Why Mentors Matter: The Power Of Women Supporting Women In STEM

Alice Duthie
on April 25, 2023

In Australia, women make up only 15% of the workforce in STEM-qualified positions. Senior management and CEO positions have even lower female representation, sitting at 23% and 8% respectively, emphasising the importance of mentorship programs.

Jess Box, Senior Director of Product Insights & Analytics at Linktree, and previously the Managing Director at Girls in Tech Australia attributes her success to her mentors and aims to pass on those lessons to future generations. As a woman in tech, she recognizes the significance of mentorship in reducing the gender gap in STEM and hopes to empower more women to work in the industry.

We spoke with Jess to find out more about her career journey so far, why mentoring has played a vital role in her success, and her advice to young women aspiring to pursue a career in tech.

Could you tell us about your career journey so far?

I’m someone who is driven by wanting to have an impact on the world through bringing together smart people. That’s always what’s tethered me when making decisions throughout my career journey.

I spent the first decade of my career working with some of the most prolific brands locally and globally (including Toyota, Slack, Australia Post and Sportsgirl) and growing VC funded startups like Finch. I learnt so much about what it means to build an obsession with customers and solve their problems from the breadth of companies I had the pleasure of working with.

I also ran Girls in Tech Australia for the last 6 years from its early days in Australia through to being nationwide. I’m passionate about changing the game for women in tech and business by creating deep communities, opportunities and connections that didn’t exist before.

I then joined Linktree (where I am currently!) as one of the first leadership hires outside of the founders and have seen the company go from 2M users to over 35M. What a ride it’s been!

Linktree mentors
Why Mentors Matter: The Power Of Women Supporting Women In STEM

Outside of Linktree I’m passionate about advising companies on growth, product and insights including being on the board of Banjo Home Loans, a coach at Folklore’s Product Chapter and many early stage stealth startups.

So, what has been the through line of all these experiences and continues to light a fire in my belly? Incredible teams built with empathy and a strong sense of belonging. I’m excited to continue to obsess over up-and-coming talent and provide pathways for them to step up and achieve things beyond what they could have imagined.

How has empathy played an important role in your leadership style?

Immensely, is the short answer. But I’ll give you the long one!

I’m naturally very empathetic so I lead from that place. I have cultivated my leadership style which is to ensure I see my team as whole people, creating clear goals that I hold them accountable to, but at the end of the day we’re all driven to have an impact – I lead from that shared understanding.

I come across bias everyday, so my personal approach is to call it out and acknowledge it when it happens (including when I do it!). It’s so important to give others feedback as they often don’t know they’re doing it and you can be the one to create change.

Vulnerability is often mistakenly seen as a sign of weakness in leadership. How have you utilised vulnerability to build trust with your team?

Great question. I do think this is a bias that exists in society based on the expectations that work and life are separate. This is no longer the case and I absolutely see vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness.

How can you expect to get the most out of your teams if you don’t share your own weaknesses and own up to mistakes?

A great example of this is leading a remote team. Most of my team are in the US and I’m based in Australia so we don’t get much face-to-face time directly, but we spend our virtual time sharing and going deeper on who we are as individuals. To kick off our team meetings we share how we’re feeling out of 10 and what we’re grateful for. This ensures that I put my hand up when I’m not feeling so great, but we’re also there to celebrate when there’s wins too.

This approach cultivates deeper relationships and trust, so when there’s challenges nothing is taken personally because you know people as ‘whole people’ not just who they are in their Slack profile.

Why Mentors Matter: The Power Of Women Supporting Women In STEM

Who are your leadership idols, and how have they influenced your leadership style?

I’m going to limit this to 3 because I could go on for days (and you’ll see there’s a theme on my passion for empathy!):

  1. Brene Brown – the work of Brene has shaped the foundations of how I think about leadership and draw from everyday, particularly as a woman in tech. She pushes for candour as a way of being kind, using courage as a way to push for greatness and ultimately holding others to a high standard around you.
  2. Jacinda Ardern – Jacinda’s approach to leadership looks and feels different to so many in politics that I absolutely idolise she was able to push to the top and stay there, but also know when is her time to bow out. Her grace, poise and clarity is what makes her a great leader.
  3. My Mum – I had to include my Mum, she’s a superwoman! She never put a ceiling on me and opened so many doors and opportunities I never would have thought of. I take a lot of my care in leadership from her.

How can mentorship help with reducing the gender gap in STEM fields?

The challenge I see in the tech industry for women in particular is the lack of role models. This stems from underrepresentation of course which we know given women are only on  34% of ASX 200 boards. The concept of “you can’t be what you can’t see” is something I always share with people I mentor and also wider leadership teams in the companies I work with. How can you know what opportunities look like if you can’t see them? We need to get much better at this and mentorship plays a critical role.

For me, being a mentor is about being a champion for others. I see my role as shining a mirror up to what people already know, rather than crystal balling their future for them. This looks different for each person as everyone has different needs, desires and goals, both in their professional and personal life. I pride myself on leading with empathy, and remain committed to creating an open, comfortable and safe space for people of diverse backgrounds to share, while I listen.

Why Mentors Matter: The Power Of Women Supporting Women In STEM

What final advice would you give to young women aspiring to pursue a career in tech?

The best advice I’ve received is “run fast and break things”. It was said to me by a male champion early in my career who has continued to champion me in any room he enters. What this advice meant to me was to never set a ceiling for myself and always push for greatness. I have taken this on throughout my career (it’s particularly helpful in startup and scale up environments!) and regularly push for the same in others, so I’d encourage all young women to not put a ceiling on their goals and dreams.

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