By Melissa Hart
When she first began exploring an IT career, Toriana Williams quickly discovered what it’s like to be one of the only women of color in the room. While she admits she felt uncomfortable at first, she rapidly found a way to turn it around.
“I asked myself ‘what I can I do to impact and inspire more girls to be in this industry and how do we keep them in this industry,’” she said.
Williams herself only recently came around to IT. She started out to become a pharmacist, only to learn it wasn’t her true passion. She began volunteering for Black Girls Code, which from there led to a job with TechGYRLS (think Girl Scouts with a tech-skills focus). These experiences put her on her current path, which involves an internship as an IT business analyst at US Foods, as she pursues a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems.
Williams describes TechGYRLS as a safe haven for girls to explore and learn. The Detroit native moved to Chicago for school and has been working with middle-schoolers on the city’s South Side to help them build the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them in any future career.
“The most rewarding part is seeing these girls challenge themselves, and really find that they can do anything they put their minds to. I can’t wait to see where they end up,” she said.
Williams shared her insight for ways young women can be set up for success in IT education. “It begins with a strong support network of teachers, parents and others who can encourage, motivate and inspire,” she said. Equally important, she added, is getting involved, with afterschool programs such as TechGYRLS that challenge beyond the classroom.
“I think it’s critical that we encourage girls that they can do anything. I see girls opting out of subjects and accepting the perception that they aren’t good at math,” she said.
Through her work mentoring young women, Williams has seen first-hand the importance of starting early in instilling a love of learning and STEM education. “It gives you a head start with what you want to do. You’re exposed to something different that you might not have known about,” she said.
Melissa Hart is an entrepreneur, writer and technologist living and working in Upstate New York.