TechWomen Panel, Feb 13 2012.Yahoos were out in force at the Feb 13 TechWomen briefing, held at Microsoft's Mountain View facility, after a similar session earlier in the day in San Francisco. TechWomen is a program sponsored by the US Department of State, in conjunction with the Institute for International Education and the Anita Borg Institute. Its purpose is to bring talented technical women from the Middle East and North Africa regions to the US for a life-changing professional and cultural mentoring experience.
The goal of the TechWomen briefing was to inform potential Silicon Valley mentors about the benefits of the experience and how to apply. The briefing event began with a stellar line-up of officials from the Department of State and IIE, and a personal video plea for involvement from Hillary Clinton. The main event was a panel discussion led by Sheila Casey of the State Department, with former mentor panelists from NetApp, Juniper Networks, startup Survivify, and our own Yahoo Fabiola Addamo, who was a cultural mentor last year. As Fabi says: "From my own experience as an immigrant, coming to this country with a bagful of dreams, I wanted to share (with mentees) that here it is possible to create your career."
There are 1500 potential mentees currently completing applications for the program, in 8 MENA countries. They will go through a rigorous selection process with expert panels and their local US embassies, getting checked on their educational and professional background, their communication skills (via essays) and whether they are "giving back" to their communities and cultures. 84 women out of the 1500 will be selected, and then paired with local mentors for a transformational 5-week program of professional projects and cultural immersion, starting September 10. The mentees have generally moved heaven and earth, in cultures where women's paths may be limited, to be able to take time from their jobs, their startups, their theses, their spouses and children to be part of this experience. They are carefully matched with the most compatible mentors in order to create the most fruitful and productive mentor-mentee learning partnerships.
Yahoo had 5 mentor participants in 2011, and one mentee, Rayya Abu Ghosh, a Yahoo! employee in Jordan. Rayya says: " TechWomen gave me great exposure to people, references and tools to use in my career. TechWomen was explosively filled with inspiration and positive energy that spread from the mentors and organizers to the mentees and right back!... (It's a) great cultural exchange... where Arab women meet American women from different cultural backgrounds and share each others' personal beliefs and traditions".
What do the mentors get out of the program? That was an easy question for the panelists, who universally spoke of the mentee's contagious energy and desire to learn, their camaraderie, their amazement at our freedoms and variety of lifestyles. Because they are paired with these high-profile mentees, the mentors also benefitted from exceptional networking opportunities both within and outside their companies. On a larger scale, our country benefits from the people-to-people relationships created by the program, which helps inspire the mentees to be professional pioneers in their home countries and trailblaze a brighter future for women everywhere.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please visit the TechWomen website to learn more.