Guest post by: Giulia Traverso
Last month I attended the Ada Lovelace Festival in Berlin, a conference for women in tech. There were many women at the top levels of important tech companies that came to speak and share their vision about the future of their industries. One talk that really stood out was the one given by Sabine Scheunert, Vice President at Mercedes-Benz. She shared the most vulnerable moments of her career, when she moved to China alone with a six-month-old baby and accepted the challenge to become the first female CEO in the automotive industry of that country. At the end of her talk, she announced a mentorship program for women. Anyone could apply by electronically submitting answers to three questions she showed on the slide.
Fast forward one month to me clumsily receiving congratulations for winning the only mentoring spot. I was speechless.
No, that’s not true. When I’m in uncomfortable situations and I don’t know what to do I usually talk way too much and never say the right thing. For the record, when I found out my response was something like: “Oh my God, thank you so much! Thank you thank you thank you! I’m so happy. You just made my day with this news. You know: I’m about to give a talk at a university one hour away from London. And I woke up at 5am to catch the Eurostar from Paris to King’s Cross and then I took two metros and one train to come here. And I got messed up with the jet leg and I thought the journey on the train would have lasted one hour and forty minutes and instead it was just forty minutes. So I fell asleep and I missed my stop and was awakened by a call from the conference host who asked why I wasn’t at the train station. And now I’m here, waiting for the train to go back, feeling like a total fraud and idiot. So yes, maybe I’m not an idiot since I won the mentorship program after all. You gave me the confidence to still be on stage and give the talk and not hide myself in the restroom. Thank you!”
Luckily, all that blabbing on didn’t lead to them deciding they’d made a mistake and were now going to give the mentorship program position to somebody else… So I guess they’d experienced worse calls in the past.
I’m so happy she chose me. She saw something in me and she chose me! Now that the initial excitement is beginning to settle, I can see there were a few beliefs and behaviours that shaped the experience and my application. Hopefully these insights can help you if you’re applying to be a mentee.
1) Sharing is a superpower. As soon as the mentorship program was announced, I turned to my colleagues and said we should hold one another accountable to actually complete the application. Then I took a picture of that slide and sent it to all my other female PhD colleagues who couldn’t join the conference and explained that there was this cool mentorship program and they should apply.
2) Embrace the bumblebee effect. In her talk at the Ada Lovelace Festival, Sabine Scheunert discussed the power of the bumblebee effect and how she lives by it. The bumblebee isn’t supposed to fly because her wings are too small to support her heavy body. But the bumblebee flies despite the laws of physics being against her because she isn’t aware of them. I had never heard of the bumblebee effect before so let me brag a little about this new scientific term that I just learned with respect to the application for the mentorship program. I applied without knowing that: 1) there was only one spot available and, 2) the competition was strong. I thought there were at least a dozen positions and that the mentorship program would involve gathering together once a month on a tel-co rather than in-person meetings. Instead, many already successful women in the tech and automotive industry applied. But it was only once I received the phone call in that remote train station between London and the middle of nowhere that I realized how big of an achievement this was. So yeah, my interpretation of the bumblebee effect is basically this: If I had known my odds, I would probably have never applied! Sometimes not knowing is best. 🙂
3) Stay detached from the outcome. Many days passed after the deadline and still no notification in my inbox. I didn’t realise that though, until a friend of mine reached out to ask if I’d heard back yet. Well, she’s a super busy wonder woman, I thought, so I’m not really expecting a response right away. I guess she has more important things to take care of than this, or I didn’t get in and of course she doesn’t have the bandwidth to reach out to everyone. That’s fine. I already felt blessed for having the chance to be inspired by her and I was thrilled and excited just for applying. I was already benefiting from the good vibes, no matter the outcome.
4) Share your success and spread the joy. As soon as I got the call, I couldn’t stay still or keep my mouth shut. I was walking up and down the platform waiting for the train to bring me back to the right spot because I couldn’t do a happy dance in public. But I told everybody about it! Starting with the host of the talk at the university, who was still waiting for me at the train station. Then my boyfriend, parents, sister, friends… When I went back home to Germany, I told my boss, colleagues, random people in the corridor at work, my German teacher. And if my German were just a bit better, I would probably have shared this news with some random folks at the supermarket. It was too good not to share!
5) Celebrate. I’m not good at celebrating my achievements. The word “celebrate” doesn’t even cross my mind when I achieve nice results. But I’m learning to celebrate. A friend of mine was so happy for me that she suggested to celebrate together. So I’m inviting her for dinner next week. Pick that one friend who is so happy for you that she can’t help hugging you and go do something fun together.
There you have it… five ideas to help you succeed in applying for and getting accepted to a mentorship program for women in tech or women in business or women in whatever your passion is (and, of course, remember to fill out the application!).