If you follow my blog, Facebook page, or Twitter stream, you know that every now and then I find an organization that I really feel strongly about. Usually, the organizations that attract my attention are the “quiet” ones – the ones that don’t get a whole lot of media hoopla, but do powerful work in the communities they serve. Translators Without Borders is one that I’ve written a lot about. The Trevor Project is another that I write about on Facebook almost every day. It’s time to add another to my list: TechWomen.

TechWomen is an organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA). It is the brainchild of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The goal of TechWomen is to empower women and girls in developing countries by connecting them to women who work in the technology sector in the United States.

I have been involved in technology for over 25 years. When I first began, there weren’t very many women – it was truly a “man’s world”. And, some might argue that it is still largely the domain of men. But here in the United States, we like to believe that women have almost-equal opportunities in the technology arena. Women in developing countries face struggles and prejudices that I can hardly imagine. The barriers of entry for these women can be set extremely high. This is just one reason why TechWomen is so important.

There are two aspects to the TechWomen mentor/mentee relationship. The first is the transfer of technology information, both technical and situational. By working side-by-side with their mentors at Silicon Valley-based technology companies, the mentees have an opportunity to learn about technology and about organizational structure by spending time in a real-world setting. They also get to share their knowledge with people here in the U.S.

For example, there was a mentee who was paired with someone from a large, well-known software company based in San Jose. During her tenure at the company, the mentee was able to describe some of the nuances of screen swiping for different types of languages. I had never considered the impact of right-to-left languages on the physical aspects of swiping an iPad screen. What a great opportunity for the engineers in the U.S. to learn and understand these types of global considerations.

The second aspect of the learning is cultural. Both the mentees and their sponsors share information about their cultures and heritages, fostering close and lasting relationships that stretch well beyond the workplace. This is really grass-roots diplomacy and cultural exchange at its finest.

The U.S. Department of State is currently looking for women to be mentors for 2012. To be a Professional Mentor, you must be:

  • A woman who works in technology and/or a technical field in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Available to work with a mentee for a three-week mentorship, September 10 – 28, 2012
  • Able to host a mentee at your company’s site
  • Able to coach that mentee on a project of mutual benefit for the mentee and your company

To be a Cultural Mentor, you must be:

  • A woman who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Able to support a mentee during her stay in California, September 5 – 30, 2012
  • Willing to participate in dialogue that creates opportunities for mutual understanding

If one of these descriptions fits you, please consider taking part in this important program. To apply, just click here. First round applications are being accepted through May 15th.

 

 

Val Swisher
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