Global Mentorship from Silicon Valley to Kazakhstan
April 20, 2016
Co-author: Heather Frank
Female engineers face all kinds of challenges and inequalities throughout their professional lives, and more often than not, they navigate them alone. However, these challenges are not limited by country borders. In fact, women from all over the world have similar experiences, which is why it's important for us to connect.
Heather and I are part of a mentorship and cultural exchange program called TechWomen. The program brings together female leaders in STEM from Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia with their professional counterparts in the United States to empower, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders. In the program, we provide opportunities for women to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models in their communities around the world.
We share a common passion for cultural exchange and diverse teams and environments. Participating in programs like TechWomen not only allows us to impact women in other countries, but also empowers us to be role models and agents of change in our own communities, creating a pipeline of global female leaders.
In March 2016, we had the privilege of traveling to Kazakhstan with TechWomen. We visited local secondary schools, universities, and startups to inspire women and girls to pursue STEM careers. Through panel discussions, speed geek sessions (like speed dating but about technology), TED-style talks, and LinkedIn Profile workshops, we reached more than 800 students, entrepreneurs, and professionals.
The trip was life-changing, both personally and professionally. Through our exchanges with the women of Kazakhstan, we learned that women all over the world face similar career challenges. Here are a few highlights from the program.
Meeting Technovation Teams at Almaty State College
At Almaty State College, we met a dozen teams of young girls and their mentors who are participating in Technovation, a twelve-week program teaching girls to develop social impact apps that enhance the wellbeing of their local community or country. We were particularly inspired by three nine-year-old girls building an app to download books for children. The kids earn points for every book they read, and in cooperation with local donors, those points are then converted into cash donations for a local orphanage.
Technovation teams and their mentors. Left to right: Heather Frank, 2015 TechWomen fellows Aizhan Bizhanova and Shodiyabegim Bakhtiyorzoda. Emerging Leaders participate in a five week mentorship program in the U.S. and then return to their home countries to serve in their local communities as TechWomen Fellows.
Visiting an Orphanage in Astana
Later in the trip, we visited a local orphanage, where we held a workshop for teenage girls about hardware components and building software. Many of the girls found that they had both natural talent and a keen interest in this kind of work. At that moment, we knew that we had really made an impact! We hope that through continued mentoring from the local TechWomen fellows, they will realize their full potential.
Sarasija Parthasarthy with students from the Kazakh-Turkish Lyceum for Girls.
During a visit to the Kazakhstan Space Center, we learned that a full third of the center’s scientists are women. We visited schools for gifted girls with STEM-focused curricula. We also spoke on panels at American Corners—resource centers for English language, U.S. education information, and science and technology— where Kazakhstanis of all ages apply for programs like TechWomen and Fulbright with the hope of receiving a world-class education in the U.S. and then returning to help others in Kazakhstan.
One mentor, Tasha Peláez, said in her TED-style talk with an audience of local business leaders, “if managers hire, mentor, and sponsor women, they will profit.” Together, we helped promote gender equality in the workforce. We learned a lot about the differences and similarities between our two cultures. But best of all, we made many meaningful connections.
We will cherish the relationships we built with the Kazakhstani women and our fellow mentors from Silicon Valley for the rest of our lives. The mentor-mentee relationship began with the trip, but continues to flourish online. We will be able to watch these women and girls flourish in their careers, share opportunities, and help them further their career paths, all on LinkedIn.
The TechWomen delegation in front of Zenkov Cathedral in Almaty.
We would like to thank the following organizations and people who made this trip possible:
- U.S Department of State: Sheila Casey and her department for their commitment to the TechWomen program
- Institute of International Education: Arezoo Riahi, Jillian Scott, Andrew Udeshi and Joanne Liou, who executed brilliantly on a wonderful delegation trip
- TechWomen Emerging Leaders from Central Asia: Many thanks to the inspiring leaders for their ongoing work in their communities
- LinkedIn: Our managers and our very own Women in Tech (WIT) program, who supported our participation
- The warm and wonderful people of Kazakhstan who made this experience special