6 Women-Founded Learning Communities Shaping the Future of Learning
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While the number of women seeking out virtual learning courses has been on the rise since before 2020, the pandemic was largely a catalyst for many women to not only seek out virtual learning courses and communities, but to found them too.
According to Forbes:
“Online learning platform Coursera shows that women have enrolled in courses at higher rates than before the pandemic. Indeed, whereas women made up 47% of learners in 2019, this had jumped to 52% by 2021. The company believes these results confound the narrative that women were leaving the labor force due to the rise in external pressure, and were indeed increasing their investment in new skills despite the challenging circumstances.”
With eye-popping statistics like The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2022 estimating it will take women 132 years to reach full parity with men in the workforce, it’s no surprise that women are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to upskilling, reskilling, or changing careers entirely, and those who have already succeeded are creating communities for kindred women to learn, converse, and thrive within.
We’ve held dozens of conversations with founders and operators of virtual learning communities and cohort-based courses over the last few years. Through those conversations, we’ve learned to identify just what makes a learning community successful. These six women-founded learning communities are making ripples in the learning community for not only the women they support, but the industries and companies that go on to hire them.
6 learning communities, founded by women, that are changing learning as we know
“Numbering more than 12 million, Latinas account for 16% of the women labor force – a figure that is projected to grow dramatically,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
#WeAllGrow Amigas is a community where this rapidly growing population of career-focused women can congregate around original content, webinars, mentorship programs, network sharing, and wellness sessions. While there’s a particular focus on entrepreneurship and professional content, the virtual space is designated for any Latina or Latine looking for community.
It’s a designation that has served the community well — the community has grown by thousands since 2010 and now has the capacity to host sold-out summits for members to attend. In an effort to improve DEI for every industry, these communities that represent distinct populations, races, and ethnicities will continue to thrive. By holding a lens over what it means to be a Latina woman, particularly in the workplace, members of #WeAllGrow Amigas can share their experiences with others and develop deeper network connections.
Fostering community is one of the unique traits shared by virtual learning businesses and communities. Founders are able to cultivate community in a way that traditional education can’t. Ana Flores, founder of #WeAllGrow Amigas, shares:
“There is something magical that happens when we all come to the same room. The more we can work together within our ecosystem, the stronger we are. Find that community that you’re lacking within your corporate job outside and find mentors who will help you show up every day of being unapologetic about who you are.”
Community-based learning is a cornerstone of the future of learning. We’ve seen models successfully leverage both broader community and more micro, intimate subcommunities to create successful learning businesses, and those will only be replicated and improved moving forward.
While tech is one of the more forward-thinking industries, there’s still plenty of education and support needed for woman and non-binary employees, particularly in design-based roles.
Hexagon UX supports non-binary, womxn, and other intersectional feminine people as they find their footing in the growing career path of design. It’s made possible through events, mentorship opportunities, and fostering a community of tolerant, accepting individuals as a means of, in their words, “building confidence, balancing the ratio in the UX industry, and affecting change on a greater scale.”
What makes Hexagon UX unique (and a stellar example of what the future of learning communities can look like) is the attention to career development at every touchpoint in the community. For example, their events go beyond addressing issues or discussing current events; there is an integration of career and personal development and an emphasis on skill building. ChairmanMe founder Sarah Lacy shares how important it is to create touchpoints for your community members:
“We're busy. Our audience are busy working women. Having a community and accountability keeps people having skin in the game. And if you get behind, it's not the end of the world. You also always have this live touch point every week, which gives you a lot of contact with the instructor.”
While there are no virtual or cohort-based courses offered to members yet, Hexagon UX has laid down a foundation that could support a more nuanced curriculum for members and more formal training at the corporate level.
The collective of women, non-binary folks and allies alike has grown into the hundreds (with over 1,000 social media followers) in just a year, and it’s representative of the more niche micro-communities within particular industries or roles that are being created throughout tech and beyond.
Ada Developers Academy
We’ve watched the renaissance of women in STEM happen before our very eyes over the previous few decades. In 2009, ~140,000 women graduated with STEM degrees. ~200,00 women held one by 2016, increasing by 43%. Today, 50% of STEM employees are women, while just 47% of overall employees in every industry are women.
The face of tech is changing — rapidly — and it’s because of communities like Ada Developers Academy. They offer free, not-for-profit coding training to a global, inclusive audience. “We primarily serve Black, Latine, Indigenous Americans, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, and low-income people,” the website states.
Coding-based professions like programming, software engineering, and web development are still heavily male-skewed. Ada Developers Academy aims to give folks who are often underrepresented in these roles and in tech as a whole a no-barrier entry to education, so long as they’re ready to work and eager to learn. It’s a philosophy that is shared by a number of founders we’ve interviewed during our interview series, like BatteryMBA Chief of Staff Amandine Bressand:
“We built a scholarship to essentially ensure that we can have those diverse forces in the program. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen organically. So the scholarship was just a way and a method to do outreach to underrepresented profiles in the sector. That's something we're very proud of and will continue to do. The sector is diverse. A training like this and its cohorts should be representative of that.”
No matter what a virtual learning business looks like — a bootcamp, a bustling forum, a virtual community, an on-campus academy — founders and operators should assume the responsibility for improving DEI efforts in their respective industries and bake that understanding into their business model. When you give underrepresented and disproportionately represented communities pointed places to thrive within, they know how to better represent themselves and those around them in the workplace and in society.
The coding bootcamp boom of the early 2010s forged a path for anyone wanting to reskill for careers in tech. They work — we’ve seen thousands of folks fill technical roles that the current talent pool can’t support. While the bootcamp model works famously for people looking to change their career path entirely, there wasn’t a model for people (in this case, women specifically) looking to upskill in their current roles or boost their resume with topical, technical skills.
That’s where Europe’s allWomen Academy is succeeding for its members.
“Build a rewarding career in technology by upskilling or boosting your profile to thrive professionally in a rapidly growing sector,” their website says. That’s not to exclude women looking to transform their careers — you can do that, too — but rather, allWomen’s curriculum is for women who want to level up in their careers by adding those nice-to-have skills to their resume so they stand out in a sea of applications. Their course offerings range from your more technical roles like data analytics and product management to more creative-adjacent roles in UX content writing and design.
But it doesn’t end at training and upskilling; allWomen offers a suite of career development support in the form of hiring fairs, career assessments, and, of course, a global network of 30,000+ women. With this multi-touch approach, allWomen is shifting the narrative that women are “afraid” of STEM careers. This was the core reason founder Laura Fernandez started allWomen:
“Because we live in a world of social constructs; constructs that haven’t been so favorable to women for most of history. And these constructs say that women aren’t good with numbers, technology, or science. That their abilities and even interests lie elsewhere, in industries that are more appropriate for women.”
By giving women a safe space to learn, converse, and find roles suited for them, they have more freedom to explore exactly what it is they want from their careers:
“I wanted to create a space where women could exist without these stereotypes. Where they can learn without this pressure to be something - or rather not be something - simply because of who they are. Where they can become the professionals that they are not only capable of becoming but that they truly want to become.”
Want more women in STEM? Start them young — that’s SheTech’s philosophy. The free program helps girls, primarily in high school, learn about career paths in STEM in a number of ways during their annual program, including community events, competition hackathons, awards, projects, and internships. There are also opportunities for girls to partner with women in tech for mentorships.
But the most important work SheTech does for young, aspiring tech professionals is removing preconceived notions and stereotypes. They note:
“It’s no secret there aren’t enough women in STEM, but 90% of high school girls say they don’t know a woman or a role model in STEM, and only 15% pursue STEM education. In fact, every year girls tell us that they thought their career options were nurse, teacher, esthetician, or other stereotypically women occupations. They have no idea the opportunities waiting for them in STEM fields, or that STEM is a part of whatever they are passionate about.”
At SheTech, girls unlearn the idea that STEM careers are reserved for men. They unlearn the notion that their passions and interests don’t align with STEM. They unlearn that tech isn’t inclusive of women and doesn’t have programs in place to support them.
All founders of learning businesses share the responsibility of helping their members “unlearn” — unlearn stereotypes, unlearn fear, unlearn doubt — and replace it with empowerment, information, and inspiration.
Women in Tech SEO
Women in Tech SEO supports women in the technical SEO business, whether they work for themselves, at an agency, or in-house with a brand. Most people associate SEO with marketing — which it is — but technical SEO looks at a website as a whole in order to improve site structure, loading speed, and overall content.
Founded in 2019, this niche community was formed to give women in the role a place to converse and collaborate. Over the last few years, however, it has evolved to include conferences, speaker panels, meetups, and more (beyond its virtual beginnings).
By laying the foundation of community, care, and collaboration in the way Women in Tech SEO has done, they set themselves up to offer additional services and training courses that can better support members and upskill prospective employees. For many learning community founders, creating the community was the catalyst for more nuanced offerings that could both grow membership and potentially generate profit.
Women are leading the charge to create a more fruitful future for learning
The learning industry is continuing to explode, and it’s because of women founders and the women members they support.
When we support women-led communities and initiatives, everyone wins. It’s no secret that investing in women and their efforts creates ripple effects across society as a whole. The women that are founding bootcamps, academies, micro-schools, and other critical learning communities will not only change lives, they could potentially become very, very successful.
Click here to read interviews from other founders of learning communities across the world, and find what philosophies they share in creating sustainable, life-changing businesses.