LeeAnn Kinney is working hard every day to make the technology industry more inclusive. She is the Director of Outreach and Special Initiatives with Girl Develop it, a nonprofit that provides affordable learning programs for women who want to learn web and software development, along with a network/support system of like-minded women trying to break the tech industry’s glass ceiling.
As a key force behind unique programs such as a prison education initiative and a YouTube series encouraging women to take the lead in tech education, LeeAnn is applying her passion to making necessary and long overdue changes in the tech industry.
LeeAnn Kinney first began working with Girl Develop It as a part-time volunteer while she pursued various career paths that never seemed quite as fulfilling as her volunteer work. She decided to take a risk and follow the path that fueled her passion — helping other women feel inspired and empowered to make waves in the technology industry.
The tech industry is notoriously male-dominated, which makes it very difficult for women to enter these workplaces, let alone move into leadership positions in the industry. As of 2015, women held roughly 25% of executive, senior level, and management positions in the tech sector. Thanks to ambassadors for women in tech like LeeAnn Kinney, the numbers and interest are increasing every year.
Name: LeeAnn Kinney
Company: Girl Develop It
Job Title: Outreach and Special Initiatives Director
Currently home base: Philadelphia, PA
Originally from: A northern suburb of Philadelphia (Bucks County)
I guess my superpower would be a willingness to help. I’m always ready to jump in and do what I can to support my team. I also love to grab coffee with someone who is interested in a career change, or learning more about getting into tech. Basically doing anything I can to help women find their confidence and amplify their voices across any industry.
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
“Do more things that make you forget to check your phone.” I saw that on Instagram and it really resonated with me. Get outside if you can, do things you’re passionate about, and don’t worry what’s on that phone — it’ll be there later.
I would also have to add a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is sort of the unofficial Girl Develop It (GDI) motto, and words that truly embody the spirit and heart of our organization.
What inspired you to start (or get involved with) your current venture?
I began my journey with Girl Develop It while taking classes as a student. Feeling confident and inspired, I leveled up my leadership and became an instructor, then eventually the leader of the Philadelphia chapter. I was working as a digital creative manager for a healthcare company and doing volunteer work on the side with GDI and a conference I co-founded (Ela Conf). I began to realize that I was feeling much more purposeful from what I was doing on the side. When the opportunity to work for Girl Develop It arose, in a position so aligned with what I love to do, I had to jump at the chance.
I am inspired every day by the other women I work with on the national team, as well as our 100+ chapter leaders across the country who are some of the most committed and passionate people I have ever met. Our community of instructors, students, and volunteers are also what gets me up in the morning. There is nothing I love more than hearing the journey others have taken after GDI.
What is your company doing to make history today?
Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide affordable and judgment-free opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development. Through in-person classes and community support, Girl Develop It helps women of diverse backgrounds achieve their technology goals and build confidence in their careers, as well as their everyday lives.
Since the organization’s founding in 2010, Girl Develop It is leading the “learn to code” movement, providing women with avenues to participate in the technology industry today. Now in 59+ cities across the US, GDI currently supports 99,000 students with technical skills and community support and empowers more than 1,600 students per month.
What is one thing your company has accomplished that you are most proud of?
One of the first projects I led after joining the GDI team was a pilot program where we went into a women’s correctional institute and taught incarcerated women to code. Our goal was to provide opportunities for these women to gain skills and confidence while in prison, teaching them marketable skills and providing access to a supportive community when they re-enter society.
This was such a transformative project for our team and for me to participate in. We learned so much, and we’re hoping to continue the program in the future to reach even more women in the U.S. prison system that are left out of the technology education movement.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
We are working on two video production projects right now that I am really excited about. The first is a series of promotional and outreach videos, highlighting some of our fantastic chapter leaders, students, instructors and volunteers from across the country. I’m excited to be able to get the word out about GDI’s impact in a new format, and through the voices of our community members that have been impacted by GDI. They are the heart of why we do what we do.
The other video series is a partnership with Women Techmakers to produce short YouTube videos that will teach a technical topic in a short burst. The goal of this project is to get more women speaking and teaching technical topics on YouTube, a subject that is overwhelmingly male-dominated.
Both projects will continue to amplify the voices of our members, sharing their amazing experiences while inspiring others to build their confidence by learning something new.
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges facing the tech industry today is a lack of diversity. Not only is there a vast gender imbalance in our workforce, but there is an even more significant imbalance of underrepresented groups, including (but not limited to) people of color, queer, trans, and non-binary folks, as well as a lack of diversity in the age of employees in the field.
The benefits of a diverse team are boundless, yet we’re still dealing with this systemic problem across the industry. People in higher positions in the tech industry (CEOs, CTOs, managers, etc.) need to take accountability for ensuring wage equity, safe and accessible work environments for all, and benefits that are inclusive to all.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
A trend I hope to see in the future is more transparent data on salary, diversity statistics, and how companies are taking actionable steps to create more welcoming environments for all groups. Ultimately, I’d like to see an increase in more underrepresented groups entering (and staying) in the field, and also rising into leadership positions.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
I think one of the greatest challenges in this work is trying to do it all. There are so many projects and ideas brewing, along with so many different people we want to serve; it’s hard to know where to start sometimes. I think, as a team, we’ve really been trying to prioritize and focus on what our top priorities are, so that we can give as much energy to first priority projects and not get totally burnt out.
We have a long way to go in terms of providing access to the groups that have largely been left out of technology for no good reason. With the help from mission-aligned partners and sponsors, we hope to build our team, allowing us to increase our bandwidth and multiply our impact across the globe!
What were you doing before your current role?
I have done everything from service industry jobs — bartending, waiting tables, etc. — to working at a university, and most recently working for a healthcare company. Throughout all of these paths, I was always passionate about civic engagement and giving back to the community, holding various volunteer positions to fuel my real passions.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female change-makers?
Do things that make you uncomfortable and don’t get discouraged if they don’t work out. Keep going! One thing I’ve learned is that you can never really grow if you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone consistently.
For example, when I first got into public speaking, I was deathly afraid of getting up in front of a crowd to speak or present to any size group. To combat it, I kept agreeing to more and more engagements, getting myself used to it and learning from each experience. I am still, by no means, an expert in public speaking. There have definitely been some cringe-worthy experiences. But I’ve always been persistent and taken every experience as an opportunity to learn, grow, and refine the skill. You’ll never know if you don’t take that first step. The worst that can happen is that you discover you don’t like it, and you can move onto the next thing.
Also, if you are in an established position and feel confident in your career path, don’t be afraid to share those stories of failure with others and provide advice (if requested). Try to recognize when someone else is struggling or just starting out, and help them feel more comfortable. We have to work together to lift one another up. It’s the only way there will be real change.
Are there any great resources you have discovered that you would like to share?
Girl Develop It, of course! Check out the 59 cities we’re already in. If there isn’t one near you, find out how to start a chapter. It’s really such an incredible community, and although our mission is focused on providing opportunities for women to learn web and software development, our classes and events are open to all genders and identities. It’s a fun, low-commitment way to learn a new skill.
Our classes are offered at a highly subsidized rate, but we also do not want financial burden to prevent anyone from taking a class. We offer scholarships to those in need. along with an array of free events to get involved and connect with the community.
Fun fact about yourself:
I co-founded a conference, Ela Conf, which is a safe, inclusive tech leadership conference and community for adult (18+) women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people to gain the confidence to become leaders, speakers, and teachers in tech.
Also, my nickname is LeeAnimal 🙂
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