Supporting Coding Careers for BIPOC, Women and Non-Binary People- Lighthouse Labs' New BC Reskilling Project
Written by: Mily Mumford
The COVID-19 Pandemic has disproportionately affected income and employment for already oppressed groups in our society, specifically Black, Indigenous and Persons of Colour as well as women and non-binary people. In professional areas that are still dominated by mainly cis-white men such as the technology and engineering sectors, these job losses on top of a lack of parity in workplaces can be devastating.
We talked to Stephanie Wilson, the Director of Government Relations at Lighthouse Labs, a tech education company that specializes in fast-paced, well-supported Coding and Data Science education programs, about a new program called the BC Reskilling Project. Stephanie Wilson is an experienced leader with a passion for supporting marginalized communities. With over fourteen years of experience in business development and organizational expansion, she brings a knowledge and expertise in economic, social and cultural impacts to the executive team at Lighthouse Labs. In our interview we discuss the impacts of the pandemic on groups that have been pushed to the margins, especially in the tech sector, and how the BC Reskilling Project is offering fully sponsored training for people in these groups.
Mily Mumford, WWEST Research Coordinator: From the perspective of your experience and research in the tech sector, how have Black, Indigenous and people of colour, as well as women and non-binary people across the board suffered disproportionate job loss during the pandemic?
Stephanie Wilson: In Canada, the pandemic hasn’t impacted every population equally. Surveys (conducted by Statistics Canada) over the summer showed that the dramatic increases in the unemployment rate particularly affected racialized Canadians in comparison to white Canadians. These rates tended to be compounded by gender — demographics like Black women and South Asian women suffered disproportionate job losses, for example. This situation is worsened by research showing that the health impacts of COVID-19 have been particularly bad for marginalized groups like racialized Canadians, women, and those with disabilities and/or living with mental illness.
MM: Why, in your opinion, should "re-skilling" programs like Lighthouse Labs' program important options for groups that are underrepresented in the tech sector.
SW: The pandemic has exacerbated a situation that already existed, where the employment landscape was already being significantly transformed by the rapid growth of technology. The pandemic has sped up this pace of change, and has made more obvious that digital skills are really necessary for success. Without understanding how to use the opportunities that technology presents to their benefit, individuals and organizations are lacking essential skills.
Rapid skills training programs, like Lighthouse Labs’, are built to be more accessible to those that haven’t followed the traditional educational pathways and need alternative possibilities. The reality where tech has largely been characterized as white, male, and upper-class is shaped by how it used to be necessary to pass through a four-year computer science program. This format simply isn’t accessible to many demographics, like marginalized Canadians, low-income workers, and recent immigrants.
Lighthouse Labs was created in 2013 with the goal of doing education differently, and to ensure that technological change can present opportunities for all Canadians. Lighthouse Labs aims to build training and employment programs in coding, data, and digital skills that allow diverse demographics to reap the economic and career benefits of technology. Through hands-on, personalized learning, Lighthouse Labs has already attained unrivaled outcomes for over 40,000 Canadians and 4,000 companies across the country.
MM: How can programs like this start making tech workplaces more diverse and equitable?
SW: Lighthouse Labs has worked with impact-oriented organizations like the BC Technology Association to create initiatives that ensure that all Canadians, regardless of background, are connected with opportunity during this trying period. Many of these initiatives are designed to empower communities traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry, like the OWN Tech Initiative, which provides upskilling to newcomer women in Ontario. Initiatives like these can help boost the industry with a much-needed increase in diversity.
MM: What is Lighthouse Labs doing in terms of outreach to encourage those in communities that might not usually be reached by tech companies, particularly Black and Indigenous communities, to apply for the program and access the scholarship?
SW: We worked with organizations and individuals working or living within these communities to share the word of the BC Re-skilling program. We were overwhelmed by support in sharing this initiative, with organizations such as Indigenous Tech Companies: One Feather and Animikii doing a lot to help. We were also fortunate to have this opportunity shared through the Songhees Innovation Centre, the Songhees Nation, and Black Business BC. These are just a few of the organizations that helped us connect with these communities.
MM: Within the course space of your programs at Lighthouse Labs, how are you committed to culturally safe and inclusive learning environments?
SW: At Lighthouse Labs, we have policies meant to govern conduct around diversity and inclusion. We’re committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment to everyone, regardless of identity. To assist in these efforts, we’ve focused on recruiting mentors and instructors that reflect the diversity of our communities. It’s important to provide our students with peer role models, which can help to counteract imposter syndrome by making them feel like they belong.
MM: How many scholarships for the BC Re-skilling Program are there, and what are the steps and criteria to apply?
SW: Through this program, Lighthouse Labs has provided over 30 scholarships to date, with a few more to give. The application deadline for the program is January 29, 2021. Through this partnership with BC Tech, unemployed Women, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities in British Columbia have access to 100% subsidized tech education. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Funding supported by the Province of British Columbia
To submit an application to the BC Reskilling Project visit this link