Driving Opportunity for Women and Girls in the COVID World

Editor’s Note: The following essay is by  Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO of AnitaB.org, a leading organization and grantmaker for women in technology.

2020 has had no shortage of challenges. The many losses of COVID-19 compounded with the painful yet necessary ripple effects of the rising social justice movement have called into question how we personally and professionally work.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO of AnitaB.org, shares her expertise on how to employ and empower more women in the COVID world. (Image credit: AnitaB.org)

While the events of 2020 have impacted everyone, women – and especially women of color – face the greatest burden. With over 11 million jobs disappearing from February to May of this year, and with lifestyle impact of gender pay parity so profound, the “she-cession” is upon us. 

Adding to the transition of remote work for the majority of the workforce, women have also been saddled with heavier workloads at home and in their jobs, faced increased concern about reduced wages and hours, and weathered potential layoffs and rescinded job or internship opportunities. The list goes on.

Despite, or perhaps because of these challenges there have also been many opportunities for the world to come together and reflect on how community needs can be better met. Upon reflection, there are many learning lessons we can carry into the future to combat the ill effects of COVID-19 and continue to progress to a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society.

At AnitaB.org, we continued to hone in on our mission of empowering and supporting women technologists and building a world of inclusive technology. The resources and support systems AnitaB.org was able to provide to our community this year gives every reason to remain optimistic about what comes next.

AnitaB.org’s Signature Event: Grace Hopper Celebration Goes Virtual

This year, we hosted our world-renowned Grace Hopper Celebration fully virtually for the first time ever, bringing together more than 30K attendees from 115+ countries in five days of innovative programming, inspiring keynotes, networking groups, workshops and more. Through our virtual transition, we saw a 20% jump from last year’s attendance – the largest attendance in AnitaB.org history – in addition to bringing over 300 organizations across business, academia, STEAM labs, government and nonprofits to network with our community. 

Taking our event online was no easy or seamless feat, but we learned that people were hungry to connect, be inspired and extend their skills.

Measuring COVID-19’s Impact on Women Technologists

We recognize data measurement as a critical component in finding ways to build an ecosystem of inclusive technology. In March, we conducted our Technical Equity Experience (TechEES) Global COVID-19 Impact Pilot Survey to understand the unique impact of COVID-19 on women in tech. This survey was a pilot intended to shape future ongoing research that will be used to help the computing and technical ecosystem cope with COVID-19 and the economic downturn. 

We also continued to review the level of commitment and progress in the business sector toward diversity, equity and inclusion via our annual Top Companies Report, which identifies key trends around the equity of women technologists in the workforce and provides actionable takeaways to foster ongoing progress. As the only benchmarking program that specifically addresses technical employees and awards companies making the most progress toward equity, we were proud to see growth and empowerment within participant companies. 

While there is much more work to be done to reach our goal of achieving intersectional tech equity, this year’s report showcases that ongoing conversations are driving meaningful change. As we look forward to 2021, we are keen to see additional progress as companies heed our call to actions, such as building structural equity, new pathways and community.

AnitaB.org’s Growing Membership

We officially launched the AnitaB.org Membership Program where our community can tap a support system of resources and tools through free, student and premium tier memberships. 

To date, we have garnered more than 20K members where women technologists across the globe can connect with their peers, receive training discounts for tech and professional development courses, and access to AnitaB.org mentorship programs and on-demand vGHC content.

Scholarships, Grants & Donations

Through our wide range of grant programs, AnitaB.org has supported women at every point in their tech journey – from budding computer scientists, to entrepreneurs and senior leadership. 

Scholarships and grants are much-needed resources to help aspiring students get ahead in their careers in addition to helping with the costly requirements of pursuing their dream careers. When COVID-19 shut down schools in March, the Tech Journey Scholarship secured nearly $200K in grants, supporting more than 285 female tech students to finish their degrees with access to WIFI, food, rent and tuition. 

Of note, we received significant donations from new and existing partners, including $100,000 from Craig Newmark Philanthropies led by Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, which supported our mainstay PitcHER program and our Tech Journey Scholarship. And, we continue to leverage #GivingTuesdayNow and Holiday Giving campaigns which brought over $22K to continue to help students survive the pandemic. 

While 2020 may have been a year of trials and tribulations, it has also been pivotal in reflection and action. It is thanks to every member of our community that we will continue to work toward achieving gender and pay parity in tech.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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