Meet the Women of Per Scholas
To commemorate Women’s History Month at Per Scholas, we looked inward to highlight and learn from strong female-identifying Per Scholians at our organization. We interviewed five Per Scholas women about their careers, what brought them to their current roles, and what motivates them. These women are a handful of the voices we interact with and learn from daily at our organization, which is rapidly growing with diversity in mind.
Currently, our National Leadership Team is 50% women, and 11 of our 20+ Managing Directors are women, showing that we are changing the face of tech from the inside, and out. Through our internal work of diversifying Per Scholas, we’re seeing our external mission to diversify the tech landscape reflected. We’re thrilled to have seen 40% of our learners in 2022 were women.
The women of Per Scholas are leading the way for the organization from their various perspectives. Per Scholas Senior Manager of Internal Communications Mackenzie Loewen sat down with five members of our staff to share their stories. Below you will read the compelling experiences of:
Evelyn Chen, Senior Vice President of Development
Chelsea Clarke, Senior Director of Market Expansion
Kira Hays, Technical Instructor (Cyber), RTT, LA
Meredith LeDuc (Merri), Senior Manager of Implementation and Project Management
Chelsey Williams, Program Manager of Tech Women of Color, Columbus
What journey did you take in your career to get you where you are today?
Chelsey W: I was a teacher for seven years, with a degree in Early Childhood education. My favorite thing about teaching is the ‘a-ha’ moment when something clicks with students. Joining Per Scholas, I needed to keep that aspect, and now as a Program Mgr. for Tech Women of Color, I love supporting the learners, instructors, and beyond – especially when we see that ‘a-ha’ moment.
Merri: Unconventional. My position at Per Scholas is my first project management title, but I’ve done project management my entire life – directed three musical productions in college, was the director of game operations and promotions for an Ohio Hockey Team, and worked on a cruise ship – and Project Management was the tent pole across all roles. I realized I really like project management, taking tasks from the start to the finish.
Kira: I have been in tech since seven or eight years old. It was my mom who got me into tech. It’s been a fantastic journey…even thinking back to my first Mac – it ran Oregon Trail like the best of them! When I was young, I learned how to troubleshoot; I’d break it and fix it, and break it again. I then joined the Navy and did a lot more troubleshooting, but an unfortunate incident resulted in medical retirement. I came across another training organization to get tech certifications, and I got all of the certifications in five weeks! I was hired on as a trainer and, like Chelsey mentioned, fell in love with the ‘a-ha’ moment. Now I am a full instructor at Per Scholas, and it has been even more of a learning experience.
Evelyn: I was very briefly in publishing and then worked in hospitality in a sales and marketing role. I realized early in my career that I wanted my job to have a bigger impact on issues that I cared about, and since I was working in sales and marketing, that lent itself to development.
Chelsea C.: I was an environmental scientist, worked at one of the national parks, and the through line became economic development. Dipped my toe in a lot of different sectors, including nonprofits and higher education. I kept asking “How do we redistribute wealth, justice, equity?” Also spent 3 years volunteering for AmeriCorps and Peace Corps.
What do you love about your role?
Chelsey W.: I enjoy being part of all aspects of the programs at Per Scholas. With the Tech Women of Color program, we are training as Per Scholas, but we also have to work in partnership with our supporters on professional development aspects. I love meeting potential women that will take the course during the admissions process and them remembering me later on in their journey.
Kira: Even though I am an Instructor, I am still learning new things. There is always something you don’t know, and if there is something I don’t know, I will find out everything about it. Something great about tech is how it is always moving. I’ve also found my empathy with learners and my capacity to feel what others feel in the moment is a strength.
What are your strengths?
Merri: Connecting with people. At a basic human level, we all have connections. Those connections are the lifeblood of my job. We are on this journey together, and I will not leave anyone out to dry. I think of the power of ‘we’ and am willing to reach out and set an example.
Chelsey W.: I love working across the board, keeping the relationship with the funder, just all aspects of the Tech Women of Color program. I enjoy the admissions process, love to meet women, and I’m excited to learn more about the tech industry.
What advice would you give your younger self coming into your career?
Chelsey W.: I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to dream; speak up for yourself; love yourself; believe in yourself.
Merri: I’d tell her don’t change a thing. Her path is whacky and stressful, but I wouldn’t be who I am without her. And ‘Don’t let the self-doubt in’; Imposter Syndrome is a struggle.
What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome as a woman in the workforce?
Chelsea C: Dealing with implicit bias is one of the challenges I have faced – causing me to work on my own socialization to be polite and likable. I’ve always been and wanted to be a leader, but also have always been conscious about how women can be labeled. It’s been a challenge to find that balance of staying true to yourself and being confident.
Evelyn: I feel like it’s hard to unpack from all the other things: do people see me as a woman, or a person of color, or a woman of color? Having worked in development, where it’s mostly women in that space, as well as at an organization where most of the staff were women, I’ve come to appreciate that diversity in many different forms helps you to get better outcomes. One of the challenges has been how I have internalized this caretaker role women so often take on; we see this so often with women in tech. What I’ve learned is that there’s a combination of ‘I took it on,’ but also that everyone else let me – there are unwritten expectations of what society thinks it’s normal for women to take on, that it can be healthy to question.
What drives you?
Chelsey W.: My family drives me; really my mother drives me. She passed last July and truly was my biggest supporter. She would be very proud of the work I am doing today because she only worked for nonprofits, and I feel that I am walking in her footsteps and making a difference in the work that I do. She provided such a good example for me growing up, and I work to make her proud of who I am becoming.
Evelyn: A combination of making an impact in the world and the role I can play. I want the world to be a better place, but I am also realistic about how much one person can do. That’s why I believe in the power of collective action, because I can only control what I can do but if everyone does their part, the world will be a much better place.
Chelsea C.: What drives me is trying to bring more justice or equity in my corner of the world. I do what I can with what I have, hoping to impact as many people as I can. I can use the skills and privileges that I have to leverage situations to level the playing field or advance equity. Purpose drives me philosophically. I love a challenge and have learned that I like an ambiguous, strategic challenge.
Kira: What drives me is an insatiable curiosity about the world around me and a desire to use the knowledge to better myself and others. I desire to learn about everything as much as I can and understand what’s going on so that I can use the experience gained to help others. Growth doesn’t simply stop when you get that certification or that degree, it’s an ever ongoing journey, and that journey is the joy of life, allowing us to create our own meaning and purpose.
What do you hope for in the future for women in tech/women in the workforce?
Chelsey W.: What I hope for the future for women in tech is that they believe this is a space they belong in, where they are a value-add and not just filling a quota. I hope they learn to dream and not be afraid to fall or fail, that they will always have someone in their corner ready to pick them up and help put them back on track.
Chelsea C.: What I love about my role is that I get to use my experience as a local campus staff member and translate it to the national level, and match it with my love to travel. I love innovations and strategy, and I hope that in the future, women and all people with marginalized identities will be represented in the workforce. This includes a broader definition of women and consideration of non-binary and genderqueer individuals…There is a really prevalent version of cis white feminism that has been very exclusionary, and I wonder how our race and other identity markers intersect. I hope for safety, equal representation, salary, a welcoming environment, and respect for people of all genders.
Evelyn: I second everything Chelsea said, and would add the component of race to our discussion. To make progress, we need to understand that the patriarchy is bad for everyone. There is so much time wasted on in-fighting, and we lose sight of the big goal when we think of it as a zero-sum game. My hope is that women can step into our power and leverage every tactic, every strategy, every alliance, to make progress.
Chelsea C.: Plus one to everyone! I recommend Kimberlé Crenshaw’s book, On Intersectionality. It’s really important for cis white women like me to let women and non-binary people of color take the lead in equity work and listen to what everyone has to say.
Hearing the voices and perspectives of women of Per Scholas shows that our mission to advance equity and increase opportunity across America is present in all aspects of the organization. The work the women of Per Scholas are doing can be seen in the statistics of women learners in our courses and how many of our women alumni advance their tech careers. Per Scholas is a key player in increasing the presence of women in the tech industry, which has historically been dominated by men.
Sign up for our Monthly Impact Report
Your support makes a powerful difference in our ability to build a technology talent training solution that creates greater access and equity.