Social inclusion Finalist
Somerville Academy is a technology school created by and for women. Born out of a need to have more women, especially more women of colour, working in the technology industry, our programs are designed to give women the skills, experience, and confidence they need to start their careers in 16 weeks. Our online learning portal lets students work around their existing schedules. Lessons and office hours are live-streamed and recorded, so the logistics of women going back to school, including commuting and childcare, are easier to handle.
Somerville operates around five core values: inclusion, courage, community, compassion, and respect. Women of every colour, faith, and sexual orientation are encouraged to apply. The programs specifically target mothers, career changers, and recent graduates. The school’s four program pillars are the foundation of each course offering: a flexible learning environment, applied technical skills, industry experience, and extensive career support. To create a flexible learning environment, students are grouped into small cohorts of four. They work collaboratively and can support each other in their learning regardless of geographic location. Lectures are broken down into 20-40 minute recordings so students can learn at a time that works for them.
Weekly live-streamed seminars help answer any questions on project work throughout the week and give students an opportunity to connect. Each department is supported by a professional advisory board, which conducts a quarterly review of the course curriculum for each program. This ensures that students are learning the most relevant skills, best practices, and cutting edge technology in their future profession. Each student receives career support both during the program and
after graduation. Students spend the last two weeks of their program completing a “career launch intensive” that covers resumes, LinkedIn, job applications, interview skills, and negotiation. Their job hunt begins during the course and instructors guide them towards roles that include the coursework each student excels at and enjoys. Alumni are able to access course materials and attend seminars for six months after graduation to help them settle into their new roles. From
there, they are welcomed into Somerville’s alumni network, which shares job listings for more experienced professionals, technology updates, mentorship, and ongoing career support. Potential students can select from two different programs, a full-time career launch option and a part-time career development option. The full-time career launch programs are best for mothers re-entering the workforce, women wanting a career change, and recent graduates looking to build their
experience. These 16-week programs include two graduation tracks, one for future employees and one for future freelancers. The part-time career development programs are best for working women looking to advance their careers, small business owners, startup founders, and Somerville alumni who want to broaden their skillsets. These 12-week programs base all course work around the student’s own business or business idea.
Scholarships are available for single moms, women of colour, self-identified women in the LGBTQ community, women with disabilities and chronic diseases, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. These scholarships cover 25% of tuition and can be combined in situations where potential students fall under more than one category. Financial aid is also available for women with household incomes of less than $40,000. Somerville Academy is founded by Katie Jeanes, a Canadian tech entrepreneur and educator now living in Australia. She is supported by her current team of two, Digital Marketing Instructor, Patty Wong (Canada) and Community Manager, Kathleen Binns (USA). Future hires, including program directors for Product Management, User Experience Design, and Data Science, have also signed on.
What impact has the initiative had or is expected to have?
Currently, there are twice as many men working in the technology industry as women. The shortage of women in technology will contribute to a skilled worker shortage of 1.1 million employees and a corresponding unrealized output on $112 billion in 2020. The problem of unconscious bias in emerging technology is also a symptom of this diversity issue.
With an average household income for single income families of $55,000, most women must work after they become mothers, but they need more flexibility. This results in 43% of US mothers changing careers after having children.
Unfortunately, the tuition, course schedules, and campus-based learning offered by current technology schools exclude women. By creating a technology school specifically for women, Somerville Academy should decrease these issues.
Technology companies will be able to hire digital marketers, product managers, user experience designers, and data scientists in 2019, not 2025 the skills shortage is projected to reach $213.5 billion. Technology companies will also benefit financially, as a one percentage point move toward representative diversity leads to a three-point increase in revenue.
Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity are more likely to surpass industry norms for revenue and operating margin. More diversity also results in better artificial intelligence, as a diversity of thought will improve responses and machine learning. Somerville Academy’s scholarship and financial aid programs prioritize diversity in future tech teams. Women and their families will also benefit. With an average starting salary of $60,000, mothers can re-enter the workforce and double their household income, without sacrificing flexibility. Somerville’s online programming allows for women to attend classes remotely and on a schedule that works for them. In 2019, 371 Somerville Academy Alumni will launch the careers in the technology industry. In 2020, 856 new alumni will enter the workforce and by 2024, 10,000 women are projected to have launched their careers in technology.
What is unique about this initiative? Can it be scaled-up and replicated in other places?
Somerville Academy is different from any technology education offering available today. The school, educational paradigms, and programs are all built specifically for adult women. Contingency plans for parents and caregivers are built in, job application coaching is provided, and lessons on handling common career issues for women such as overcoming unconscious bias and imposter syndrome are included in each course. Small class sizes enable every program to have rolling admission. This allows students to start when they are ready, meaning enrollment and revenue are not limited to a semester system.
Each student’s curriculum is personalised based on their skills, interests, and goals. Students develop a broad skillset and specialise in an area of their choosing before beginning their career launch intensive. During their time at Somerville, each student is paired with four community partners. These include real small businesses, e-commerce stores, mobile apps, and software companies that students work with to create digital strategies around content marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, user acquisition, and lead generation. This becomes their first client work, giving them experience and tangible results to draw from while interviewing. Students are guided through each step of the process with feedback and coaching, in order to deliver an amazing result to their community partners. Finally, students present their work to the partner using the skills they learn in technical writing and presenting, preparing them for doing the same while job hunting and working in the industry.
Each presentation is recorded to give students even more feedback through video analysis. Somerville’s community partner program gives students the opportunity to build a portfolio of real work and graduate with four professional references. In addition, students gain e-commerce experience as they are assigned one product in Somerville’s white- labelled online store, Outdoor Naps (outdoornaps.com). Each student manages their product for 16 weeks, optimizing the product page for online search, promoting it through content marketing, Google and Facebook ads, and managing email campaigns to potential, current, and past customers. Upon graduation, students can speak to their experience managing real products and budgets, as well as the results generated, while interviewing. Store proceeds are donated to Somerville Academy’s scholarship fund. Quarterly curriculum reviews by each program’s professional advisory board keep the curriculum on the cutting edge of the industry.
The online programming allows for students to take part, and connect with each other from anywhere in the world. Video lectures allow for scheduling flexibility, live-stream seminars incorporate peer learning, and small classes of four students per cohort create the social connections essential to adult learning. The small group setting is also designed to give students personalized support so that they cannot get lost or stuck along the way. Somerville also offers the best post- graduate career support. Alumni retain access to the tools, resources, and support provided in their course for the first six months of their careers. Each student completes a two-week career launch intensive at the end of their program. They are guided through choosing a specialization, as well as the application process, optimizing their resume and LinkedIn profile, as well as strengthening their interview and negotiation skills. This will enables alumni to get hired within three months of graduation at a starting salary of at least $60,000. Somerville Academy focuses on a 100% graduate hiring rate for all students.
The experience gained during the program will inform which sector of the industry to focus on while job hunting. Additionally, students are guided into a specialization based on their inherent talents by their instructors. This empowers students to design their perfect career. The school can be scaled up to reach all of the 193 million women who are native English speakers globally. Course content can also be translated into different languages and taught by bilingual instructors. This is dependant on which languages the technology taught in class is available. Facebook ads manager is currently available in 29 languages and Google Ads and Analytics are available in 39. The Somerville team is already distributed throughout Canada, Australia, and the US, which enables the team to recruit the best candidates, wherever they may be.