Only 25% of workers in computer occupations are women, according to Pew Research. Bryan Gruhlke, Vice President of Visionary, is trying to raise that number through mentoring.

Gruhlke became a mentor through Future Ready Iowa Virtual Mentoring in March 2020, just after its launch.  

Gruhlke is the first mentor in the program to successfully guide not one but two mentees in their career journey. A month after joining, he matched with Heather Whittlesey, a student returning to school to earn a degree in computer software development at Indian Hills Community College. In January 2021, Gruhlke took on another mentee when he connected with Erica Manning, a traditional college student earning her degree in web development at Des Moines Area Community College.

Both students take advantage of the Future Ready Iowa Virtual Mentoring Program video chat feature and the messaging feature offered through the online mentoring platform. These features help mentoring connections facilitate meetings and share resources all in one easy-to-use platform.

“I think I’ve been very lucky because I’ve had two women as my mentee,” said Gruhlke. “I have a 15-year-old daughter, and it would drive me nuts if she wasn’t able to do something because the industry says it’s not right because she’s a girl.”

Gruhlke understands the power of mentoring first hand and tries to share that knowledge with his mentees. 

“I’ve been at Visionary for 12 years now. One person in particular kind of stood up and took me under his wing and was willing to share just about anything,” said Gruhlke. “My rise at Visionary has been, I would say, pretty quick, and a lot of that’s down to this guy stepping up and guiding me along.” 

For Gruhlke, relationships and networking are crucial elements in the IT field. In a career where people move from job to job every few years, connections are everything. Building relationships with professionals in an industry is one of the virtual mentoring program’s top benefits for mentees, including Heather Whittlesey.

“I think something students tend to overlook is the power of networking. Not only do you need to have the knowledge or skill in your area, but you also have to have that ability to network with other people in order to succeed,” said Whittlesey. 

Whittlesey previously earned a master’s degree in art before deciding to go back to school. She knew a mentor could help her establish the IT networking connections that she lacked.

As someone who has already had prior work experience, Whittlesey is more interested in learning software development companies’ social environment, the IT workplace’s realities, and assistance in securing a long-term job.

Erica Manning knew she wanted to earn a computer degree right out of high school. Manning uses her mentoring connection to explore more within the industry. 

“I’ve been able to meet with project managers and designers [at Visionary],” said Manning. “I talked with them about what they do and how they got there. They showed me some of the things they’re working on, the different softwares that they use and how they interact with developers.”

Gruhlke recognizes the benefit of mentoring, not only for himself but as a business owner. Typically, a company only has an interview or two with a potential job candidate. Through mentoring, both sides get to try out the other to determine if they would be a good fit. Both Whittlesey and Manning interviewed at Visionary after beginning their mentoring connection with Gruhlke. 

Mentoring is a great way to share a passion with someone else. Gruhlke sees the same passion he has for the IT field in his mentees. He says that aspect is one of his favorite things about mentoring.

“They get super excited to be able to show me what they built. They build websites or a little app, and they’re showing it to me – you can just see the excitement they have to be able to show this to somebody that they know understands what they’re doing,” said Gruhlke. “You can just see that they’re proud of where they’ve gone.”

Both Whittlesey and Manning plan to graduate this spring and continue to stay in touch with their mentor. Gruhlke has high hopes for the tech industry, especially after mentoring two extraordinary women. He hopes more women can join the IT field. Mentoring is a great way to make that happen. 

“Anything that can be done to help increase diversity and the number of thoughts and opinions in our industry is only good. We always end up with better products, better services when these other viewpoints come into play,” said Gruhlke. “Unfortunately, the industry has been kind of a roadblock to women, in particular, getting in. I hope we can improve that. Anytime we can tell people, ‘you’re plenty good to be in here! You don’t have you prove yourself to me!’ that’s good.”

To learn how you can make a positive impact on someone else’s life through mentoring, visit 

Heather Whittlesey Erica Manning