Michele Aupont, Director of Development at Women Who Code, Alaina Percival, CEO and Co-Founder of Women Who Code, and Sandy Welfare, Chief Development Officer at Women Who Code, sit down for a conversation about philanthropy, giving, and how it empowers the mission and work at Women Who Code. Women Who Code is a nonprofit organization that provides free resources, programming, and community to our 360,000 members globally in over 147 countries to empower diverse women to excel in their tech careers.
Please share with us today about your journey.
AP: I moved out to the Bay Area and was transitioning into the tech industry. Until then, I'd had a strong career, more in a traditional industry. I got out to the Bay Area, I was so excited to enter the tech industry. I started learning to code to transition my skills and get more involved in the tech industry. I loved spending time with smart women, talking about and learning about technology.
I realized that this growing community was important because around the time Women Who Code started, so did the conversation in the media about the need to teach women and girls to code. We were in the industry, facing biases, and people weren't discussing it.
We weren't just a secret community having a great time together. We had an important message to share, and we needed to be advocating for women in the industry. We needed to teach more girls and women to code. That's where the mission of empowering diverse women to excel in technology careers came about.
In the early days, I produced one free technical event every week for about three years. We were doing bigger events around 2013 when the 501 [c]  nonprofit was established. Zassmin and I started to dig into our expansion strategy because, from the beginning, we believed in accessibility. We didn't want a Silicon Valley, San Francisco-centric, or US approach. We wanted it to reach diverse women worldwide and for them to have this incredible community supporting them to thrive in their careers.
Early on, there was an amazing uptick where we were on an important mission. When you look back, you see big changes have taken place. Companies didn't publish diversity and inclusion reports when Women Who Code started. The chief diversity and inclusion officer role didn't exist. Parental leaves were a pittance.
There's still opportunity for growth and improvement in all these areas, but when you look back over this time, a lot of change has occurred. Some of the most exciting things are that the people who were earliest in our community and our core have stayed in their careers, and they're thriving. We now have so many people in our community in senior-level roles. It’s exciting to look back and think about Women Who Code's impact on our member’s careers.
SW: I started in technology by literally marrying technology to numbers. I was sent to Singapore to implement a large-scale SAP project. From there, I went from Singapore to Sydney, Australia, and did another big implementation, but Oracle was on the financial side this time. I've come into the convergence of tech space and finance by accident. I've learned how other countries engage women and keep ensuring that women are at the table.
I looked around and saw that I was mostly the only person sitting there conversing with leadership. From there, I've gone down the path of coming into the nonprofit arena. I ran the Women in Technology organization in Georgia and then returned to corporate. During that period, I had a conversation with Alaina, and we connected, and I joined the board.
I've had a different view of Women Who Code because I've been on the outside looking in. Now that I'm here, I have a newfound appreciation for how much work we do globally, but more importantly, how much reach we could have if we could find ways to connect partners to what I consider the business imperative. We don't want this to be the one time someone engages with us. We want it to be where they're supporting equity, and they're doing everything they can as a part of their business initiative to engage Women Who Code and other organizations that can champion women and bring more women into tech.
Cultivating a culture of philanthropy here at Women Who Code is very important. What is your vision for a culture of philanthropy at Women Who Code?
SW: If we're looking at the vision for engaging every aspect of who can support the organization, my vision is that everyone benefiting from our work puts a stake in our financial success. This would include our team members, employees, partners, corporate sponsors, and any and everyone who's bringing to the table the need for more women at the table or the need to have advanced women. My vision is for all of those who are having conversations around equity and equality to participate in supporting our mission and vision. I look at everything from a financial perspective. What can we do to ensure that the mission and vision are completely supported?
AP: I have a vision for our partners to invest in us because they believe in the value of an inclusive workforce and technology team and that their products are being built by a diverse team. That can’t happen overnight. It takes investing in your practices and your policies. I want companies to invest in us and themselves over the long term. I want them to invest in building a workforce where diverse individuals thrive inside their companies and that we see them being promoted, making it to the most senior positions, staying inside their organizations, and loving their organizations. That takes a commitment, and we're doing the hard work in the community. We need that partnership from those organizations that are committed to seeing true change take place.
How has Women Who Code evolved to continue supporting its members?
SW: We're following the needs of our membership. In the conversations, we've had over the last few months around artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, most of the initiatives we will plan for the future from a strategic perspective will be around what our members expect and how they will engage. It is the continuation of Python's front end, and all the other software and apps people would want to stay actively engaged in.
We will probably speak about a technology none of us have heard of in five years because it's moving quickly. Innovation will continue to flow, and people will use that technology differently. I was reading the story of a 17-year-old who's out of Chicago. I was impressed with what she'd done with blockchain to use blockchain as an identification for women in parts of Africa. Five years from now, The things we will see in the future may not look like what we're talking about today, or it'll be slightly morphed.
AP: Women Who Code has grown into an almost entirely new organization every few years. We're adapting to what our community needs and the market throws at us. We've had some serious things thrown our way. In the earliest time, it was just being part of this incredible movement and zeitgeist supporting the idea of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging being important in the tech industry.
Then things came our way, like COVID, where we went from doing nearly 2000 in-person events per year to needing to entirely retrain our volunteers and adjust our programming to being able to address our community. We found something even bigger. It meant that you could join in from all over the world. We were able to have recordings and have that turned into on-demand content.
We went from serving members in about 27 countries to 147 countries in about nine months. We saw incredible growth through our challenges, and we continue to rise. We need support from our partners and community to continue meeting the challenges we face and serving our members in the way they need us most.
Can you share your experience aligning sponsors, partners, and donors with Women Who Code's mission?
SW: My original time with Women in Technology was really around having programming that women could attend and them having access. Now, it's more, from a partnership perspective, they're wanting their women to be supported. They want their recruiters to be using our job board. They want the DE&I leadership to find ways to make that a part of their business imperative.
Companies are coming to Women Who Code for different reasons, but we've found multiple ways to connect. There's no limit to what they can do or not do. I love the fact that we're doing more around advancement. Companies are seeing that rather than recruiting new people every year for new women, what can we do to retain those women? Our content can be valuable for that retention. Whether you want to upskill or whether you want to find new ways to connect it to new technology, we're giving them multiple ways that they can be actively engaged. It's a win-win for both sides.
AP: The fastest and easiest way to create greater equality in the tech industry is by retaining the incredible talent here today. We can help everyone overcome bias but must see the change inside organizations. Taking the time and putting the resources around equity-centered decision-making to ensure that your incredible talent stays with you and thrives inside your organization isn't just right for the individual. It makes sense for the company. The idea of losing that individual will have a replacement cost of nearly $200,000 for replacing that engineer. When you think about 50% of your most talented, diverse women technologists are thinking about leaving their technology roles right now, it's incredibly important to invest in that talent to stay and thrive inside your organization.
Can you speak briefly about the importance of giving back for career growth, networking, and community building?
SW: Over the years, I've figured out that most of the women who have come before me have not only knocked out several big boulders in my way, but they have ground them down and made it a flat surface. If I think about the community we're building with Women Who Code, we want all those who've cleared the pathway to understanding that they're building that path for the next generation of female technologists they may never meet. Depending on where you are on your journey, many of us need a community to build the path and help us figure out where the landmines might be.
The more we can support an organization like Women Who Code, the more we can build for that next generation of female technologists. Some of the work we're doing today may not see the result of it for 10 or 20 years or years. We're building out and making sure that as we build out, we make it smoother and better for the next generation of female technologists.
How important is it to invest in Women Who Code? What are the benefits?
AP: All of our programming is free or scholarship accessible. Investing in Women Who Code is incredibly important for us to be able to not only produce our programs but there are over 7 million diverse women technologists worldwide. We've only scratched the surface of what our potential is. We need people paying it forward to reach more individuals, help them thrive in their careers, and truly change the face of leadership and technology.
SW: I'm always looking at it from the side of the financial connection that companies can make. The benefits for anyone actively engaged in Women Who Code will be based on how they engage. From a partner perspective, I want the benefits to be that I'm meeting my company's business imperative. I'm ensuring that women gain access to information for equality and equity.
From a member perspective, I'm going to be the person who's going to not only participate in that content but also support that content and make sure that the funding is there for us to continue. The benefits across the board are that we have very specific things that we are delivering to individuals. We're also very specific about what we deliver to organizations. Again, it's a win-win scenario regarding what individuals are gaining and what the companies benefit from.
Why do you think donating to Women Who Code on Giving Tuesday is important?
AP: Women Who Code produces an average of four free technical events daily throughout the year. We've given away over $500,000 in scholarships and over $500,000 in conference tickets this year. We've also led life-changing leadership programming and could not do that without our donors. Please give to Women Who Code this Giving Tuesday.
SW: We are truly building an infrastructure for women to upskill and advance and find ways to connect with a community that will support them from a leadership perspective. Regardless of your path, the support from individuals, companies, and partners provides the resources we need to fund the organization. Please give on Giving Tuesday and, more importantly, support the organization with your time, talent, and treasure.