The Empowering Women Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) team has held a number of meetings at the INCOSE International Symposium and the International Workshop, with participation of women and men working at different levels and different areas of systems engineering (see News and Events for descriptions of these events).
From these meetings, the discussions, and the personal stories being shared, it is clear that many women, and also men, in an early career engineering role, are seeking guidance on navigating the systems engineering field. In many organizations, a preferred way of providing this guidance is through a mentor program. However, in a field with a high percentage of men there is a high likelihood that the mentor will be male.
Now, this is not at all an issue for the vast majority of guidance needed on aspects such as career planning or on navigating the organization, however from the EWLSE discussions it is evident that women in the Systems Engineering field come across a lot of questions, observations and perhaps doubts about the role of women in systems engineering and leadership that they feel more comfortable discussing with a female mentor. A fair amount of these situations may arise as a result of the existing gender gap in the field, and they may not have been encountered nor understood by their male counterparts. In addition, some circumstances may involve unconscious bias. Consequently, it can be difficult for women to find answers to certain questions that arise in their career, from a male mentor. And if there is a shortage of senior-level women in systems engineering in their own organization, it can be difficult for early career female system engineers to find mentors that have experience with these questions.
It is on this background that EWLSE worked to establish an INCOSE mentor/mentee initiative. The goal is a mentor/mentee program open to all, women and men, and we have experienced male and female mentor as well ready to assist. The program was started at the INCOSE IW 2019 and many mentor / mentee pairs have been established since.
In this context, however, the initiative is not meant as a career focused mechanism, but rather as an opportunity for the mentee to seek advice and support from their mentor. It gives the mentors’ the possibility of passing on their practical experiences and to share some of the knowledge they have gained from working in the field of systems engineering and leadership. The initiative is meant as a cross-organizational, cross-borders and cross-educational activity in which systems engineering is the common factor.
For this initiative, the relationship will be driven by the mentee, and it is not a formal time consuming process with specific goals; instead it is an offer to the mentee to pick up the phone and seek advice from the mentor, to exchange a few e-mails to share an experience, and to potentially meet at the INCOSE IW or IS.
Key points for the Mentee:
- A mentee driven relationship
- To seek input from a more experience professional that has been in similar situations
- An enabler for getting guidance on the questions for which you have not been able to find answers
- Seek advice, tips and tricks on navigating the Systems Engineering field
- Advance your network
Key points for the Mentor
- Be a champion for more women in Systems Engineering by playing an active part.
- Help with the professional development of the Systems Engineering field
- Be supportive of other women
- Advance your network
- Is not a formal process or major time commitment.
The mentor/mentee initiative has formally moved under the INCOSE Services Director team and brainstorming on next steps that included input from the EWLSE team was completed at INCOSE IS 2021. For those new to systems engineering or those who have been practicing for decades, if you are not yet matched to a systems engineering mentor or you are ready to be a systems engineering mentee or both, please contact the INCOSE Services Director. Also, see: https://www.incose.org/professional-development-portal/professional-development-portal-news.