The Power of Mentorship

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Em·pow·er -əmˈpou(ə)r/ - verb - make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

I’m proud to serve as a board member for Portland Women in Technology, responsible for our mentorship program. As I write this, we are closing in on our 1000th mentee-mentor match! With my role comes an enormous sense of responsibility and gratitude to the people in our program. My passion for mentoring started early.

I was extraordinarily lucky to grow up with a mother and father who did nothing but encourage and enable me to follow “my” path of choice. As a small child I always loved space—and still do—and my parents encouraged and enabled me to follow this passion. When I left for college to study aerospace engineering, I was floored to learn that I was one of two women in the major. That quickly opened my eyes to how fortunate I was to be there, and it inspired me to start learning how I could help other women follow their own path.

Years later, I am fortunate to have the amazing role of overseeing the PDXWIT mentorship program: listening to the constant success stories of mentees taking that next step; landing their dream job; asking for and receiving the promotion or raise they deserved; deciding to start a family; tackling a new coding language; and most importantly, finding the support network they didn’t know they needed.

But to be honest, sometimes this role is really challenging. Our mentee waitlist is currently over 100. It’s hard to ask those who want help, to wait for the life-changing successes that can come from mentoring. But even harder is continually hearing from very smart, accomplished women, “I’m not qualified to be a mentor.” What?! Can we stop the constant questioning of our self-worth and knowledge?

For those readers who are unsure if they can be mentors, I have a message: You do have the information and experiences that can help someone. I’m sure of it. Please, PDXWIT mentees and underrepresented groups in tech need you. Our program is open to all people and we really need all people to be mentors.  

The qualifications for being a mentor are listed in our handbook and they are actually quite simple: Are you passionate about empowering others?

If you answered YES, you are qualified to be a mentor. See; that wasn’t that hard, scary, or even painful. We have mentees of all experiences and backgrounds looking for mentorship and I promise you there is someone out there you can help.

Our mentorship program is flexible. You and your mentee decide what works for you as a pair. Some mentor and mentee pairs meet once a quarter, some chat weekly, and some meet once, get the help they are looking for, and move on. Some mentorship pairs are purely technical and do coding challenges together or discuss product management best practices or debate UX strategies.

We’ve all had those moments in our professional life when we wonder, why is it this hard? Is it this hard for everyone? Knowing you’re not alone is powerful. If you have time for one hour a quarter to help build someone’s confidence or listen to their concerns, or just honestly and openly talk about how being in tech can be hard, you are ready to be a mentor.

You can sign up to be a mentor, a mentee or both on our website or reach to the team with any questions at mentorship@pdxwit.org.

Michelle Creedon (MC) Johansen is the Mentorship representative of the PDXWIT board, and works for Zapproved as the Director of Engineering Operations.