Posts about Diversity in Tech
For those not historically included in the tech industry – specifically, women and people of color – mentors that look like them are important factors for individual success. Seeing people who look like you have successful careers in your field can be remarkable and inspiring – it’s proof that success in the tech industry is possible for all women.
A mentorship allows women to truly understand their passion and how technology can have an impact,”says Diane Taylor, of the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT). “There are so many different areas of technology that many people may not think about like application development, total user experience, communication, project management, and more. By having someone in the field of technology mentor a woman interested in this field, it can open doors to different things that many have not considered.”
MCWT’s vision is simple and bold: to make Michigan the leading state for women in technology. Grand Circus partnered with the MCWT, connecting two cohorts of women students from the DEVELOP(her) bootcamps with mentors through the MCWT’s Ignite! Mentorship program. Ignite! is a mentoring program designed for women in the early stages of their tech careers, or in a mid-career transition into the technology field.
John Rumery, the Grand Circus Grand Rapids Campus Director, has worked closely with MCWT’s team and GC students to build these relationships and empower our grads as they enter new careers.
“Nothing really compares to Ignite!,” says Rumery. “What really makes it special is that it connects successful, senior-level women in tech with junior-level developers on a one-on-one basis. The other thing that makes it special is that it’s an extended program. Nothing else really comes close to what Ignite! offers.”
For the DEVELOP(her) students, the mentors are a insights and connections into a new career field. This transition into a junior developer role can be intimidating; having someone who’s walked that path before and is invested in their success can make all the difference.
“There are very intelligent women that work in Michigan that want more women in tech. Having my mentor be so excited and helpful made my transition into an IT career feel so much more welcoming,” says DEVELOP(her) program graduate Karina López. “Having a mentor also helped me see what opportunities and career paths available, and that there’s not just one path in IT. There are different opportunities to explore, so to do what excites you!”
Julie Klausing, a member of the MCWT and mentor to a DEVELOP(her) student believes that because technology careers have traditionally been male dominated, it’s even more important for women in the field to have a female mentor.
“When mentoring someone, it’s important to meet them ‘where they are.’” says Klausing. “Perhaps there’s something burning they need to run by you, or there’s something they need your advice on. [Meeting them where they’re at] allows the mentoring to be more meaningful to the mentee.”
This is the key to a successful, meaningful mentorship: honesty, vulnerability and a shared desire to learn and grow. Taking time out of one’s schedule to focus on development can be challenging, so focused time in this area is a “game changer.”
“A mentorship can positively impact the career development trajectory because it allows for the needed time to plan out a career which is something many people don’t take enough time planning,” says Taylor.
“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable when you’re developing your goals and hold yourself accountable,” advises Kate DiLorenzo, a MCWT mentor.
DiLorenzo, who has also benefited from being mentored, knows that building a meaningful relationship with a woman of a different background made for mutual development, and was a rewarding experience for both parties.
“Even though the focus was on developing skills, we both grew, expanded our knowledge and had fun getting to know one another! Identifying where we each want to grow our knowledge has become the foundation of my future mentoring relationships,” says DiLorenzo
“There is one thing that I tell so many people in their career, which is to utilize the networking and training opportunities available,” says Taylor. “Both MCWT and Grand Circus are fabulous organizations that put training and networking to the forefront. These companies understand the need for skilled IT employees and how important it is to stay current with the ever-changing field of technology.”
With just 25% of computer programming jobs held by women, the tech industry has a lot of work to do to create equal opportunities. Grand Circus is committed to changing this narrative. In 2016, we launched our DEVELOP(her) program to equip women with the skills and resources they need to start a career in tech. Coupling our tech training with funding and support from amazing community partners, we’ve launched this initiative in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Flint by providing full scholarships to select women interested taking our coding bootcamps
This fall, our first cohort in Grand Rapids launched, and we’re proud to have graduated eleven amazing women. Here’s a little about their journey:
The Grand Rapids DEVELOP(her) women come from a variety of backgrounds—government, retail, marketing, nonprofits and beyond. This class trained students to be entry-level back-end developers. Before the class, a few had some tech training, most had none. This doesn’t phase Tommy, our amazing instructor. “If anything,” he says, “it makes them more creative coders. I see code come out of some students in this class that’s really unique. I never would have thought to do some of these things. I learn things from them.”
The paths that brought these women to Grand Circus varies. Many of the students harbored an interest in tech, but feelings of not being qualified kept them from making that leap.
“Imposter syndrome is one of the biggest reasons I got out of IT,” says DEVELOP(her) grad Rebecca Allard.
Rebecca has a degree in Information Systems, and worked in IT for several large airlines for years. Despite her skills, she constantly felt like she was faking it. “I thought it wouldn’t be long before my clients found out they knew more than I did! I know a few men have felt like that, but I think [imposter syndrome] can really plague women in IT.” For her, DEVELOP(her) is a refresher and update on her existing skills, and the right fit for preparing to re-start her tech career. “DEVELOP(her) has been a dream come true!”
For other students—especially the women of color of this class, they’ve never seen someone who looks like them in tech, something that’s equal parts intimidating and motivating.
“I have never been in the majority in any of the workplaces I enter. I’m a native Spanish-speaking first generation Mexican-American. I’ve gotten used to being one of the only people of color in the places I work, but I don’t want to get used to it! I want more women, women of color and people from diverse backgrounds in the places I work,” says graduate Karina López. “For me, that means making sure that I’m creating inclusive cultures in my workplace so that people who do come from different backgrounds don’t feel pushed out. It also means I seek out communities outside of work to connect with other people like me that share similar goals.”
Grand Circus believes that tech should be equitable, and that’s exactly why the DEVELOP(her) program is so exciting: it makes space for those who’ve been excluded from tech in the past, in this case women and people of color.
“Being a black woman in any industry is a challenge,” says Jonaca Hudson, a graphic designer who wanted to expand her portfolio and transition to being a full-stack developer-slash-designer. “While we don’t want to believe discrimination happens, it is very real. In a male-dominated career path, finding your way can feel nearly impossible. Determination and persistence is where I place my mind instead of focusing on the negatives. And the fact that I am surrounded by a support system of powerful, intelligent women in this class is amazing.”
This spirit of determination and camaraderie is perhaps what most defines this DEVELOP(her) cohort. The world might see them as unlikely programmers, but their collaboration and dedicated to support each other and their communities illustrates their drive for success. Their motivations always point back to the question of “how can I use my skills to help my community?” From working together on homework to dreaming of ways to building apps for underserved populations, this group of ladies strives to improve the world around us.
“I have consistently found myself limited in what I can do with my GIS work, and I know it stems from not having a foundation with programming,” says Anel Guel. “And as a working professional, I appreciate that the bootcamp is only 10 weeks. I’ve often thought about pursuing a degree in Computer Science – but another four year degree is just not feasible for me.”
“In my programming classes at community college, I was often the only woman in the room. My ideas were often discounted if I was not insistent, andI had to advocate for myself in a way that I would not have had to do in a less male-dominated room. At Grand Circus, I found being in an all-female cohort refreshing. The diversity of backgrounds makes for diversity of ideas, which leads to better solutions.”
The DEVELOP(her) women prove time and time again that women have a place in tech. That women belong in tech, no matter what their background or education. Not only is there is space for them at the table, but it’s a table that’s being redefined, one DEVELOP(her) at a time.
A huge thank you to Women’s Resource Center, Michigan Council of Women in Technology, Start Garden, TekSystems and The Source for your support in making this program happen. We couldn’t have done it without you!
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