After years of working as a product manager in an ad tech company, Svetlana Shammasova decided she wanted to learn how to code. She earned a fellowship at the Fullstack Academy, and began learning web development, but needed to drop out when she became pregnant.

After her daughter was born, Shammasova wanted to go back to coding classes. She needed a program that could accommodate her schedule as a new mother. 

“In such a big city like New York, you would think there’s something like that. There’s nothing,” she said.

Tina Lee, a new mom living in San Francisco, faced a similar struggle—she couldn’t find a coding program that meshed with motherhood. So in the spring of 2014, she founded MotherCoders, a non-profit organization that helps moms gain tech skills so they can participate in the digital workforce. 

What made MotherCoders different from other tech training programs was simple—it offered on-site daycare so young moms could learn while remaining close to their kids. The program, which started in San Francisco, soon expanded to other locations, including New York City.

According to a recent study by Civic Hall and Cognizant U.S. Foundation, women make up 24% of New York City’s high-tech workforce, versus 50% of the city’s workforce overall. Barriers in access to training and gender bias in hiring practices keep many women out of the field, and this lack of diversity can pose serious problems for society. 

Algorithms are the gatekeepers to modern life—in health care, job opportunities, mortgages and more. When women aren’t included in the planning of these tech products, systemic biases tend to be reinforced. 

“Oftentimes, a women is the only female in the room,” said Dr. Sian Beilocka cognitive scientist who specializes in the long-term psychological effects of workplace inequality. 

“They’re worried about what they say and how it’s going to be received—whether or not it’s going to reinforce a stereotype that they shouldn’t be there to begin with,” she said.

As the president of Barnard College, Beilock is focused on training more women in computer science and reversing the trend of gender inequality in the tech industry. Her efforts at Barnard have seen the number of women studying computer science grow to almost 80, up from just five a few years ago.

Lee designed MotherCoders to address two problems simultaneously—businesses that need women’s input, and women that need new skills to fill the ranks of high-paying tech industry jobs. The program teaches UX design and coding languages—HTML, CSS and JavaScript—over the course of nine weeks. 

“What I saw was a glaring omission in helping up-skill people who have already gone to college and want to get into tech now. I specifically focused on women, because I myself had a front-row seat to the problem,” she said. 

Lee earned a master’s degree from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. She focused her studies on leveraging technology to enhance learning outcomes, so she already knew about learning theories and how to put together a curriculum.

MotherCoders is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and uses the tuition it collects to pay for business expenses, marketing and Lee’s salary, which is $66,000 a year.

Shammasova discovered MotherCoders on line, after spending days looking for tech training that would fit her schedule as a new mom. The pilot program she attended in New York was sponsored by Google, and offered two cohorts—one during the week and another on Saturdays.

The classes were a great way to learn tech skills while receiving support from other new moms, she said. 

“No matter how educated or experienced you are, if you leave work and focus on motherhood, you feel a little out of touch with reality,” said Shammasova. “You can get really lonely when you’re just a mother at home caring for your child.”

The program became a stepping-stone to getting Shammasova back to coding. At MotherCoders, she created a website to help adventure-seekers search, build and share travel routes. And soon, she will be heading back to the Fullstack Academy, to gain even more training in tech.

To date, MotherCoders has provided tech training to more than 300 women, and with help from volunteers and guest speakers who believe in Lee’s mission, has the potential to go national. 

“We’ve built a model that’s really easy to replicate and really easy to scale,” said Lee. “We’ve managed to build a community that is really fired up. I feel proud of them, in that they’re demonstrating what happens when we invest in long-term solutions.” 

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