mary_stevenson_cassatt_-_mother_holding_saras_chin_os_33x27.jpgMoms don’t give themselves enough credit.

I recently got a letter from a reader asking how she can find a mentor for her young daughter to help her navigate the testosterone-heavy tech profession. She wanted advice on how to find a “cheering section” for her daughter.

Well, honey, look in the mirror!!

Yes it’s great to find people who can help your daughters make it in our male-dominated work world, but moms also need to get off their asses.

So many moms have given up on their career dreams, opted to let their husbands support them, spend hours volunteering at schools and doing homework, all in the name of their kids. But when it comes to finally needing them when it matters most, some moms want to leave the self-esteem building only up to strangers.

That’s what a mentor does after all. A mentor helps build up a person’s self-esteem, confidence. It’s great to find people who help you with that, but the real work should be done at home. No?

I’ve had some great mentors in my life, but at the top of the list is my mom. I’ll admit, she’s sometimes been a reluctant mentor because she hasn’t always believed in herself, in her intelligence. But when she was able to summon the mentoring gods, she would give me and my sisters a confidence boost like no other. “You can do anything you want in your life.” “They’re just all jealous of you.” “People who say you can’t do it are idiots.”

So, time to get your Knute Rockne face on:

I know I’m being a bit hard on the mom looking for help, but we have to think better of ourselves, for our daughters’ sakes. Maybe we gals are also to blame for the fact that so few women are in leadership positions.

Also, giving up everything in the name of your kids is probably not a great role model for our daughters’ either. Is that why you’re working so hard to get them in school and to become successful? So that they can some day give it all up as well?

OK, with all that said, here’s the question from the mentor-seeking mom who was responding to a column I wrote on the lack of girls going into technology:

I have a college age daughter that was lucky enough to have a educator in high school that nurtured her talent and love of computers. She has successfully completed CISCO I-IV with a “B”, while being the only girl in the class for dual high school credit/college credit. At community college she has also found that she’s always the only girl….How would I find a woman mentor for her? My daughter wants to go to DePaul University for computer science, but tuition is more than our gross income last year….I don’t know how to help her mentally or financially, but I want her to follow her dream, no matter what anyone else tells her.

I think possibly a woman mentor could give her advise and knowledge that I don’t possess, be her “cheering section” when she’s down on herself, and in general someone to talk to that’s been there done that.
Thank you,

I got some great advice from Mary Stutts, author of the forthcoming book: “The Missing Mentor: Women Advising Women on Power, Progress and Priorities”:

Your daughter’s dilemma is one shared by many women today in the workplace and in the education system. She will be competing with many women to get female mentorship so will have to be creative in her approach. She should take a multi-pronged approach to getting the input she needs. In other words, while she may not immediately get face-to-face input, there is the strong possibility she can get what she needs online for the time being.

- Have your daughter talk to her male instructors to find out if they know of any women – instructors at another institution or even previous female students who she can contact to get some encouragement and advice about next steps.

- She should go online to find technical networking groups of engineering organizations or student engineering organizations to connect with women members or even subgroups of female members. Since CISCO and its products are very popular with people wanting to work in the technical arena and many people are seeking CISCO certification, there are many online groups and programs around CISCO. She should join some of these groups and then inquire about a female mentor.

- Since your daughter is also seeking to get into a good college, she should contact her preferred university’s admissions department and request a school visit and the opportunity to do a school tour with one of the female engineering or computer science majors. While there, she should also inquire about any female professors in those areas and reach out to her – preferably via email, but face-to-face if possible just so she can put a face with a name.

- She should go online to companies like CISCO or similar company websites and look at the executive bios in the About Us section. If there are any women listed, email or write a letter to her and let her know your goals and ask for guidance. Be very specific with your request and only write a couple of paragraphs at the most. These are very busy women who receive numerous requests daily so they will not respond to unfocused, vague inquiries. Tell her about your accomplishments and being the only woman in your computer classes. Ask her if her company has a scholarship program for young women like yourself or summer internship programs so that you can work your way through college.

I’m confident that with these options, your daughter will begin to find the guidance she needs to start building a career in computer science. I wish her much success.

I friend of mine who’s a CISCO recruiting guru, Emmanuel Conde, also suggested she join his network on LinkedIn. “There are several great women mentors in my network. This one is small but on LinkedIn a small group 08 CCIE women are connected. I advise she start by becoming a part of that group. I will introduce her when I see her request to join.”

There is nothing wrong with reaching out to help our daughters, or sons. But if we get out the mentoring pom poms around the dinner table, our kids may end up better equipped to fight, fight, fight…

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