Today is International Women's Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s theme #BalanceforBetter focuses on how gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.
Balance is not a women's issue, it's a business issue. We notice gender-balance’s absence and celebrate its presence in boardrooms, governments, media coverage, and in the tech industry. And, every person, government and company has a part to play in building a gender-balanced world.
At Symantec, supporting the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen program is one way we work towards #BalanceforBetter. TechWomen connects and supports female “Emerging Leaders” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East.
Through mentorship and exchange, TechWomen strengthens participants’ professional capacity, increases mutual understanding between key networks of professionals, and expands girls’ interest in STEM careers by exposing them to female role models.
The program is extremely competitive: only 100 Emerging Leaders are chosen from more than 3,200 applications each year. While all participants have a Bachelor’s degree, 60 percent hold Masters degrees and 15 percent hold PhDs. Symantec has hosted 31 female Emerging Leaders for the full month of October from countries including Algeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and Nigeria since the program began in 2011.
Symantec hosted Abiola Ilupeju, an Emerging Leader from Nigeria, whose participation in the program changed her life. “I learned new ways of conducting software quality assurances and best practices, so much so, that upon my return to Nigeria I was able to establish a coding school and our alumni are now being employed at local tech companies,” she said.
These Emerging Leaders are assigned a Symantec employee “Professional Mentor” who provides access to training and materials to help the Emerging Leader improve her technical and leadership skills. Professional Mentors also get the opportunity to travel to participating countries for a one-week delegation trip.
I’ve been a Professional Mentor seven times and have seen first hand how impactful the workshops, panels, and training opportunities we provide during these delegation trips are in encouraging more women and girls to pursue STEM and cyber security roles. During an average delegation trip, we typically reach over 1,000 local women and girls.
Fourteen Symantec employees have mentored Emerging Leaders through the TechWomen program. Symantec employees Kalaivani Ramasamy, Irina Roach, Cagla Ruacan, and Aakruti Chokshi all became Professional Mentors in 2018. Mohna Dhomse, Director, Information Development has been a Professional Mentor five times and a Cultural Mentor, mentors who help Emerging Leaders acclimate to life in the Bay Area, twice.
Of her involvement in the program she said, “TechWomen has been a life-changing experience for me both on a professional and personal level. I have mentored emerging leaders from Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan and represented Symantec on delegation trips. The mentorship and travel have connected me with amazing women across Symantec, other Bay Area companies, and around the world. TechWomen has given me friends and a support system that is unimaginable. I am grateful and proud of Symantec’s commitment to TechWomen.”
In addition to mentoring Emerging Leaders in Mountain View and recently San Francisco, Symantec Mountain View has hosted the “Day One Orientation” for the last three years and Symantec Washington, DC has hosted a reception the last two years. Dozens of employees have provided various trainings and support at these events and each year we average more than 150 volunteer hours across all the employees who help make this program successful.
In addition to the invaluable experience provided to the Emerging Leaders and Professional Mentors, Symantec’s involvement in this program is good for business. More than 300 women in the Bay Area alone volunteer with TechWomen each year. Hosting TechWomen signature events brings Symantec’s name in front of these women and hundreds more who return home and share their experiences with their families and peers.
Symantec mentors have also been featured in local TV interviews and newspaper articles discussing the TechWomen program, the importance of cyber safety, and Symantec’s cyber security leadership. This global recognition has been a great way to showcase Symantec’s commitment to both a gender-balanced tech industry and to making the world a better, safer place.
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