MotherCoders is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, California, helping mothers with relevant work experience and degrees to secure jobs in the tech industry.

Founder: Founded by working mom Tina Lee in 2013, MotherCoders was a Bay AreaGoogle Impact Challenge Finalist in 2015.

Designed For: Designed to serve over 16 million millennial moms (accounting for 82% of new mothers in 2015) and beyond in the United States, MotherCoders provides access to the skills, knowledge and network mothers need to access work opportunities.

Results: 29% of Mother Coder graduates have joined the tech industry, 21% of whom decided to found their own ventures.

On average, these women have raised their salary by 64% compared to before joining MotherCoders. Their ethnically and racially diverse alumnae include LGBTQ and single moms ranging from their mid-20s to early-50s.

While firmly established in Silicon Valley, the team now has their sights set on changing the conversation at a national level.

Founder Tina Lee discusses her pioneering work below…

Tina Lee Mothercoders
Founder: MotherCoders Tina Lee

What’s your goal for MotherCoders? 

Ultimately, our goal is to create a world without gender inequality, which can’t happen without expanding economic opportunities for women.

In the context of today’s globalized digital economy, we have to empower women with in-demand tech skills to compete for jobs offering both economic security and advancement opportunities.

Our approach at MotherCoders is to help moms develop the skills, knowledge, and community support they need to break into those careers in tech.

That’s particularly vital at a time when companies are struggling to find both good and diverse talent for their workforce while also scrambling to fill an ever-growing skills gap.

Beyond that, we’re creating a community that supports all mothers in tech. Retention is now a growing problem for more millennial women becoming moms.

Why focus on moms?

While there are plenty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) pipeline building programs in the United States for young girls, women in college and young women professionals, moms have been left out.

“Moms face even greater adversity in the job market due to maternal bias, which results in lower pay, less career advancement, if not unemployment altogether.”

This “motherhood penalty” pushes many women out of the workforce, including those with college degrees. Childcare often costs more than what moms are paid, which forces women to leave work to save money at the detriment to their careers and future earning potential. Not only is this morally shameful, it’s a huge waste of talent and resources.

“According to McKinsey & Companyachieving gender parity in the workforce by 2025 would increase US GDP by 10%!”

In the United States today, five out of every six new babies are born to millennial mothers. That’s more than 1 million babies per year!

As their ranks increase, making sure women stay in, or are able to return to the workforce will become critical for economic growth, not to mention the economic security of millions of families.

woman with notebook
Image courtesy @climatereality

How would you rate your success to date with those goals?

I feel like we’ve made a decent dent into that problem.

First, we’ve trained over 150 women to date in Front End web development, web design, user experience, and data science through our part-time training program and evening workshops.

Second, we’ve succeeded in sparking a larger conversation in the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) community around issues affecting mothers and caregivers.

We’re also heartened by the fact that there are now numerous organizations focused on getting moms and woman into technical roles, such as:

However, I do aspire for us to have more of a national presence. We regularly hear from moms across the country and beyond who want us to start a program in their city.

“We’re developing a franchise licensing model that would help us reach that goal. Getting the capital to do it will require a lot more funding…”

How did you make the decision to focus on MotherCoders? 

I was on maternity from a job I wasn’t crazy about, so I decided to relearn some Front End development skills in the hopes of transitioning into something new, something more technical.

The downside was I was home with a newborn, exhausted and helping my two year old at the time transition from emotional devastation to acceptance towards having a new sibling!

“Sum result: I had a meltdown early one morning while trying to work through an online coding course between breastfeeding sessions.”

Even though learning that way doesn’t work well for me (or for most people for that matter), this was the only option presented to me. I couldn’t attend evening meet ups or all-weekend workshops, at least not on a regular enough basis to become proficient.

office pitcture
Image courtesy @anniespratt

Then I realized there must be moms out there who felt the same way. Moms with full-time jobs who also needed new technical skills to stay competitive in the workforce and advance their careers. Moms parenting full-time without the funds to access affordable, reliable childcare so they could devote their attention to learning. Moms with college degrees and work experience who needed technical skills for workforce re-entry. Moms with tech-focused business ideas stuck due to lack of technical knowledge. Moms feeling isolated from their peers yearning for a learning environment centered around their needs…

They all needed a sense of belonging.

So how did the idea for MotherCoders first spring to mind?

I envisioned having a bunch of moms in one room learning, while some grandmas hung out with babies and toddlers in another.

I also imagined bringing in all the amazing moms I knew who worked in tech to speak with us.

My goal was to create a supportive learning environment where we helped each other learn to code while figuring out the next steps towards finding a fulfilling career that would also enable us to care for our families.

How did you make that vision a reality?

I designed a Google form to gauge interest, posted it on Twitter and Facebook, and got nearly 100 responses in less than a week!

Some of the responses weren’t even from women who lived in the Bay Area. Unfortunately I had to shut it down after realizing I wouldn’t be able to include everyone who signed up for that reason.

After that I secured a space for our classes, NextSpace Potrero Hill, which was a co-working space in San Francisco with a co-located childcare facility with trained caregivers.

Next, I ran a fundraiser to pay for all of it! In the beginning I did everything, including being the teacher and ordering lunch for everybody.

How do you feel mothers in the tech industry fare compared to mothers in other industries?

Mothers face a whole lot of systemic barriers in nearly all industries, especially those that pay good wages. However the tech workforce skews more male and young — aka… no kids.

“From rank-and-file all the way up to leadership positions, women end up facing more barriers than sexism alone.”

Add ageism, the motherhood penalty and — for women of color like me — racism. It’s an unfortunate confluence of social factors that end up side-lining talented, ambitious women capable of adding tremendous value to companies.

women generations
Image by @lesanderson

I’m hoping our current and next generation of mothers, who together represent the largest and most educated moms yet, will help usher in a new era that includes a national paid parental leave policy in the United States.

That includes subsidizing childcare and universal pre-k programs, on- and off-ramps for moms and dads alike to return to work, re- or up-skill and return to the workforce after taking a break from any form of caregiving.

Ultimately, what we need to do to achieve gender equality is push for system change. That means dismantling the ideal worker model that assumes men are breadwinners and women, homemakers and caregivers.

Has the journey as a female founder and mom been better or worse than you expected? 

It’s been difficult but I can’t say any more difficult than I thought at the beginning.

What’s surprised me most is how it’s impossible not to think about MotherCoders! I’m obsessed with our mission and it takes a huge toll mentally.

“What isn’t surprising, though no less stunning, is that I face the same barriers moms face in my role as Founder & CEO of MotherCoders.”

I still have to secure funding, build credibility, access donor networks etc. These tasks are all extremely challenging for me as a woman of color raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown by immigrant grandparents. Add to that the time poverty that comes with parenting young kids without any family around.

“I’m out here slogging through like everybody else.”

What’s your best startup experience to date? 

This has been a wild journey. Entrepreneurship always is. But what I love best is being able to bring an idea from conception to implementation and seeing our moms grow and flourish.

The moms in our training program have, on average, raised their income by $64,000 but the impact they’ll have on their kids and communities is immeasurable. I’m also particularly proud whenever I get to advocate for moms in front of policy makers.

What’s been the worst? 

Everything else…!

children playing
Image courtesy @robbie36

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow mom working in tech, what would it be?

Build a crew, a network of support.

People without kids often don’t understand what moms are up against, so you need people who can validate your experience and empathize with you. If you’re able, push for small policy changes at work and in your community that will help make work more equitable. Your network of support should include other groups pushing for policy change too.

Not surprisingly, policies providing greater support for moms like pay equity, flexibility, remote-first and caregiver support translate into benefits for everyone. That includes dads and those caring for ageing parents as well as those seeking greater work/life balance.

What’s the secret to building a thriving community?

I’m a big believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

I’d say unless you need to address a set of basic needs first, begin by creating a sense of belonging above all else.

In my experience, this happens better in face-to-face settings. People also bond over shared experiences, so I design programs with a friend-making component to facilitate that.

A community has to be fun too, since people are bombarded with competing priorities and usually won’t do something that’s painful on purpose. In other words, while what you’re doing is important, you actually have to enjoy being with the people in the community first. Providing food helps too, as does childcare in our case.

What advice would you give to fellow female or mom founders ready to follow in your footsteps? 

Don’t start a non-profit unless you’re absolutely sure you know the market. First find a way to make it for-profit.

How can people get involved with your network?

There are many ways to help:

Thanks Tina!

[This post was originally published in The Xoogler in January 2018.]

Tina Lee of MotherCoders

Creating Opportunity for Mothers + Caregivers in Tech

Founder + CEO

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