Stepping it Up for Minority Women in IT Careers

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Outlook in Higher Education Magazine December 2014 ISSUE (By Michelle Adam)

December, 2014: For years, Nikki Arora, corporate marketing officer of UST Global, would hear corporations talk about equality and diversity in the workforce, yet the dismal figures for women, let alone minority women, in the IT workforce remained the same. According to Arora, less than 2 percent of women make it into the IT workforce, despite the fact that about 12 percent graduate with IT degrees.


Aware of these statistics – and the fact that software developers are in demand (there will be 1 million software jobs unfilled by 2020) and the U.S. is expected to be majority-minority in the year 2040 with 42 percent of the country black or Hispanic – UST Global launched Step IT Up America in 2013. The program was established with the goal to create 5,000 new jobs for inner-city minority women in tech careers by 2020, and to begin by training and employing 1,000 inner-city women in 10 of the nation’s largest cities.


“Minority women have the passion. They are focused, committed, and are individuals who want to make a difference. Their talent is there, but not the opportunities and skills,” said Arora. “We knew they had the talent, but we didn’t have corporations believing in them and going out to the way to reach out to them. We wanted to change that.”


Since 1999, UST Global, a privately held corporation and global technology leader across industries, has recruited, trained, and employed more than 320 women in five major cities – Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City – and will follow with many more cities to come.


In each of these cities, Step IT Up America has sought out women who have a minimum of a high school diploma, or are enrolled in a two-year degree or in other college, and who can commit to eight hours of paid training a day. The program works directly with community leaders, foundations, organizations, employment agencies, community colleges, and other venues to find the right women for Step IT Up. Once these women are selected, they undergo a 90-day boot camp training, and are taught skills in business analysis, visualization, quality assurance, project coordination, computer programming and coding skills, in addition to mentoring, presentation, and other soft skills that will help them perform in the corporate world.


“Initially when the CEO, Sajan Pillai, and I had this idea, people were baffled. ‘How can you train these women with no background of the corporate world and coding?’ they’d say,” said Arora. “We have had our set of challenges with working with this level of talent because we are used to developing talent by doing so internally with students and graduate students. But, we are also working with women who are more nimble and focused than we’ve ever seen. They are going to give engineers and people with degrees a run for their money.”




While a lot of corporations have training programs and skill development programs internally, they often focus on working with engineers with a university education, and not with the group of people Step It Up America is targeting.


“There is no organization that I’ve found that is focused on such a niche market of minority women and taking them as they are – taking their raw talent and bringing them in at our cost, and making sure they are successful and getting jobs,” said Arora.


Step It Up America was first launched in Atlanta because when UST Global was speaking to customers in this location, they were committed to giving future Step It Up women jobs after their graduation from the program. So, on Nov. 19, 2013, with community and corporate leaders, the first program was launched. “We took on this challenge because it is irresistible…because it is the kind of thing that is hard to say no to… you can see very clearly the benefits, and where it can lead… and all the good it can do,” said Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez at the time of the launching.


Since Atlanta began with the program, 100 women have participated in Step IT Up there, and about 60 or more of them have already received job positions. Most of the jobs they’ve been placed in are with companies that are UST Global clients, yet Step IT Up America is also open to working with companies that might not be clients of theirs. “We had women interviewed by Hallmark and other companies. This is not charity,” said Arora. “We are giving people skills for these jobs and we need to make sure there is commercial sense to invest in a city, to make sure it is successful and we are not making false promises to these women.”


After Atlanta’s launch, the program expanded to include Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. The New York City launch was planned for October, and following that, Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C. were next on the list. So far 320 women have been enrolled in the program since its inception, and the goal remains to reach 5,000 women by 2020. “Most of these women, more than 50 percent, are single mothers. Every day it gives us such a great motivation to do good. These women come to us and tell us that we are their life saviors,” said Arora.


“These are women who had lost everything. Some were homeless and were barely making ends meet. When these women are then enrolled and have the mentorship of other women leaders, it is inspiring and
brings tears to our eyes.”


One woman who was a single mom, and has definitely benefited from the program, is Annalishea Pérez, a Latina and African-American woman raised in New York and Georgia. For her, Step IT Up America taught her how to me a “better me.” “Although I’ve always wanted to work in the corporate world, I didn’t know what it took to thrive in the corporate environment. They have taught me not only technical skills but interpersonal skills, as well as how to dress and carry myself as a professional,” she said. “I was extremely shy and almost afraid to talk to people of a higher professional status. They brought my shy timid ways out of me. My coach gave me a daily assignment to talk to five strangers a day, which made me come out of my shell.”


Pérez was raised by her mother with expectations to graduate high school, but Pérez had ambitions of doing more, and of initially becoming a lawyer. Her mother had never graduated high school, but Pérez did and became the only one in her family to earn an associate’s degree in applied science after graduating high school.


During her college studies at ITT Technical, a school advisor informed Pérez of Step IT Up, which became a perfect fit for her. “The process was very difficult for me mainly because of the technical part of software testing. I stayed up many nights past midnight trying to study and pass two weekly tests, and grasp the concept of it all. It was all hard but well worth it,” she said. “I’m a single mom and I truly feel blessed to get this opportunity and I also feel honored I was chosen out of the many applicants and am so grateful that UST Global created this program for Latina and African- American women. All we needed was a chance and an opportunity to change our lives around.”


Pérez now works for Home Depot, and plans to eventually become a test lead manager, and IT project manager for them. She has been able to take the skills Step IT Up taught her and become very good at what she does.


"They have taught me not only technical skills but interpersonal skills, as well as how to dress and carry myself as a professional.”

Annalishea Pérez, participant,
Step IT Up America



While Step IT Up America has yet to reach the number of Latinas it wishes to assist through further outreach, the program thus far has become a great success – and especially since UST Global’s vision is supported by so many businesses, organizations, academic institutions, and political leaders. “There has been support from communities, academia, corporations, and the White House (we met with President Obama and the First Lady Michelle). We have been fortunate and we want to continue to promote this program,” said Arora. “I don’t recall a single incident in which a foundation or corporation hasn’t been inspired by this program.”


For Arora, and those at UST-Global, they are supporting a vision of transforming lives, both in the U.S. through Step it Up America, and in multiple ways overseas (The company is now collaborating with Mexico’s president, Vicente Fox, to bring about opportunities there as well).


“I believe that UST is a leading agent for social change globally and the future looks promising and exciting,” said Arora. “We want to create a global phenomenon. It’s about passion and transformation of community and country.”



Outlook in Higher Education Magazine 


About UST Global


UST Global is a leading provider of end-to-end IT Services and Solutions for Global 1000 companies. Established in 1998 and headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California, UST Global has operations in USA, India, Mexico, Spain, UK, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. UST Global is a technology leader with profound domain expertise across the following industries: Healthcare & Insurance, Retail, Financial Services, Transportation & Logistics, Manufacturing & Automotive, Telecommunication and Media & Entertainment. By focusing on the business model of ‘fewer CLIENTS, more ATTENTION’, UST Global strives for excellence in providing their clients with the best service and commitment to long-term client success. With 14,000 employees, UST Global's growth and clientele have been impressive.

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UST Global
Nikki Arora
Corporate Marketing Officer
Director Global Talent Acquisition
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