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When Women Have a Chance in Tech

By Elizabeth Lindsey, Executive Director of Byte Back

women in techWomen make up only 25 percent of the computing workforce in the United States. For women of color, this drops drastically, with just 3 percent of the workforce made up of African American women and 1 percent Latina women.

March is Women’s History Month: a time to celebrate progress, recognize deficits, and act for equality. Now is the perfect time to give a woman her start in tech.

In Byte Back’s 20 years, our demographics have never reflected the outside tech world. That’s kind of the point. In 2016, 417 women, or 61 percent of Byte Back’s student body, found empowering tech skills for free at Byte Back.

Byte Back offers a pathway of practical tech training and career services for DC-area residents, leading to professional careers and economic opportunity.
When women are offered the chance to learn and use technology the same as men, women access vital life opportunities, including high-paying jobs, healthcare, sexual and gender violence services, family care, and more.

Underserved, marginalized women who have never thought a career in tech was possible find it at Byte Back:

  • Betty faced years of unemployment and age discrimination. When she got computer training and earned a Microsoft specialist certification, she found a high-paying administrative job at the District of Columbia Superior Courts.
  • Jewel was a teen mother, surviving on government assistance and a job at a supermarket. She earned a certification and found her path as a tech administrator.
  • Lark struggled as a single teen mother and a runaway youth, and felt lost in her career and in life. She found direction and a career thanks to the education and care she received at Byte Back.
  • Olivia had unsteady jobs as a security guard and hairdresser and was homeless, sleeping in her car. Since she earned her CompTIA A+ certification, she has not only found a job but a stable career that allows her to have her own apartment and not just survive but thrive.
  • Lashaun, a current A+ student, works all night and shows up to her class in the morning. She is on her way to becoming certified and landing a job that doesn’t require night shifts.
  • Fatoumata was a recent immigrant from Senegal and a new mother. She got computer training and a certification to start her career and now confidently supports her son as a single mother.

Society told these women a career in tech wasn’t an option. But once they entered Byte Back’s doors, they found confidence and people who believed in their success.
These amazing women are not only changing the face of tech or changing statistics, they are part of a bigger change that’s needed. With technology, women can connect to the world and build connections to employers, friends, and family. With technology, women can move into jobs to support their families – tech jobs, white collar jobs, medical jobs. With technology, women can help their families teach their children, communicate with teachers, open up a world of knowledge.

Aleta computer 2 cropIt doesn’t have to be expensive, or complicated. So much can be solved by teaching women how to use technology. With a small investment in women’s lives, we can have a huge impact on social change.

Today, we urge you to find a way to support women, whether it’s as a mentor, a volunteer, or a supporter of a community organization. Byte Back is opening opportunities for women to cross the digital divide and to advance in IT careers. Groups like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and Lesbians Who Tech are making sure that women are not alone in tech online and in real life.
If we all work together, we can make sure women have the power to use technology to change lives. Please help us continue to bridge digital gaps and gender gaps in tech – email me today at to become a mentor or hire a Byte Back graduate.

Byte Back improves economic opportunity by providing computer training and career preparation to underserved Washington, DC metro area residents.
Through free computer and advanced IT certification classes, Byte Back helps graduates gain invaluable skills, experience higher rates of self-confidence, and launch successful new careers. Byte Back’s programs have provided a pathway to technology skill development and fulfilling living-wage careers for thousands of individuals who have struggled with underemployment, unemployment, and poverty.


The Power of Change

The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to un-learn. We are filled with the Popular Wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up. Patriotism means obedience, age means wisdom, woman means submission, black means inferior — these are preconceptions embedded so deeply in our thinking that we honestly may not know that they are there.

- Women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem, born today in 1934. Beginning in the 1960s, Steinem played an essential role in empowering women and striving for equality for all American citizens.

In The News …

Welcome to Wednesday, Greater Washington! The Blue & Orange lines are up and running again and we’re back to doing mid-week news & notes in the middle of the week. Let’s focus on two major items today:

First, Catalogue charity Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) recently completed an in-depth cost of living analysis for the Greater Washington area, calculating how much income was necessary for an area resident to feel “financially safe.” The report’s tables break down necessary expenses and income based on family size and home area and account for everything from child care costs to “rainy day funds.” The findings were featured in Monday’s Washington Post — which points out that, while the DC metro area is the most affluent region of the county, “it is also among the costliest.” So according to WOW Executive Director Joan Kuriansky, “even the highest estimates of how much a family needs to earn are conservative.” Here’s my question: are there specific expense categories on which local governments and non-profits should focus? Could defraying one particular cost make the difference? Or should we focus on the larger issue? Namely, that the cost of living is high — and the cost of living securely is both high and often unconsidered.

Also, as you likely heard last night, Michelle Rhee will resign as DC schools chancellor. Says the Post, Chancellor Rhee “survived three contentious years that made her a superstar of the education reform movement … but Rhee will leave with considerable unfinished business in her quest.”, which tracked the probability of her resignation in mid-September, quotes several DC councilmembers who expressed both profound disappointment in her decision and faith in her interim replacement, deputy chancellor Kaya Henderson. I’m clearly writing this before Wednesday’s 10:30 AM press conference, but long after Mayor Fenty’s defeat in the mayoral primary. So it’s fair to say that this outcome is not surprising, yet it still feels incomplete. Or uncertain. What do you think? What comes next? Moreover, who is your pick for the next chancellor and why?

(Speaking of education reform: we posted this link several weeks back and countless opinions are appearing daily about the documentary Waiting for Superman and how we can answer its call. Check out “Tapping our Collective Superhero” over at Deep Social Impact and a post from this evening at Business Insider.)

7 Questions – Elisabeth Crum (Sewall-Belmont House & Museum)

Today on “7 Questions,” we welcome … Elisabeth Crum, the Public Programs & Outreach Manager at The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, which celebrates women’s progress toward equality and explores the evolving role of women and their contributions to society.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

On September 22, 2010, The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum presented the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, with the Alice Award in recognition of the barriers she broke for women in becoming the first female leader of a major political party and the first female Speaker of the House. In front of more than 200 women and men, Speaker Pelosi underscored Alice Paul’s enduring commitment to achieving equality and encouraged all who were present to uphold her legacy until we meet the goal. It was inspirational to see Speaker Pelosi with her daughter and granddaughter and know that generations of women can look up to the Speaker and truly believe that women can fill the ranks of power in politics.

2. What else are you up to?

I am thrilled to say that we have a very exciting workshop in our career skill-building series coming up on October 11, 2010. Titled ‘Yes, Please! The Art of Etiquette,’ this event will highlight Amy Zantzinger, former White House Social Secretary under President Bush, and Laura Schwartz, former White House Director of Events under President Clinton. I cannot wait to learn tricks of the trade and maybe catch a few White House social secrets as well.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

I was raised by a single woman who put herself through undergraduate and graduate schools after I was born. My mother showed me the challenges that women in society face and instilled in me the passion to work for equality so that no woman or family would have to struggle as we did.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, is one of my personal heroes. Terry’s breadth of knowledge on everything from the state of the industry to the specific behaviors and expectations of direct mail and issue-based campaigns is awe-inspiring to me. She knows the history and boldly forges a path for the future of women’s rights activists, and I am grateful for her courage and conviction.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

The single greatest daily challenge for me is facing blatant historical inaccuracies. There are so many important stories to be told about this House, the women who lived and worked here and the National Woman’s Party, and so often the stories are presented inaccurately if at all. It saddens me that Alice Paul is not one of the main historical figures we learn about in public schools. Correcting these inaccuracies and sharing the inspiring message of the National Woman’s Party motivates me every day to do all that I can to ensure that women’s history is not forgotten and that we continue to learn the lessons of the past.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

I got my start in nonprofits interning in development, which was a smart idea because every organization relies on fundraising and usually these are the available jobs. I would encourage people to figure out what issues they are passionate about and look for work in organizations with missions that align with their passions. It helps if you are always willing to help out, learn a new skill, and take on a new challenge — plus these practices make you invaluable to the organization.

7. What’s next?

I am so thrilled to be responsible for celebrating women’s progress toward equality and educating the public about the history of women’s suffrage and equal rights. We have a great deal of work to do, but I am proud to be a part of the organization that will ensure that Alice Paul’s legacy is written back into American history and that her dream of women?s equality is achieved.

EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

My three companions at a power breakfast would be Alice Paul, Queen Elizabeth I, and my mother. Alice Paul and Queen Elizabeth I were a couple of the strongest, smartest, and most capable feminist women in history; passionate about their missions and dedicated ceaselessly to the achievement of their goals. They are among the strongest historical female role models I can imagine, and it would be an honor to speak with them. As my personal inspiration and most trusted mentor, my mother would have to be present as well, especially for her ability to bring laughter and a love of life to any situation.