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As a girl, I grew up in a home where I was told that I could be and do anything. Now, as a young professional in the international development sector, I realize that this message is not always enough. Don´t get me wrong, girls can and should be and do whatever they want to be and do. But regardless of how true, good, and inspiring this message is, it’s falling short. For example, we still see too few young women pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as information and technology communication (ICT).

While there is no easy solution, role modeling and mentorship can make a real impact.

It would take too long to consider all the reasons that stop women and girls from venturing into sectors like ICT, but research shows many of them are defined and limited by the belief that women are just not as "well suited” for technical or scientific work as men are. If we want girls to unleash their full potential, to overcome the STEM gap and other obstacles, we need more than words. While there is no easy solution, role modeling and mentorship can make a real impact. Mentorship opportunities—where young women are connected with strong female role models and mentors who work in untraditional sectors—can help girls and young women break free from stereotypes, expectations, and misperceptions like the too common belief that women are not as well-suited to a particular job as their male counterparts.

That’s why IYF has included a mentorship component in our brand-new Conectadas initiative, where we work to increase female representation in the ICT sector.

That’s why IYF has included a mentorship component in our brand-new Conectadas initiative, where we work to increase female representation in the ICT sector by providing technical, life, and job-readiness skills training, along with wraparound support, to 750 young women from across México. Through weekly sessions over five weeks, Conectadas participants develop close mentor-mentee relationships with women in leadership positions. Though sessions are structured, and each has specific objectives, they are planned to encourage organic conversations and even foster a continuing mentor-mentee relationship.

Here are three reasons my colleagues and I believe mentorship is so important.

Mentorship disproves and breaks down harmful stereotypes

More than just hearing the words “you can do anything,” when girls see and interact with female role models, it shows them what can be accomplished by women in sectors like ICT. It makes education and career goals seem real, attainable, and desirable. It opens job and industry possibilities and can naturally lead girls and young women to reevaluate their perspectives on a woman´s "place" in society. We even see a positive impact of women role-modeling on men, since there is evidence that boys who interact with female STEM educators don’t think they are any less able or respected, but they have a more equitable view of girls and women in STEM.

Mentorship builds resilience and fosters a culture of learning

When women who are working—and thriving—in typically male-dominated sectors like ICT share the professional challenges they faced, how these challenges impacted their lives, and how they overcame them, they have the power to model resilience, to show their mentees that making mistakes and struggling is inherent to any job or industry, and most importantly, that it shouldn’t stop them from pursuing their interests and aptitudes. Also, as girls hear from their mentor's learning and professional-development journey, they gain confidence in their own skills and in how they can be improved with effort and perseverance.

Mentorship paves a clear pathway to career opportunities

Even when young women come to know all the amazing opportunities that await them in the ICT industry, they frequently lack the direction and support they need to make the leap. Through mentorship, we can provide our Conectadas students with guidance in how to set clear professional and personal goals, make career transitions, identify opportunities, and even how to assign value to their work so they can look for fair and equitable compensations. On top of that, mentors can show young women the real value of advocacy and networking. Mentors can be an invaluable resource in helping the mentee find, apply for, and secure a job.

Let's equip young women with the skills, resources, and support they need to advance into traditionally male-dominated industries like ICT. 

Let's continue to tell girls that they can be whatever they want to be, but let's ensure that we're showing them how. Let's equip young women with the skills, resources, and support they need to advance into traditionally male-dominated industries like ICT. The Conectadas mentorship component not only opens windows for girls to see real-world opportunities not shown to them before, but more importantly opens the door so they can step into those opportunities with perspective, purpose, and confidence. 

Please share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Ana Salinas is a Program Coordinator based in IYF's Mexico office.