Mentoring program will help young girls find joy in IT

Several Toronto-area female students are getting some help glimpsing a future in the IT field.

IBM Canada has embarked on a new e-mentoring program that pairs a female executive with two girls in grade 7 or 8. The vendor has also created a Web portal with games and information for the young women to visit and through which to correspond with mentors via e-mail.

There are 20 IBM employees partnered with 40 girls. The students were selected by their teachers, with the partnering formalized at a recent dinner event. That dinner was the only time the mentors and mentees will meet face to face.

Each mentor and each student will build their own Web pages on the e-mentoring site, as a way to get to know everyone on the program.

Yim Chan, a technology deployment executive with IBM, will be mentoring two Grade 7 students from Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy in Etobicoke, Ont.

Chan said although she has mentored before within IBM’s management, this is the first time she will have the ability to counsel anyone in this age group. “I have always enjoyed mentoring,” she said. “I had very good mentors myself at IBM.”

She said working these two girls will be quite different than working with other professionals at IBM, but she has already received some help.

“I have grade 7 and grade 10 girls, so they have been giving me tips,” she laughed. “They told me to be patient, lead them to the problem, encourage them.”

The mentors have promised to spend half an hour with each girl once a week, and some topics – such as sexuality, religion and politics – are officially off the list of approved topics, Chan said.

As for the mentees, Minnie Rai and Shalini Diaram are interested in help with math and learning more about the computers they will be working on.

Rai, 12, hopes to learn more about science as well, which will further her goal of become a neurosurgeon. “Some of the people (in the program) don’t believe in themselves. I don’t believe in myself sometimes and I would like this program to help with that,” she said.

Diaram said she likes science but isn’t so sure about math. “I’m going to ask (my mentor) what people study in university. I want to be a science teacher,” Diaram said.

She added that when she moved to Canada from Guyana last year, she knew nothing about computers, so she’s hoping Chan will have some insight for her on that subject as well.

Susan Turner, director of diversity and workplace programs at IBM Canada, said this program will encourage girls to keep up with their maths and sciences. “At this age there is a tendency to drop those subjects once in high school, so if we can influence them to keep up, that would be a great accomplishment,” she said.

Another goal of the e-mentoring program is to dispel the myth that technology is not fun for girls, or that it is only for boys, according to Turner.

“We want to help them understand that there are great opportunities and that math and science will open up opportunities for them,” she said. “I would like to increase their awareness of what technology can do for them. It would be something to expand their knowledge beyond e-mail and ICQ (instant messaging).”

Chan hoped this program will also be reflected in her home life. “I want to end up being a better mentor for my own children. This is also an opportunity to learn how to encourage younger people through your own life experiences.”