As she entered high school, Crystal McFarlane began to noticed that her interests differed from many of her peers. “My interest in technology grew more than tinkering with my home computer,” she writes. However, as her passion deepened, she found herself alone in her excitement, “Nobody who was close to me shared this passion or even understood it.”
Crystal soon discovered another hurdle as she explored opportunities in technology through her high school. “My femininity in male-dominated spaces was so intimidating,” she says. Crystal, however, didn’t allow this feeling to hold her back. She joined the App Team and Women of Distinction clubs at her school and entered a global coding competition, where she came in third place globally. “This was the confidence boost I needed to face the uneasiness of having most of my classes comprised largely of males.”
Crystal’s story might echo that of many other young women across the country. Research shows that, for many girls, interest in STEM fields drops during middle school. Martin Bauer, psychology professor at the London School of Economics, outlines some key reasons why this might be: "Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls' career choices away from STEM fields" (https://tinyurl.com/hwus7sy).
In fact, while women make up 57% of all undergraduate degrees, they hold only 18% of undergraduate degrees in computer and information sciences (https://www.ncwit.org/infographic/3435). For minority women, these figures become even more skewed.
In joining the Her Honor Mentoring program, Crystal hoped to continue to find spaces in which she could thrive, “Having someone close to me to help me through my journey will help me overcome many obstacles I will face in my future.” Fortunately, through a careful mentor match, HHM has helped Crystal to feel less alone.
Renee Fleuranges-Valdes works in Global Business Development for the Cloud Business Unit at IBM and has been a mentor with HHM for the past seven years. As a mentor, Renee feels that the experience benefits her just as it does the mentees, “We both get to see things from different perspectives,” she writes, “A truly balanced mentor/mentee relationship drives both participants to look within themselves to get the most of the journey.”
During her time in HHM, Crystal is supporting Renee in creating strategies and designing programs to grow IBM’s Cloud “as a Service” offerings worldwide. Renee encourages Crystal to be fully engaged through the learning experience, “ I expect them to become an active participant, asking questions, driving insights and making recommendations on how we can improve our programs, benefits and success rate.”
In Renee, Crystal has found someone who shares her interests and can help motivate her. What’s been the most rewarding part of the experience for Crystal? “Having the opportunity to talk to someone who is similar to me and being nudged out of my comfort zone to try new things.”
Through supporting relationships like Renee and Crystal’s, the team at Her Honor Mentoring hopes to see the tides turn for women in STEM careers. There’s clear evidence of the power of role models and mentorship on shifting the gender gap in these fields, and Renee and Crystal represent a true example of this in action. As Renee says, “Every year, I am amazed at the transformation that I see from the girl I meet in October, to the young woman who graduates in June.”