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Shining a light on the male mentors of IT

Who are the male mentors encouraging the women in IT to succeed?

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: Meet the men helping women succeed in IT

There has been much discussion surrounding the need for diversity in IT and attracting more women to the sector has been a major part of the debate.

Thanks to increased interest in diversity, women in IT have more places than ever to turn to, such as women’s networks, support groups and events. These are usually female-only environments, with men in the industry rarely attending or feeling like they have a role to play in fixing the gender imbalance. However, there are some men in IT who are very much part of the drive.

Computer Weekly spoke to some leading women in IT about male mentors they think highly of and are thankful to for getting them where they are today.  

Larry Hirst, independent chairman and former chairman of IBM Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea), is a mentor to the majority of women featured on Computer Weekly’s top 50 Most Influential Women in UK IT list 2015.

“I’ve been involved in mentoring for most of my life. I have utilised my own mentorship and those who have helped me too. I take onboard people who are genuine about their careers and want some support, whether male or female,” he says.

“I have more than 100 people who can call me and ask something when needed. I mentor women of all ages, but they’ve become more senior as I’ve moved into more senior positions. That 10-year window of mentoring certain females means they’re now coming to the fore as CEOs. I still visit my 89-year-old and 75-year-old mentors.”

Guidance and building confidence

Chris Ciauri, senior vice-president of the Emea commercial business unit at, is a mentor to Eileen O’Mara, vice-president of sales, Emea at Salesforce.

Ciauri says he has never treated male or female mentees differently, but he has noticed women sometimes need more of a nudge: “There are more reservations from women and they sometimes need to be encouraged to take risks and realise their strengths.

“It is important to at least discuss these roles with strong females to show them where they could scale their career to and how to approach such a role when it opens.”

O’Mara says she has actively tried to find talented guides throughout her career: “I started finding good mentors when I was at university. A professor of mine was my first mentor and he helped demystify the whole thing and what the relationship is like. He helped me to realise the structure of a mentoring relationship and how I could contribute.

“You need more than one as there is no such thing as the perfect mentor. Women sometimes hesitate on picking a mentor as they think they have to be perfect, but they can be from different backgrounds and can last for different lengths of time.

“I have five mentors for guidance and some are more regular than others – some are internal and some external. They don’t differentiate on gender, but I have found that male mentors will point out more areas of progression I hadn’t thought of myself, where they thought I’d be a good fit.”

O’Mara herself mentors several men in the IT industry, as well as women, which she believes is important.

Encouraging women

TeenTech founder Maggie Philbin considers Richard Reisz, founder of TV6 Limited, her professional mentor. Reisz was the editor of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World series when Philbin presented the show.

“Maggie Philbin was an incredible part of the Tomorrow’s World team for five years. Looking back over the past 30 years since we made the show, things were very different then – and so was the BBC,” says Reisz.

“Encouraging women on the show was important to us. We were both 50/50 in front of the camera and behind it to an audience of 10 million a week. We were a big show competing with EastEnders and Top of the Pops, yet many people who were kids back then have said the show influenced their own careers.

“I tried to encourage everyone on the show to feel they could take on any story and there was nothing too difficult to communicate. It was important not to talk down to people, but put it in a way they could understand and learn from.”

Rebecca George, a partner at Deloitte, put forward her mentor Mike Turner, a retired partner in Deloitte, who she says has supported her career so far. 

Turner says during his career he always had formal processes for assessment and promotions, but adds: “The bit sharp people normally spot is that you need to talk to people who are not normally in your line of things and you need to talk to more than one of them.

“I’ve had male and female mentees and I’ve encouraged them to make moves in their careers or given guidance when needed, such as when to put family first.

With women, it’s about getting them to realise they can get there being the best they can be, not being someone else
Larry Hirst, IBM

“There are certain points in people’s careers when they really value council. For example, someone does brilliantly at university, but when they go into the business world of technology they find they’re not as good, so they need some guidance on how to make sense of that. Guidance might also be about how to move from technical compliance to business compliance or how to move into management and supervising others.”

When mentoring men or women, Turner asks: “What have you invested in yourself since we last met?” Both men and women struggle to answer the question. 

He agrees there can sometimes be a difference in the confidence shown by female mentees in which direction they should take their career next: “There seems to be more reflection from women about whether they can do it, whereas men tend to think they should do something and not whether they can do it successfully. 

“Females need to be coaxed more into looking at the broader landscape, as they might dismiss a role because of confidence or because they haven’t considered it before.”

IBM’s Hirst says confidence is important, but he tells his female mentees they do not need to change who they are to get ahead: “I am an extreme introvert, no matter what people see on stage. There is a macho culture in the western world and it’s not my natural style nor that of many I mentor, but you should never underestimate the personality of the introvert.

“With women, it’s about getting them to realise they can get there being the best they can be, not being someone else. Sometimes I am asked how someone can change themselves or be different to be successful and I just tell them to be their best self.”

“As a man, you have more chance of being on the board if you support a gender-equality campaign than trying to be part of the Spearmint Rhino Club. Sometimes people’s behaviour is different to how they really are, just so they can get to where they want, but you don’t have to be the extrovert all the time because usually the powerhouse in the room is the introvert.”

Mentoring is like a marriage

Turner says finding the right mentor is important as not everyone makes a good match: “You have to ask why when anyone says they want you as their mentor. It’s like a marriage – you have to have trust and know they’ll be candid with you.

“One male mentor once said to me after a session, ‘Right, back to work now’, and I reminded him mentoring is part of his work. Women seem more serious about it and build it into their careers, valuing that it is part of their career paths, whereas men think it is a nice extra to have.”

Saleforce’s Ciauri agrees, saying: “There has to be a level of connection in a mentoring relationship where you both benefit. If your mentor is too many levels away from you, the relationship will be too superficial and will not last long term. Because Eileen works for me, I understand her issues and she understands mine. Rich mentoring is less about what you do in your daily job and more about how you’re perceived, what you want and what your strengths and values are.

“We have a mentoring programme at Salesforce, but we don’t force it as you can’t create the trusted relationship needed, which is what adds the value. You need to be thoughtful about who you are matched with. I normally spend the first 45 minutes figuring that out and if we don’t think it will work then no one’s time has been wasted.”

According to Hirst, men can sometimes see having a mentor as a “tick in a box”, whereas women want a “richer relationship” from it.

“When I mentor people, I want them to be the best they can. When people want a sponsor, they want to get there fast and they might have to not be themselves to get there,” he adds.  

Bringing men into the gender conversation

According to Hirst, to ensure more men are involved in the diversity discussion there needs to be more conversation about inclusion and similarities rather than differences. “That’s what will make the change. If men don’t get involved in the gender debate, they will eventually be left behind,” he says.

Turner agrees: “There is lots of talk about diversity nowadays because companies have realised you need to mirror your customers. If you can do that, you’ll always be at an advantage.” 

TV6’s Reisz says: “The conversation was far more limited around diversity 30 years ago, but this is beginning to change now. Back then, there was a science and features department at the BBC and more shows about science and technology.

“Unfortunately, when the shows go, so do the role models, and Maggie was and still is an influential role model to many.”

Jacqueline de Rojas, area vice-president of northern Europe at Citrix and president of techUK, was crowned Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in UK IT 2015. She put forward Phil Doran, UK and Ireland sales director of enterprise at Citrix, for his commitment to mentoring in his spare time.

Doran works in his local community and has been involved in career days, interview days and opportunities for young girls to discover the different roles available in the tech sector.

“During these activities, I met a young girl who was brilliant and had brilliant ideas on how to change the world – she just needed some infrastructure and some support,” he says. “I worked with her school to become her mentor throughout her GCSEs and she went from achieving Ds and Es to As and Bs. I’ve been mentoring her for two years and she’s currently in sixth form considering her courses at university.”

Citrix employees are encouraged to find mentors and to be mentors themselves. “The amount of strong females at Citrix is something that attracted me to the role. It’s fantastic to be able to tell my own daughters and the young girl I mentor that I work for the most influential woman in UK IT 201,” says Doran. 

“It’s important to find mentors inside and outside your company as the coaching will be different. You have to be happy in your role, and diversity triggers happiness.”

Ciauri says it is no longer a secret that a gender-balanced team produces better results. “There are different challenges women face in the workforce, and finding female role models to look up to can be hard. This made me curious about how I could support more women in this area,” he says.

“When I mentor, I don’t inherently approach males or females differently. It’s just trying to understand more what a woman might say and what’s more important to her work-life balance. We need to stop trying to fix the women and start fixing the men by educating them on the benefits of gender balance.”

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