How one woman aims to bridge the diversity equity, inclusion gap in the tech industry

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Ashley Turner, who once was a longtime audio engineer in the theater industry, was in search of a career change.

Turner always had an interest in coding and website building, but her long work hours made it difficult to find the time to pursue.

"I tried to think of what sort of transferable skills I had that I could use to transition out of theater arts," said Turner. "So I grew an interest in learning how to code and build websites."

After taking programming classes and attending local tech events, Turner felt isolated as she tried to enter this industry.

"The issue was I often was the only person that looked like me," Turner said. "There weren't a lot of people of color, and there definitely weren't a lot of women of color, so I often felt isolated."

Turner would later transition out of theater arts and land a job at Swarthmore College in their I.T. department as an AV specialist, where she now serves as an academic technologist.

She soon came across a group called 'Philly Tech Sistas' which is an organization aimed at helping women of color gain technical and professional skills to work, thrive, and move up in the tech industry.

"It was always what I wanted to have while I was looking to gain new skills and transfer careers," said Turner.

While the organization started in 2014, Philly Tech Sistas was just a casual group of women who also felt isolated while exploring new career territory.

"Unfortunately, a week later, the organizer stepped down, and I thought to myself 'I couldn't let this go to waste,'" Turner added.

Turner then went on to take over as the leader for the group, where she and the other volunteers developed a series of workshops and classes to help women of color learn the skills needed to enter the tech industry.

"I saw that woman of color represented only (collectively) about 8% of the tech industry," said Turner. "I thought that was unacceptable, and I thought that we can really begin by learning new skills."

In May 2019, Philly Tech Sistas launched its first coding workshop where she continues to offer classes both in-person and remote as she aims to help the industry become mover diverse overall.

"Our workshops are what is called 'project-based.' So during a workshop, you are literally building your online portfolio," said Turner.

Turner says her goal is to form more partnerships with local tech companies to help bridge the diversity equity and inclusion gap.

The workshops originally cost $25 before the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, Turner is offering these workshops online for free.

Since this transition, Turner says attendance has increased to nearly 1,500 members as the program looks to help adults learn these new innovative skill sets.
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