PDX Women In Tech's scholarship program has gone virtual in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Twice a year, the women-friendly tech group funds people to attend conferences in person. This year it is paying for them to get online training with modules and webinars.
#InvestingInYou scholarships are usually $2,000 to $2,500 per person and PDXWIT usually gives out five or six. This year's application deadline is 11:59 p.m. PST Monday, May 4.
The group says it will save on paying for airfare, food, lodging, conference fees and use the money for online signups. Being virtual will make it more equitable, and will position laid-off tech workers to better re-enter the job market when the economy resumes.
"Given so many people are being furloughed, have had hours cut and are being laid off, this scholarship aims to help tech employees (or those curious about getting into the field) work on their skills so they can better position themselves for interviews once everything starts to open back up again," Elizabeth Stock, PDXWIT's executive director, told the Business Tribune. "In-person events have always felt pretty fundamental to our identity as an organization. Early on, it was clear we had to adapt everything we were doing in order to continue to serve our community."
The company's mission is to encourage not just women, but those who identify as women, non-binary or underrepresented, to join the tech industry. It then supports them to stay in the industry, whose power structure is dominated by straight, white males.
"We want anybody who believes in diversity and inclusion in the industry to participate in what we're offering. One key thing that we had to adjust pretty last minute was our scholarship program. We were set to open up the application for spring round at the beginning of April and of course, acknowledged that every conference was being canceled."
Stock said they could have held off for a couple of months and re-evaluate travel conditions and restrictions. But then they decided to go all-virtual.
"We reframed the scholarship program so that now it will provide funds for people to attend the online learning opportunities, virtual conferences, webinars, online classes, really anything you can do from your home while social distancing."
They also made funds available for purchasing software, which is often expensive, even in the Software as a Service (SaaS) era where users subscribe by the set to cloud-based apps.
"People need to upgrade their systems in order to qualify for an online experience. So, people can ask for funds to get their hardware and software ready for that educational opportunity."
The new work from home is getting old
"People are stuck at home, they're looking to occupy their mind to distract themselves. And then also a lot of people have gotten laid off or have gotten their hours cut or are furloughed and are at a place where they need to sharpen up their skills in order to stay competitive in a job market."
Stock said traditionally they have reached people who are already tech savvy, or are at least half-way there. Maybe they have done a coding boot camp and are looking to network their way into a new job.
"But with this scholarship program, we're going to reach people who maybe hadn't even considered joining tech before, just because they were already working maybe at a restaurant or for someplace that is unexpectedly now closed. They have this unique opportunity to reassess what they're doing professionally. It's a chance to pivot into a technology career that would hopefully be more stable and lucrative for them."
PDXWIT's research shows the average price for an online course is between $500 and $1,000 for "a pretty deep, multi-layered online learning experience. We added a cushion for people that need to get a certain type of software added to their computer so it comes up to, at most, $1,250. But we also are open to people using these funds as a partial way of funding some larger experience, like a coding degree with the price tag of $5,000. They could still apply for our scholarships to help fund part of it."
She stressed that the judges are "A committee of volunteers to have gone through quite a bit of anti-bias training." PDXWIT has evolved from being 100% volunteer over the last two years.
As for how the coronavirus recession will affect PDXWIT, which has operated in a market favorable to tech job seekers until recently, Stock told the Business Tribune, "I honestly think that, if anything, this situation has caused us to figure out ways to extend our reach. My guess is we'll continue to see more traffic on our job board. We'll probably see people coming to our hiring events, both virtually and in person once they resume. And well, I think we'll continue to see more people applying for opportunities like our scholarship program. People are struggling out there. We can be seen as a way to support them."
PDXWomen in Tech scholarships go virtual
Monday, May 4, 11:59 p.m. — Application deadline
Late May — Winners contacted
Early June — Awardees announced
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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