It’s important to mentor young women

The young women (and men) of today, the so-called millennial generation, especially those in the IT world, are on the whole smart, savvy, technically sound, confident, practical, worldly-wise, achievement-oriented… On the flipside though, a fair number of them tend to be, as a result, impatient, commitment-phobic, especially to their present jobs, are often attention-seeking, and entitled. And that’s where the importance of mentoring comes in. In many companies in Technopark, for example, where a majority of the workforce is aged between 24 and 30, there are active mentoring programmes in place where senior personnel provide guidance to these youngsters.

“I think the main reason why the kids these days need mentoring is because there is a definitive dearth of role models. In my generation, for example, throughout our growing up years, we had sound role models in the form of our school and college teachers. No longer. Nowadays, role models seem to come in the form of a Salman Khan or a Shah Rukh Khan! That’s not the way it should be,” says Sindhuja Varma, senior manager, human resources (HR)/ learning and development at Allianz in Technopark, who has been “passionately” involved in mentoring activities for the past couple of decades.

Sharon Valentine, Vice President, HR and administration at Nest, and one of the senior-most women professionals in the IT field in the city, explains this trend thus: “The breakdown of the joint family system, in which, right from a young age, we are trained to deal with, learn from and collaborate with all manner of people across age groups, has given rise to a generation obsessed with the ‘me/ myself’ attitude. That can be detrimental in an office environment where one has to accommodate people of all age groups, mannerisms and backgrounds, many of whom may not be on the same wavelength.”

But mentoring doesn’t mean mollycoddling or handholding or making them comfortable – however much the youngsters think they are entitled to it, say the seniors. “A mentor’s job is not to give solutions to whatever problems they may have, be it professional or personal. If they do given solutions, then they have to take a look at their priorities. Instead, mentors function primarily as sounding boards. We point the youngsters in the right direction,” says Sindhuja. Hema Menon, an account manager, with UST Global adds: “Speaking from experience, mentoring is one of the keys to success – the key to discovering our latent strengths, which we may not be aware of until someone points it out to us. Mentoring leaves an enduring impact on our productivity and quality. There are many valuable lessons to be learnt from the experiences of seniors in the corporate world.” Hema, who was herself mentored by her boss Don Prosche, during her stint in the United States, now leads UST’s Network of Women USsociates (NowU), involved in empowering women within the company. Rina Vivekanandan, managing director, Global BPO Partners agrees and says: “Mentoring revolves around the qualitative aspects of our career such as handling criticism and disappointment, giving constructive criticism, dealing with frustration, cultivating traits like humility and empathy, and so on.”

If there is one industry where men and women employees are treated on par, then it’s perhaps the IT world. Yet, very few women rise to the top in the industry – in Technopark there are only a handful of women in senior management positions. Perhaps that’s why many companies often go that extra mile to help further the careers their women employees. “General HR policies would be the same for both men and women. But off the record we have implemented add-ons such as SMS alerts,” says Sharon. Rina recalls one of her policies: “Back in 2000, it was not mandatory for a woman to work the night shift. I introduced the concept of ‘inclusivity’ and insisted that both genders work all shifts. That decision met with a lot of resistance. So I decided to work alongside them from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a month. This tipped the scales in my favour.” Parvathy N. Pillai, general manager and head of product strategy and management at IBS, who leads over 200 of the youth brigade, adds: “We try to accommodate women as much as possible and nurture their dreams and ambitions. We make sure communication channels are always open. For example, after marriage, instead of straight away quitting their job if they need to relocate, we try and give them the option of working from home for some two to three months while they sort out their new living arrangements. They can also opt for the 50 per cent work schedule. And this, I believe, is the policy across the board in Technopark.”