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Elevation Q&A: Glennette Clark on bridging the new digital divide

Glennette Clark argues that the digital divide isn't about access anymore, it's about skills

Glennette Clark is a senior consultant for a government contractor by day and a crusader for gender and racial equality in the D.C. tech scene by night. She chairs DC Web Women's Girls Rock On the Web (GROW) and produces UXCamp DC and MobileUXCamp DC. Glennette sat down with Elevation DC to discuss her ideas about the gender and the racial divides in the DC tech community and how those divisions might best be bridged.

Broadly speaking, what's going on with women and the tech scene in D.C. these days?
I don't think that there's any difference between what's going on with women in D.C. and anywhere else. It's the same struggle. You have women who are marginalized, who aren't as included in the tech community. I'm on a couple of listservs—some that are specific to D.C., and some that aren't—and I hear the same thing. There's a lot of sexism in the industry. Women aren't given the same opportunities as men. Then there's the whole movement around getting more women the opportunity to speak at these tech conferences. A lot of them seem to be male heavy.

"Women aren't raised to put themselves out there. We're not supposed to talk about money. We're not supposed to brag. But the next generation won't have so many problems."
The number of women attending tech conferences has grown, at least in the design industry. But there aren't so many women who stand up and say they want to present on a specific topic. This is a combination of not being asked, and not putting [themselves] out there.

Why do you think women don't put themselves out there?
Women aren't raised to put themselves out there. We're not supposed to talk about money. We're not supposed to brag. But the next generation won't have so many problems—they'll hear our generation saying it's okay to talk about your achievements, and it will shift the balance.

You're reaching out to the younger generation, right?
Yes. I'm on the steering committee for DC Web Women, and we're putting together a group called GROW—Girls Rock on the Web. It's for middle-school girls, to introduce them to the web and to technology. We're writing the whole curriculum, starting with how to build a web page and going from there. Right now, we're just kicking off the project. Hopefully we'll have our first program in the spring or early summer.

Does this tie into bringing tech across the river? 
One of the things I am adamant about is keeping this program in D.C. I would like to be able to keep it free, so that it's not cost-prohibitive for anyone to [participate]. I would like to be able to reach out to the middle schools in Southeast and parts of Northeast as well.

What would you like to see happen with technology and Southeast DC?
"The digital divide isn't about access anymore."

More training programs to give people the skills to work in the tech companies that are coming to the area. I would like to create a digital Anacostia. I would like companies to go to Southeast and utilize the residents there. I have been researching job training programs and skills training programs, but the skills taught in these programs don't go beyond turning on the computer and learning MS Office. I haven't found anything that teaches Ruby, or designing websites, or working in any of the industries we're trying to attract. I'd like to make sure that all of D.C. can participate in the industries we're trying to attract. The digital divide isn't about access anymore.

In 2010, I was a crew leader for the census. My area was in Southeast around upper Malcolm X Ave. One of the things that I noticed as I went into these homes, people had computers and access to the Internet. One woman was on Facebook. She could be doing something else—learning a skill, selling on Etsy.

Every computer in the library was taken up with people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.  You have an opportunity to be creative in the tech space—to build your own company, build your own mobile app, to participate. According to Pew [Research Group], blacks and Latinos use mobile tech more than whites, but they don't have the skills to participate. The digital divide isn't about access anymore.

You seem to have a strong opinion about Mayor Gray's trip to SXSW. Why weren't you happy about that?
It's not that I'm not happy that DC is promoting at SXSW. I'm unhappy that here you have a city that is majority black and Latino, but the delegation that you send to SXSW reflects none of that, except for [Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership]'s Keith Sellars. And aside from iStrategyLabs, from the list that I saw, everyone else has only been in D.C. for fewer than two years. I believe that the companies [the government] is aligning itself with have a vested interested in D.C., but not necessarily a vested interest in an inclusive D.C.

"Tech companies are coming to D.C., but there's nothing in place to support them that is inclusive of all of DC."
The unemployment rate in D.C. is like 7 or 8 percent. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate in 2011 was 20.3 percent for blacks, 8.1 percent for Latinos, and 3.3 percent for whites. Tech companies are coming to D.C., but there's nothing in place to support them that is inclusive of all of DC. The [mayor's office has] this whole "One City" website; there's no mention of tech, no mention of startups, no mention of helping people participate in this industry that they're trying to attract to the area.

I understand from an economic development perspective why it's important to attract these companies to the city, but the human capital is being neglected. There's lots of potential, but it's not being tapped into. Either you train people here, or you import people. If you import people, you put people who are already here at a further disadvantage.

How can people who want to help your cause get involved? 
I'm working on a business plan called Startup for All. It will create startups around building skills for people in the community. I'd like it to be a partnership, for companies in D.C. to tell us what they want. They will design the curriculum, rather than us trying to guess what they need.

Is there anything else you want to tell us?
I've lived in D.C. for more than half of my life. I came to in 1985 and stayed. My husband was raised in Southeast. I raised my kids here. For me, this is all personal. This is something that's needed. It's so important to the city—not just economically—because when people don't feel like they have a place in a community that is growing—disenfranchised people are a problem. If we can figure out a way to include everybody, and truly be one city, we can truly be the digital capital.

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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