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Why Role Models Matter (Especially in Tech!)

Amanda Gowland — 28 Jun 2018
Contributors: Ingrid Veling
Role models and mentors can play a pivotal role in shaping a young professional's career. Find out how you can use your experience and skills to help pay it forward in the RIPE community.

The number of women in tech in the EU sits at 14% and it’s about 6% for RIPE Meetings. We have many incredible women who have been playing a key role in our community for some time – the problem is that they are often not on the agenda! The RIPE Diversity Task Force, together with the RIPE Programme Committee, are working to improve that.  

At the Women in Tech Lunch at RIPE 76 (sponsored by Netflix and Akamai), we learned about why role models and mentoring are so important – especially in tech. The presentation was done by an inspiring woman in her own right, Ingrid Veling, the RIPE NCC’s HR Director and the founder of the Polaris Network. Polaris brings together inspiring leaders as mentors and pairs them with mentees. 

Ingrid Veling shares why role models are so important at the Women in Tech Lunch at RIPE 76

So – why is a role model important?

We all have our role models, people we admire for the skills they taught us, the inspiration that helped us push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and who we could always count on for support.

In the tech industry, having a role model is especially important if you are in an under-represented group. People working in tech that are not represented by the majority risk feeling “othered”, the consequence being isolation, lack of confidence and a reluctance to ask for the kind of work that build the skills, experiences and visibility needed to reach your career goals. 

A role model can show you the path and opportunities that are out there. They can share experiences, ideas and the stamina to pursue your goals because they are proof that it is possible to reach them. Leadership is still often connected to male traits, but there is a body of research to show that typical female traits are equally important.  Role models can also show you how they deal with the biases on male and female leadership styles and what they have done to make it work for them.   

“When I was younger and did not have that much self-confidence, I had a fantastic manager. She was a woman, working in a male-dominated environment. Men that had a certain view on the world and how to do business there. She was not a business woman and had a more supportive role. But in this role, she was very strategic and tactical. The most important thing she taught me is that you can always have influence and the power to change things. No matter what role you have or where you are in the organisation, there are always ways to do so. This belief has guided me throughout my career.” 

Here’s another recent anecdote from a female working in a very male-dominated, competitive industry: 

“My male peers get more admiration and praise on their product delivery, despite delivering their product later than I would. I work so hard to have everything done in time and my colleagues were always so much more relaxed about the task. I talked to my mentor to ask her how she would handle this. She told me that when her male colleagues received an assignment from a client, they would say they were busy and would have to check their calendar. The client always felt happy and that their project had been given priority when they would start working on it usually a couple days later. Whereas I would always give a very short time frame to the client and put myself under a huge amount of pressure to get it done as soon as possible. I always get it done sooner and quicker than my colleagues but for my clients, they feel that I’ve not lived up to their expectations. My mentor advised me to handle assignments the same way as my male colleagues and it really works.”

We have many long-standing, experienced and talented peers in the RIPE community. And we have many newcomers to the community who could really benefit from the guidance and insight of those peers. We are currently working on a RIPE Meeting Mentor programme – where mentors can volunteer to introduce a newcomer to the community. We’ve already piloted an informal mentoring programme for the RIPE Fellows and it’s been a great success. If you are interested in mentoring at a RIPE Meeting, please keep an eye on RIPE Labs over the summer for more information.

Seeking: Female Leaders in Tech

We are especially looking for female leaders in our community to reach out and share their experience and wisdom with younger women just starting their tech careers. We know there are a lot of you out there!

And if you have experienced a mentor/mentee relationship, we would love to hear your experiences too.

Please get in touch with us!

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