Women make up 57% of the professional workforce in America1 but hold only 24% of jobs in the field of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics).2 WeTech believes that mentorship can help remedy the STEM gender gap. WeTech directly connects girls to industry mentors via our Afterschool Program, where middle school and high school girls are mentored in app invention for Technovation. WeTech spoke to two of our Qualcomm mentors that participated in the 2015 Afterschool Program to find out why they feel that mentoring matters.
Jayachitra "Chitra" Ramesh is a Senior Staff Engineer/Manager and manages five to six projects at a time. Chitra's team of engineers works with her to support hundreds of other Qualcomm engineers internally. She holds a Master's in Computer Applications and has over 20 years of industry experience. She has spent 18 years with Qualcomm and started her career as a programmer coding in C++.
Swapna Divya is a Software Engineer working with Qualcomm's Multimedia R&D Audio Team. She graduated with a Master's in Electrical and Computer Science Engineering and has been with Qualcomm for two years.
WeTech: What interested you in becoming a mentor?
Chitra: Computer Science was not taught in the high school where my daughter goes to (they now do), so I thought Technovation would be a good way to introduce her to CS. Since I was going to teach her myself, I thought I might as well coach other girls also, so I taught about 20 girls introduction to AppInventor and finally formed one team with five girls. The experience was very rewarding, so now I am continuing to teach them other CS topics.
Swapna: I wanted to help build the pipeline for the next generation to enter the STEM field. I want to see more women at my workplace.
WT: What are some of the things that you were able to support your mentees with?
C: I taught them the basics of programming, helped with finding resources and generally guided them with good practices (such as taking notes during meeting, maintaining action items, providing status, etc).
S: I helped them gain access to the resources they needed to succeed: arranged trips to work, get help from other mentors with specific skill sets like business development and UI design.
WT: Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
C: My manager for the past 15 years has been a mentor to me. I learned a lot of things from him.
S: My mother was my mentor. She was a great proponent of education as a path to empowerment.
WT: Do you think having a mentor had an effect on your career development? If so, how?
C: Having a mentor helps to see the workplace from a different angle. Mentors understand your perspective, your strength and weakness and provide guidance without being critical.
WT: Have you faced any challenges as a woman working in a predominantly male dominated field?
C: No. I never had an issue.
S: I think the biggest challenge has been finding peers who are going through the same experiences as I. I don’t necessarily face any challenges, but would like to catch up with a female co-worker for a coffee break and just talk. Qualcomm has a very inclusive workspace, where I never felt that I was being treated differently.
WT: What was your proudest moment as a mentor?
C: When the girls said that they wanted to make their idea a real app (not just a prototype) and learn what it takes during the summer. I am starting summer classes tomorrow.
S: I feel proud of all their little achievements - from the first piece of code to the elaborate business plan they put together.
WT: What is your hope for the next generation of women in STEM careers?
C: I hope we see more women, not just engineers, but also the inventors and CEOs of startups.
S: I hope they stick with it even when things get tough. Lots of us have "been there and done that." So, they should try to take advantage of the path laid out for them by all the pioneering women. And, of course, pay it forward!
WT: We know you’ve done this many times with your mentees but what are a few pieces of advice that you would give any young woman interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
C: Try a variety of things (CS, Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering, Math, etc.) before deciding on which route you want to go. Take a class in each of the areas that interest you. Set a goal and do a project. Read technical blogs.
S: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s never too late to start something new.
WT: What advice would you give to a professional interested in becoming a mentor?
C: Teach the students to fish, and never give them a fish. Tell them what needs to be done, and they will always surpass your expectations when they do it. Even if you think you don’t have the time to mentor, helping them once or twice in a specific/focused area is a great help.
S: There is nothing more rewarding than paying it forward. Even a couple of hours every month can make a big difference.
1 US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, Occupational Category (15-0000)
2 US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, 2009, American Community Survey
Are you inspired to become involved in WeTech's programs? Reach out to WeTech to learn how you can support women and girls build skills in STEM.