In IBM’s first year as a MentorNet partner, only 19 employees became mentors. When 245 employees signed up in the second year, IBM knew the program was a hit.
Now in its fifth year, the IBM-MentorNet partnership is still going strong. The company participates in MentorNet’s annual partners forum and promotes volunteering with MentorNet on its On-Demand community intranet. About 300 IBM employees enrolled as MentorNet mentors in 2003–04.
"We do it because it’s important, it’s easy, it’s rewarding, and it works,” says Margaret Ashida, IBM’s director of corporate university relations and chair of MentorNet’s advisory board. “Mentoring is proven to make difference in attracting, recruiting, and retaining people in technical disciplines.”
Diversity Fosters Deeper Understanding
Moreover, IBM places a high priority on workforce diversity. “We’re dedicated and committed to the advancement of women in technical fields,” says Jennifer Topp, IBM’s workforce diversity program manager for Women in Technology initiatives. “It’s a business imperative.”
"It’s critical that we be inclusive,” seconds Ashida. “We need people in research and development who have a deep understanding of clients and communities. That means we need to have much higher participation among women—we need that diversity so we can solve important world problems.”
Filling the technical pipeline with diverse and talented people is just one reason IBM values MentorNet. Employees get a lot out of it, too.
"It’s very rewarding to the mentors—they tell us they get satisfaction in the difference that they make to the students, and it helps them develop useful coaching and leadership skills,” says Topp. The company gathers mentor feedback through periodic surveys as well as anecdotally.
MentorNet relationships also give IBM a unique perspective on the next generation of working scientists, notes Ashida.
"It gives you insights into what’s on the minds of college students. And it’s a source of insight into a future marketplace for us,” she says. “We see who’s got thought leadership at the university and college level.”
Just as important, Ashida says, MentorNet resonates with a core company value identified by employees: innovation that matters for the company and the world.
"Innovation is driven not just by fabulous technology or an approach to solving a business issue. It’s about those who can take technology and use it to solve an important problem,” explains Ashida. “MentorNet exemplifies what we mean by that. They were a trailblazer in online mentoring, an example of collaboration between industry and academia to address a key social and business problem. They’re making a difference.”