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Case study: How Dell's MentorConnect programme is strengthening female representation in the tech sector

Case study: How Dell's MentorConnect programme is strengthening female representation in the tech sector

Now in its fourth year, this cross-company, women-focused mentorship programme has grown to involve nearly 50 mentors from 11 companies, benefitting 276 high-performing women mentees, shares Andy Sim, VP and MD of Dell Technologies Singapore, in an interview with HRO's Olive Goh.

With over 30 years of industry experience in the high-technology sector, Andy Sim, Vice President & Managing Director of Dell Technologies Singapore, Andy Sim, has seen the struggles women in the IT industry face, which is why he pushes hard for the success of Dell's has launched the 'MentorConnect' initiative. 

This programe seeks to promote diverse leadership development via networking and company-to-company best practice exchange. It aims to help mentees develop hard and soft skills necessary for their next career stage in leadership. In his role today, he sees himself as an ally, an advocate and someone who takes action, and plays an important role in ensuring the success of Dell's MentorConnect. 

The development of MentorConnect

MentorConnect first begun as an informal female-focused mentoring initiative in 2019 by senior colleagues at Dell Technologies. Initially, it only started with eight mentors from Dell and three other participating organisations – IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority), Salesforce, and ST Engineering.

"Over the last three years, it has blossomed into a unique cross-company, women-focused mentorship programme involving nearly 50 mentors from 11 companies who are committed to diverse leadership and benefitting 276 high-performing women mentees to date. This year’s cohort saw participation from 29 mentors, 150 mentees and 13 companies," Sim recounts.

At Dell Technologies, it is an imperative to cultivate an inclusive corporate culture that drives meaningful impact for all employees. As a top ESG priority, it has targeted to have 50% of the global workforce and 40% of its global people leaders to be those who identify as women by 2030 in order to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

The programme is led by Dell's Women in Action Employee Resource Group, which is one of the 13 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Dell Technologies in Singapore. This ERG was formed to enable women to grow and thrive in their careers at Dell Technologies, and to foster an inclusive mindset to attract, retain and develop women. The programme has reported high success rates in their feedback where 93% are satisfied with the MentorConnect Programme and 100% would recommend to colleagues.

Aligned with the Singapore government’s push for lifelong learning, MentorConnect provides an avenue to learn, relearn and unlearn biases, skills, and habits which will help workers in the IT sector to grow to become better leaders and professionals.

As a founder of the MentorConnect programme, Dell Technologies saw the opportunity to work with relevant stakeholders to strengthen women representation in the tech sector. It then took further steps to expand the programme to involve organisations across different industries. Dell's employees, alongside other participating mentors, have gained the opportunity to learn from one another and do their part in preparing high-performing women mentees to take on leadership roles.

Challenges women face in the IT industry

Andy Sim cites data in an article from Boston Consulting Group showing that women make up less than half of the tech workforce and only 14% of women serve on the board of tech firms in Singapore. He explains that this is due to several common factors, such as Asian cultural and sociological factors, unconscious bias, lack of role models and imposter syndrome. Gender bias also remains one of the challenges faced by women from their male counterparts.

Dell Technologies believes that women should not be disadvantaged by assumptions that they are less committed to their careers, or less capable than men due to the stereotyped caregiving roles in their families perpetuated by cultural influences. Although Singapore's society has been progressing in this area, deep-rooted mindsets on roles and responsibilities have to still be unlearned and relearned.

Currently, systems in many workplaces may also be confined within these biases. For instance, some companies will only provide two weeks of paternity leave as compared to their counterparts with 16 weeks of maternity leave. While the Singapore government has put in efforts combatting this issue by doubling paternity leave to four weeks in the recent Budget 2023 announcements, employers can still take more initiative in overcoming this. More often than not, the workplace only recognises mothers as the main caretakers, which is reflected through the lack of parity for childcare leave. Overall, these deep-rooted mindsets due to cultural and societal influence cause bias in the systems set in the IT sector.

Speaking exclusively to Olive Goh, Andy Sim shares more about the programme's success and his personal views on advancing diversity in the IT industry.

Q: As MD, how involved were you in bringing this edition of the programme to life? How closely are you working with your HR lead and leadership team to continue driving this programme’s success? Seeing that the programme has received high satisfaction from participants thus far, what would you say is the key to a “successful” mentorship programme?

The success of MentorConnect was only possible with the support and commitment from the partnering companies. I am grateful to be able to support the programme by being involved as a mentor in previous years. Being personally involved in the programme also allows me to provide feedback and shape the programme based on the mentees’ evolving needs. In fact, the mentors and mentees from previous cohorts continue to give feedback even after they’ve completed the programme so that it is constantly evolving to better cater to the needs of the mentees.

Personally, I am an ally, an advocate and I take action. I’ve been a panellist in several women-themed seminars. I’ve given speeches on “The Women I Admire”. I make a conscious effort to ensure that in my hiring process, I have women candidates considered in the interviews. I have also participated in two other mentorship programmes: “one-to-many”, which is a series of cross-industry platforms for the mentees to learn from each other, and “one-to-one”, which helps unleash the mentee’s potential. Our objective is to help mentees build their network and improve their personal branding. All these contribute to helping me grow to become a better leader and individual, which in turn, helps me become a more effective mentor.

I believe that the key to a “successful” mentorship programme lies in the people themselves. Only with the commitment and support of like-minded partners and customers could we bring this programme to life, and to impact and empower more women year on year. Some of the mentees in the earlier cohorts have even become mentors themselves, imparting the wisdom that they have gained to the next cohorts of mentees. Similarly, we hope to inspire others in the industry as well. Ultimately, we want to drive industry change that empowers the career development of women professionals and create a more diverse and inclusive culture for all.

Q: A common barrier faced with such programmes is a lack of time/commitment from participants – with this programme relying very much on individual mentors’ and mentees’ proactiveness, could you share some tips for them to balance out their time and commitment?

Scheduling regular meet-ups between mentors and mentees may be challenging, but being flexible is key. Flexibility here does not only mean being flexible with your time but also being flexible with the mode of interaction between mentors and mentees. While we encourage face time between the mentors and mentees, we have a plethora of tools to leverage today and can certainly tap on technology to aid us in this area. Collaboration tools such as Zoom, Teams WhatsApp, and others, are here to help facilitate such interactions. Besides in-person catch-up sessions, there’s also the option to engage in virtual meetings. The end goal here is to forge a genuine mentorship experience.

Another tip I would give to the mentees is that they have to be transparent with their direct managers that they are embarking on this programme. They must commit time dedicated to this programme as part of their personal development. Having the buy-in and support from their leaders would go a long way in the professional development of the mentors and mentees alike.

The mentors have to prepare accordingly. In my sessions, I designed a framework with clear topics to cover, I shared my research materials (both written articles and videos), and I would ask the mentees to reflect and share their views.

Q: On a broader note – what advice would you give to other leaders who may be keen on implementing a similar programme for their leaders and workforce? 

We often underestimate the role males play in cultivating inclusive environments – however, the involvement of men is crucial to create progress. Many women may choose not to take up STEM careers because of the intimidating environment within the tech industry that may push them away. Lack of education - in terms of understanding how to get involved or what it means to be an ally – is also what I believe is inhibiting men from becoming stronger allies.

Providing mentorship and signing up to be a mentor is a good avenue for male leaders to take the first step toward becoming an ally. For any company that is interested in starting a similar mentorship programme, they can first start it off as an informal initiative. Having senior colleagues act as mentors for more junior team members to provide them with career advice based on their experiences. Over time, the programme can slowly adopt a more formalised approach after it has gained traction in terms of the number of mentors as well as mentees.

In Dell, we have our Employee Resource Group – Women In Action, which we can join and get involved. There are other independent resource groups, such as vLookUp, where individuals can sign up as either a mentor or a mentee.

Q: What can we look forward to in future editions of this programme?

For future editions, we hope to continue expanding the programme by having more companies join this programme and go beyond the STEM industries. In this year’s edition of MentorConnect, we saw mentors and mentees hailing from the likes of AON, DBS, DXC Technology, Equinix, Google Cloud, IMDA, J.P. Morgan, NTT Singapore, Prudential, Salesforce, SCWO (Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation) and ST Engineering. We would like the programme to expand to other industries such as healthcare, retail, and others where we can provide mentorship to women in these fields as well.

I hope to introduce our current global initiatives, such as Girls Who Game and Women Entrepreneur Network, and even extend our reach and collaboration to more international organisations to expand our network.

Q: On a personal note, as you were a mentor for this programme, what would your mentor persona be?

I believe that a successful mentorship experience is when the participants have mutual trust and respect, open and honest communication, flexibility and understanding of new perspectives, and commitment to the mentoring relationship.

As a mentor, I would adopt a similar approach to my leadership style where I encourage my team to be open and transparent. I believe that as a mentor, we must remain open to our mentees’ ideas and opinions and listen to their needs. This openness will then create a safe space for them to share their challenges and career goals and that is where we best provide guidance as mentors.

I quote Michelle Obama: “When girls get educated, their country will be stronger". I add: “When women get equal opportunities, their society has progressed”. This belief has strongly resonated with me and continues to guide my leadership style through my career.

ALSO READ: The rise of inclusive parental leave policies: Why they are so important and how you can start

Lead image / Provided

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