Celebrating National Mentoring Day with the 84.51° Women in Tech peer mentoring program
Professional mentoring relationships offer participants a wide range of benefits that can go far beyond work. At 84.51°, our Women’s EDGE: Women in Tech subcommittee offers a peer mentoring program that enables employees to connect with other team members to share their unique experiences in the field. In honor of National Mentoring Day on October 27, we asked Kristin Dean, Senior Data Scientist, and Kelly Roth, Data Scientist, to tell us more about the program, which they currently administer, and how it’s developing skills and deepening relationships within the company.
What prompted the Women in Tech peer mentoring program?
The peer mentoring aspect of Women in Tech was launched about five years ago as a way to help women at 84.51° get to know each other and network across the business. To begin with, it’s a great way to get your feet under you when you first join the company by learning from others who have experience. But it really gained traction during the pandemic as a way to connect, and now, with many of us keeping a hybrid schedule, it’s become a great way for the Women in Tech group to foster new and better connections. Being a woman in the male-dominated tech sector has unique challenges, so it’s helpful to have outlets where we can talk about the shared experiences we have in this field and in our lives. This program is a wonderful place for where our women in tech can get to know people and work together towards personal development goals.
How do women get involved and matched up?
The process is very casual and approachable. A couple of times a year, we send out an email that asks if people are interested in being paired with a peer for mentoring. The idea is that everyone has something to offer, so this program is not about one person mentoring the other — it’s a very balanced relationship where each person contributes. Interested women fill out a little slide about themselves that includes things like what their skills are, what else they feel they have to offer, and what kinds of skills they’re looking to develop. They can also list specific names of people they want to be paired with.
Then we just match people up based on the parameters they’ve indicated. The pairings typically last about four months. When the cycle ends, we meet to start a new matching cycle and to let people know they can update their slides if they’re looking to develop something new, or if they have had any other changes they’d like to note.
What do the mentoring relationships look like?
Once they’ve been matched up, the pairings take it from there and figure out what works best with their goals and availability. They’ll usually start with a meeting to talk about cadence and how they want to structure their meetings. It’s all very dependent on, and unique to, the individual pairing. It may be an hour-long connection every two weeks, or a 30-minute connection every week. Many women like to meet in person — some hybrid workers use this program as an excuse to go into the office to meet. But if they're in different cities, they’ll do it remotely.
There's no set topic or direction anyone has to take. The pairings can take the mentoring in whatever direction they want based on what they’re interested in, and then run with it. The initial email announcing the pairing does include some tips and resources to get started, such as a list of recommended books or TED Talks people can explore together, as well as several other starter topics focused on career development and women in tech.
It’s important to note that these pairings happen across varying levels within the company. It could be a director with a less seasoned employee, or two directors, or whatever match has been requested. And while the program is part of Women in Tech, we do have one man who continuously participates. He’s a Director of Engineering, and he likes to share his experience and unique perspective to help develop people’s careers—and women often request to be matched with him, so this is how he contributes.
Also, many pairs continue to connect after the designated cycle ends. These encounters may be less frequent or organized, but once the relationship has been made, people often enjoy talking even after they've gotten a new match.
What kind of benefits do participants receive from the mentoring?
There are so many benefits, from networking across the company to career development to actually learning specific new skills. Because the benefits are so individual to the pairings, the possibilities really are endless.
We've had people say they’re not very good at time management and could really use someone who's more organized to help with best practices for juggling multiple projects. There are people who are more technically inclined who say they’re really good at Power BI and they’d love to teach it to someone. Some people want to explore other skills, like code efficiency or stakeholder management. So it's a really wide range from the most technical – I want to learn this new package, or I’m good at this package and would be willing to teach it – to women who just want to meet new people and expand their networks.
Sometimes people also request pairings based on common or complementary goals. If one person is really good at tech and wants to learn database and knows a database person wants to learn more tech, they might request each other. Similarly, if two people want to learn Power BI, they may request each other for an accountability partner while they work on that.
What has response to the program been like, and what’s next?
Overall, the feedback we’ve received has been very positive and the number of participants continues to grow. We’ve had 167 total participants and 84 pairings, with people participating in an average of three rounds so far. And we’re always asking about what works and what doesn’t so we can try to improve. Moving forward, we’re thinking about conducting some more formal surveying after each cycle to learn more about the successes, failures and cool things that emerged from each round, to see if there’s anything we can do to help optimize the program.
We’re also trying to invite more variety. Right now, the mentoring program seems to be very data science-heavy, and we'd like to see that open up to other areas. If you're a consultant, or if you're a product person, your experience is also valuable — and I think it would benefit everyone to have more points of view. So we’re looking to branch out and get more people from more areas. Getting matched with people throughout the company in such a casual setting with so much flexibility is really fun to see. People seem to be committed and the momentum is there to keep growing this effort, and the honest nature of it all makes it feel really special.
Visit our knowledge hub
See what you can learn from our latest posts.