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Championing Gender Diversity in Information Security and Information Technology Through Mentorship

Feb 15, 2017, by Sara Aly
Tags: 2016 Technology Exchange, Gender Diversity Initiative

By Helen Patton, CISO, The Ohio State University

One of the six themes that came out of our panel discussion on issues related to gender and diversity during the 2016 Internet2 Technology Exchange was the commitment to mentorship. My co-panelists and I feel as female leaders in information technology, the effort to champion for greater diversity and equality has to start with us. 

(L to R) Theresa Semmens, Helen Patton, Mary
Dunker and Kimberly Milford at the 2016
Technology Exchange in Miami, FL.

We understand how important it is to serve as role models, not only to women who have an interest in pursuing a career in technology, but to women who are just starting their career, or struggling to stay in the technology field, or thinking about growing their career. We envision the commitment to mentorship as a support system that enhances a positive experience of growth and development for an individual’s career. 


Research suggests that the most beneficial mentoring is based on mutual learning, active engagement, and striving to push the leadership capabilities of mentees. By empowering women through mentorship, we give them the confidence to attain and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

While we hope to see mentorship as a prevalent practice in all IT departments, we are aware that it requires the organization to make a concerted effort and commitment towards more inclusion and diversity, and have a plan of action to make it successful. This should not stop us from pursuing meaningful mentorships on the individual level. 

We encourage you to be proactive and reach out to a new employee. Starting a new job can be nerve-racking, especially when you’re a minority in your organization. Reach out to your new colleague, welcome them to your organization, engage them in conversation, and make them feel welcome. If you are in a leadership or management role, you may also want to consider matching a mentee up with a seasoned staff member who is willing to devote the time to grow and develop the mentorship. 

Mentor Responsibilities
As a mentor, there is an expectation that you will follow through on this commitment and hold yourself accountable for your efforts, even if the outcome is not what you expected. 

  • Be sure to set realistic expectations and keep an open mind.    
  • Always be honest in your efforts as a mentor and let your mentee know that you are committed to their success. After all, it is the mentee’s aspirations that should be the focus of your mentorship. Establishing trust and openness in communication from the start is important. 
  • Mentorship requires a time commitment; be sure to set a time limit as part of the process. Every mentoring relationship has phases, including the end to formal mentoring.

Mentee Responsibilities
The responsibility of mentorship does not fall solely on the mentor. A mentee should be just as enthusiastic and committed to the relationship. 

  • They should understand that mentorship provides them with an opportunity where they can grow professionally. A mentee should be open to constructive criticism from their mentor and willing to work towards achievable goals. 
  • Mentees also have to commit time and effort in order for the relationship to work, and should be willing and able to learn new skills and behaviors that helps them grow professionally. 

Mentorship is a two-way relationship that requires commitment from both the mentor and mentee. This relationship is based on the fundamental understanding that both of you can make a difference in each other’s professional lives. I hope these guidelines will serve as a roadmap to help continue the conversation on gender diversity in the workplace.