Changing the Gender Balance in Tech – What We Can Do Today

By Angie Kamath
Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

While the efforts to get girls interested in tech and to get women enrolled in college computer science courses and majors are important, there is so much we can do today to get more women into jobs in the IT field.

For much of our history at Per Scholas, a national IT job training and placement program, our enrollment of female students hovered around 15%. And then, well before many of the big firms highlighted their gender and diversity numbers, we sought to change the field and the pipeline of talent by launching single sex female classes in addition to increasing all of our typically co-ed classes. The result? We are at 30% female enrollment and climbing. As a bonus, nearly all of our women are also from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. And here is the kicker—this translates to 200 certified and talented female Per Scholas graduates hitting the job market this year with an aggressive goal to train 1,000 women in total over the next 3 years.

Let me tell you the story of one of these women: Nyaisha Lee.

Nyaisha is 21 years old and works at one of the largest multinational corporations in the world, Xerox, as a Technician. Working for Xerox, Nyaisha has been assigned to the NYPD contract, which allows her to travel to the New York police offices daily to help their teams install, troubleshoot, and fix an array of tech equipment. It goes without saying that Nyaisha is smart. But, she is so much more than tech smart. This girl has vision way beyond her years.

Nyaisha grew up in the Bronx with her parents and her younger brother. At age 18, when all of her friends were saying “yes” to expensive four-year colleges and universities, Nyaisha pressed pause. She knew that investing in an expensive education would be fruitless unless she truly knew what she wanted to do first. “I know a lot of people that rushed into college because that’s what their parents wanted them to do. A lot of them dropped out or got pregnant,” she says.

Success, according to Nyaisha, is about experience and skills. She radiates optimism and drive. Her mom and dad were young parents living in the Bronx, but still finished college and pursued careers, showing Nyaisha and her brother that hard work pays off. Instead of jumping into college, Nyaisha did some serious self­exploration in her late teens and early 20s. She had always loved technology, but wasn’t sure how to get her foot in the door. “I already knew I wanted to be in the IT industry but I didn’t know how to get in without going to college.” Instead, after graduating high school, Nyaisha enrolled in two job readiness programs that connected her with internships, but she was concerned that she wasn’t learning the hard skills needed to succeed in the competitive New York tech scene.

One day she received an email from Per Scholas community partner NYCHA, the New York City Housing Authority, promoting a free A+/Net+ certification and IT job-training course with job placement services. Curious and optimistic, Nyaisha jumped on the opportunity and applied. She enrolled in the Women in Tech class at Per Scholas and her journey to a career in technology was underway. She gravitated to the Women in Tech class because of competitive spirit.

“I have always loved technology and actually like that it’s a male­dominated field. I’m competitive. I love being a girl who’s told: ‘You can’t do that’ just so I can prove them wrong.”

At Per Scholas, Nyaisha found the course challenging like most students. “Literally each day is precious. Even if you miss one day, you miss a world of information.” She enjoyed the hands-on learning environment, and recognized that the skills based training at Per Scholas was the key to honing her tech chops and landing a permanent position in the industry.

After completing the 13-week course, Nyaisha was a certified tech—and proud of it. “Now saying that I am A+ and Net+ certified, it really means a lot.” Before Per Scholas, she was making minimum wage. Upon graduation Nyaisha landed the job with Xerox. Today she is working in her first ever tech job earning three times that. Nyaisha says she feels “fulfilled.” Although it was difficult transitioning into the workforce, especially navigating office culture, she now says that life is good. “I have a great rapport with all of my co­workers. I take pride in my job.”

Her advice for future Women in Tech grads? “No matter how hard it is, stick with it. At the end of the day, it will pay off.”

Angie Kamath is Executive Director of the Per Scholas headquarters in New York.

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