People often talk about how IT is a male-dominated industry, but rarely do something to directly change this. The Creating IT Futures Foundation (CITF) recently took such a step, graduating its first IT-Ready class intentionally made up of women. These students – drawn from a diverse range of ages and ethnicities – completed an eight-week course and graduated June 3, 2016, at an Emerge building in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The goal is for each student in the class to take and pass CompTIA A+ and many here had already gotten started on that process by the conclusion of the course.
The graduation ceremony began with Kathy Brennan, IT-Ready manager for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, stating, “The IT industry is 75 percent male dominated, and we aimed to change that.” This started incrementally, with CITF drawing four or five women to each IT-Ready class, and now has grown into its fullest expression with this all-female class. Brennan added that a recent graduating class in Edina was 50 percent women.
During the graduation ceremony itself, each of the class’ 19 students was given the chance to speak, and their remarks were a mixture of raw emotion and humor, drawing laughter and tears from the audience and the class itself.
Speaking first, student Angeline Pabon was flooring in her openness and honesty, telling us that she almost didn’t come to the first day of the class because she was too depressed from her struggles finding employment. She felt if she was considered unemployable because of her age and skills, then she shouldn’t take a slot in the program from a younger woman. Nevertheless, she showed up, was immediately impressed by her fellow students and made friends. She termed what the class has accomplished a “culture of sharing."
Student Felicia Range aimed to inspire with her remarks, stating that opportunities like these are about “knowing your purpose in life, reaching maximum potential and helping each other.” She added, “Say no to the good. Say yes to the best, because we are the best,” drawing excited applause from her classmates. Student Vanessa Dalkhaa praised CITF itself, saying she was moved by how much the foundation invests in its students because, “You can’t fake how much you care about people’s successes.” Sue Wallace, executive director, Minnesota, for CITF later answered this point by telling the class, “You guys are the ones who make it exciting for us to wake up in the morning.”
Student Mary Paquette summed up the experience with a simile. “It’s like we’re on an airplane journey, we can’t get cell reception, but we made it and we’re landing.” Student Laura Church summed it all up by exclaiming, “We’re going to go to the moon!”
Student Cynthia English-Wright explained how she got involved with the program. “I was interested in IT, but when I found out it was a room full of women I was like ‘Oh no,’” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “But then I found out it wasn’t just a room full of women, it was a room full of nerds! We’re nerdy chicks! So that became a thing.”
Student Cynthia Patrick echoed this sentiment. “When I first saw this [opportunity advertised] I took it home to show to my daughter, but then as I looked at it more and more I thought, ‘This sounds like me,’” she said, adding that when she first walked into the class and saw it was all-female she thought, “What was I thinking?” drawing further laughs from the crowd.
IT-Ready instructor Nikki Frederick stood with the students for the entire ceremony and had clearly developed a genuine rapport with the class; the students referred to her repeatedly in their remarks – one even teased her for having failed A+ 220-802 on her first two attempts. Frederick told her students that the certification itself won’t define them. “It’s what you’re going to do with this certification that defines how successful you will be,” she said.
Jo-Anne Stately, director of impact strategy and economic vitality for the Minneapolis Foundation, also spoke to the students and asked them to consider not just their own futures but the futures of women in IT in general. “I want to acknowledge that you are women, mothers, wives, sisters, best friends; you play a role,” she said. “But going forward you will play a different role.” She told the class they’re “paving the way” for the next all-female class and called them “groundbreakers.”
Daniel Margolis is manager, editor for CompTIA.