance Women in IT? Networking, Mentoring or a Combination of Both?

The challenge and the beauty of bringing a group of industry and thought leaders together is how quickly the room fills with ideas--both conflicting and congruent ones. 

This February marked the kickoff of ARA New York--a mentoring organization for women in technology. Ten of us sat down for dinner to share our goals for building an influential network of woman technology leaders and visionaries across the tri-state region. Deep in experience and ambition, our small party included senior IT executives at the very top of leading corporations in addition to authors, journalists, data scientists, marketers and entrepreneurs.

While the mission of ARA, which was first founded last year in Chicago, is to develop mentor-mentee opportunities for up-and-comers and top executives across the IT sector, the ARA New York contingency quickly began to debate whether mentoring or networking was a more effective way to advance opportunities for women in technology. It seemed as though the most senior executives at the table felt creating networking opportunities had to come first, before mentoring programs could take root. The rising stars of the group however felt differently. For many of these women, a mentor was a critical and missing rung in their ambitious career ladders.

Despite the networking versus mentoring dichotomy, all attendees were in agreement that the local market (especially NYC) had plenty of women-focused IT organizations. To succeed, they felt, ARA New York needed to be much more than another opportunity to meet up with peers in the industry.

It needed to show demonstrable results for members, from helping mentees target and achieve promotions to germinating new business opportunities and partnerships. With that goal in mind, we mapped out several ways ARA New York could achieve both relevancy and results in a busy market.

Here are a handful of our early ideas and we invite the input (conflicting or congruent) of those invested in seeing women flourish in the uppermost echelons of IT today. Which of these ideas do you think will work and what would you add?

  • Start by hosting industry-specific networking events for women IT leaders in order to rapidly incubate professional partnerships, business and career opportunities. By trying to be "the" network for all people, many organizations lose their ability to drive real membership and engagement. The group felt that ARA can be more effective in NYC by focusing on key IT and/or industry niches. 

  • Develop cross market mentorships, such as executives in Chicago and Seattle (where ARA exists today) mentoring IT professionals in NYC. Expanding geographies is a way to bring in new perspectives and resources for the mentee as well as for the mentor.

  • Add an element of competition to the mentoring program by creating teams. For example, ARA could build teams of multiple CIOs and IT Directors. The teams able to get some/all of the IT Directors promoted the fastest would win. 

  • Collectively promote the ideas, innovations and successes of the women within ARA NYC, such as our member and bloggerCassie Slane, who is launching a toy company inspired by her daughter. 

  • Provide resources in achieving both success and balance. PhD and author Sharon Melnick gave the ARA NYC kick off meeting another important perspective on success from her recent book: how to effectively manage stress and succeed. It was agreed that either through mentorship or networking, ARA can be a place where IT executives and professionals can look for advancement and for greater balance.

And these were just some of the many ideas that came from our first kickoff dinner. We have a lot of exciting opportunities in front of us and I look forward to sharing details around our next event soon. If you are interested in joining or helping us build this budding organization committed to advancing women in IT, please contact me and share your ideas.

We invite women from the tri-state area to join the conversation: ARA New York on LinkedIn.

I also wanted to share additional background on ARA as written by member Cassie Slane in her recent Huffington Post blog: ‪http://huff.to/1cptkUb