Mentoring relationships encourage success for women in tech
In honor of National Women’s History Month, we look at a few mentoring relationships between women in technology at Wells Fargo, and how they are clearing a path for women in a still male-dominated field.
Over 8,000 miles, not to mention key cultural differences in home and work life, separate Wells Fargo team member Prathibha Mandhula and her mentor, Holly Rollefson. Yet Rollefson, an analytics manager with Enterprise Data & Analytics in Minneapolis, said she has long made it a priority to advocate for gender and ethnic diversity throughout her career in technology.
“Many women face similar challenges across cultures,” Rollefson said. “Prathibha and I were really able to forge a relationship and learn from each other.”
For Mandhula, a technology manager in Enterprise Global Services in Hyderabad, India, a strong bond with a female mentor in the United States has helped bridge the geographical gap.
“Holly has a lot of responsibility as a leader, yet she always made time to connect with me,” Mandhula said. “India still has a traditionally male-dominated culture, and that can bring challenges for women both at work and at home. Holly has helped show me how to be a thoughtful, direct, and inclusive leader who can take in diverse perspectives and work past any conflicts that may arise.”
Programs promote career growth
A recent National Center for Women and Information Technology study (PDF) found that women make up just 25 percent of computing jobs in the United States, and a 2016 Women in Financial Services report (PDF) announced that women account for only 20 percent of board members and 16 percent of executive committees globally.
Wells Fargo has established programs to empower women with the tools, access, and resources necessary for career development and growth. Key among them is the Wells Fargo Women’s Team Member Network. With a mission to connect and empower its members — all 25,000 of them, making it one of the company’s largest employee resource groups — the network offers education, encouragement, and influence.
“We need to do a lot more work at the top to continue to bring in diversity,” said Rollefson. “We need to look at diverse candidate pools when selecting the best person for the job. And we need to invite them to have a seat at the table, and show them that their opinions are valued.”
Rollefson is a sponsor of Enterprise Data & Analytics’ Global Mentoring Program, one of several initiatives across the company that focus on bolstering gender and cultural diversity. Shynitha Shyamsunder, the program’s co-founder, said diversity mentorship is part of a larger strategy to instill a cohesive culture for the group.
“For mentorship to work, it’s important to have open discussions. We need to provide women the channels and opportunities to discuss sensitive challenges particular to them,” said Shyamsunder, a technology relationship manager in Enterprise Global Services.
She added, “We wanted women mentors to inspire others to be successful and reach for leadership positions within the technology industry. It’s so critically important for women to have role models to whom they can relate.”
Avid Modjtabai, head of Payments, Virtual Solutions and Innovation, and executive sponsor for Wells Fargo’s primary enterprisewide women’s mentoring program, believes that creating an inclusive workplace that reflects gender equality is critical for serving the needs of team members and customers.
“In the many roles I have had at Wells Fargo, I have been consistently amazed every day at the strength, intelligence, and dedication of women I meet across the bank,” Modjtabai said. “As leaders, we need to make sure we provide the opportunities, infrastructure, and support they need to thrive. Our team and our business are stronger when we have a rich diversity of gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, and thought.”
Mentoring comes full circle
Jenna Hammer, a Customer Insights manager for Virtual Channels, still recalls the moment she realized just how far she had progressed in her career. She was at a conference when a young woman sitting next to her struck up a friendly conversation.
“We were chatting casually, and I started to share a few thoughts when I noticed how intently this young woman was asking questions,” Hammer said. “I realized then that I do have a unique perspective that someone else might value.”
Hammer attributes much of her professional growth to her mentor, Marie Floyd, head of Digital Experience Design at Wells Fargo. “Marie has been a huge personal advocate who continues to push and challenge me to seek opportunities that I might not have pursued on my own.”
For Floyd, a long career in high-tech companies — where she was often the only female executive in the room — led her to mentor and provide career advice for other women.
“Many women are their family’s primary caregiver and need to excel at juggling work-life balance,” Floyd said. “And often, they have to work harder just to get recognized. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why mentoring is so important.”
Hammer and Floyd both have advice to offer other women. Floyd recommends carefully selecting projects that offer opportunities for learning and growth, and Hammer suggests pursuing mentorships, even if they are informal, in diverse areas of interest.
“I’ve found a confidence — both as a leader of my own team and a contributor who adds value to the company as a whole,” Hammer said. “It’s something that I want to instill in others. Perhaps taking on a formal mentee of my own will be my next assignment.”