Mentor and mentee sitting together.

The Harvard Women in Technology + Allies Mentoring Program brought together Astride Lisenby (left) and her mentee Nancy Jagaselvan. “This program has opened new doors of opportunity,” said Jagaselvan.

Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Women in IT gain ground at Harvard

4 min read

Volunteers provide mentorship, support through new initiative

It’s no secret that today’s information technology (IT) sector is booming. Over the next 10 years, the field is projected to add more than 500,000 jobs in the U.S. alone. Yet despite that, women account for only about 26 percent of the IT workforce, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

At Harvard, 35 percent of women make up the IT workforce, based on 2019 statistics provided by Harvard Women in Technology + Allies (HarvardWIT+).

Working to increase that number is a staff-led community of volunteers from the Harvard Women in Technology + Allies Mentoring Program, an initiative of the broader HarvardWIT+ organization.

Launched in 2018, the mentoring program began as a pilot after receiving money from the President’s Administrative Innovation Fund. At its core, the program’s objective is to make Harvard a more engaged and inclusive community by increasing retention and promotion of those in IT roles, providing coaching and career-development tools, and empowering members in their workspace.

The pilot graduated 20 pairs of mentors and mentees across 16 different Harvard units this past May, and is continuing with the support of University CIO Anne Margulies and Harvard University IT (HUIT).

The mentoring program sought additional mentors and mentees at the beginning of the academic year and paired them based on targeted questions in the applications. A second cohort was accepted in October and will meet for the first time on Wednesday.

“The program had some immediate tangible results, with two of our mentees receiving promotions and giving credit to the support and encouragement of their mentors,” said Donna Tremonte, HarvardWIT+ founder and IT service delivery lead and engagement manager for the Harvard Kennedy School. “Mentorship is key to career advancement, and HarvardWIT+ is glad to facilitate these connections across the University.”

HarvardWIT+ founder Donna Tremonte (left) with Sandy Silk, who leads the mentoring program.

Founders of Harvard WIT standing together.

Sandy Silk, mentor program lead and Harvard’s director of information security education and consulting, also noted that career progression was only one facet of the program’s success. “When we compared pre- and post-program survey responses, we measured an 82 percent increase in feeling supported to explore a next career step and a 67 percent increase in confidence to self-advocate,” she said. “Participants said the mentoring program gave them the support and confidence to take the chance on themselves.”

Extending beyond the numbers, the positive impact the program has on the community can be seen most vibrantly through its mentors and mentees. Astride Lisenby, associate director for Enterprise Systems and Services at Harvard Business School, and her mentee, Nancy Jagaselvan, senior business systems analyst for HUIT, talked about how their partnership through the program has been beneficial.

“This program has opened new doors of opportunity,” Jagaselvan said. “Astride understood the struggles and challenges that I encounter at work as a minority woman, and provided excellent insights from her own experience.”

Lisenby had equal praise for the program and her mentee.

“When the call was sent out for mentors for the WIT+ program I answered it with great optimism that I would be able to be helpful to someone else on their career path,” she said. “My challenges and struggles as well as my successes have given me a broad perspective on career development. I’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share some of that with Nancy and be a sounding board for her challenges.”

Members of the community who would like to participate in future mentoring cohorts can visit the initiative’s webpage.