Way back in 1995, I was a Technical Coordinator for a corporate I.T. Department. Our team had 14 technicians, and I was the only woman and the only queer person. But, I worked hard and got promoted to Junior Technician. One day, my boss Gary walked into our team’s office and put his hand on my shoulder. He said, “Honey, I need you to schedule MCSE Certification training for the guys.”

The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification program had just launched in 1993, and it was a huge deal. I got on the phone and scheduled the six-week training program for the certificate for my thirteen teammates, ranging in tech skill levels from hardly to very experienced. I adjusted the workload to accommodate the training schedules, just like I had before my promotion when I was the coordinator.

I was shocked that the company could afford to provide $65,000 in training (13 techs x $5,000 training = $65,000) and all that time off for instruction and study (13 techs x 6 weeks= 78 weeks). But they wouldn’t pay for mine. After making the schedule, I marched my twenty-year-old self to Gary’s office and asked why I was the only one excluded. He blamed seniority, but I countered that I had more seniority than four of the guys. He blamed skill level, but I was one of three Junior Technicians. He gave up and shrugged, “you know.” 

I did know because I dealt with an ecosystem of sexism and homophobia every day. However, this was the first time professionally, that I was being denied a tangible opportunity that could have huge repercussions on my career. Back then, an MCSE certification could increase your salary by 50%… back in the 90’s tech bubble days. Working while all my teammates were off getting training made me feel resentful and isolated. When they came back, they spoke a different technical language, and I was falling behind. Meanwhile, they started getting raises because of their certifications. 

I went into debt financing the certificate. Gary was forced to give me the time off because I threatened to take the situation to Human Resources. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stooped to threatening him, but….you know. 

Here’s what I learned:

  1. A professional certificate is something that you invest time and money into to demonstrate mastery of a topic. It becomes equity and leverage into higher salaries and more powerful positions. (1 & 2)
  2. Having extra time and money to invest in yourself is a privilege that many competent and experienced professionals don’t have, especially with 56% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (3).
  3. The proper support at the right time can catapult a worker into better positions. (4 & 5)

The difference between the other junior techs and me is that they had someone looking out for them. When I later owned my tech consulting business, I saw many employees running my clients’ small businesses from a lower level because they didn’t have the time or money to invest in professional growth. They were making their managers look great but were never offered advancement opportunities, and the managers enjoyed that status quo… just like in Corporate.

This experience, combined with many others, is why we are launching a Professional Certification program at fwdrEvolution. We want to take the money burden away from experienced professionals ready to level up. We want to work with companies that want to get professionals from diverse backgrounds into leadership positions. And we want to work with established, reputable professional certification agencies. 

I read the Women In The Workplace report 2021 from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, and these passages stuck with me.

We need to hire more women managers. “Women continue to face a “broken rung” at the first step up to manager: for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted. As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, which means there are far fewer women to promote to higher levels. The broken rung likely explains why representation of women at the senior manager, director, and VP levels has improved more slowly than the pipeline overall.” ((3), page 12)

Allyship needs to be meaningful and tangible, not performative. “There’s a notable disconnect between the allyship actions women of color say are most meaningful and the actions white employees prioritize. Although white employees recognize that speaking out against discrimination is critical, they are less likely to recognize the importance of more proactive, sustained steps such as advocating for new opportunities for women of color and stepping up as mentors and sponsors.” ((3), page 33)

We are designing the program to address these two points. It will:

  • Provide a scholarship for the certification prep course and examination
  • Address the “broken rung” to make experienced candidates more promotable with Certifications.
  • Match certification cohorts with a mentor who has that certification
  • Allow corporations who want to promote more diverse candidates to invest in their training

Melanie Ho (author of Beyond Leaning In), says “Systemic barriers make things difficult for women no matter who is running the show.” The victory over these barriers must include intentional work. The opportunities need to be provided by companies, and the candidates need financial support to gain the certifications that they have earned through hard work. We can’t let time and money hinder progress, innovation, and equity.

Would you like to get involved? 

  1. Donate to the scholarship fund.
  2. Apply for the scholarship
  3. Connect us with certifying agencies


Cited Sources:

  1. Current Robert Half Salary Guide
  2. 10 Marketing Certifications That Can Help You Earn a Better Salary (by Scott Clark)
  3. Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck
  4. Women In The Workplace Report 2021 by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company 
  5. Why representation isn’t enough (by Melanie Ho)