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Know yourself — no matter what

Name: Ashley Harris Organization: GigEast Exchange | Wilson, North Carolina

Hometown: Conway, North Carolina

Breyana and Ashley dive into what it means to know yourself, especially in rooms that don't always make space for women of color.

Breyana Ray: What is your current connection to rural?

Ashley Harris: We are rural partners here at the City of Wilson with Greenlight Community Broadband and GigEast.

BR: Can you tell me what you wanted to be when you were growing up?

AH: When I was growing up I wanted to be a teacher … I actually went to school for that, that’s what I majored in. Technology had always been something that I enjoyed. But I wanted to teach fourth grade.

BR: What is your current job and how did you get to where you are today? What path did you take?

AH: My current job right now is as a community manager for the GigEast Exchange. We are part of the City of Wilson and fall under that umbrella. What we do here is foster small business development, digital growth, we’re teaching digital literacy — all types of things. This all blends my passion for education and technology into one job. It doesn’t seem like it would, but it does. Here I get to help people grow their natural strengths and talents into businesses, or their individual growth with technology, as well as using the technical skills I already have.

BR: How does the lack of representation in the tech field affect women of color?

AH: Actually, at this point, I think for me, I’ve always been pretty much the only woman — and not just woman of color. But In technology, over the 12-13 years I’ve worked in technology, it’s getting to be now where I”m not the only one. There are a few around, but we’re still really the minority when it comes to tech jobs, women in tech. … It’s pretty cool to be the one setting the table for some of these things but it is still very much male-dominated.

BR: What do you feel has been the biggest challenge for you as someone who’s essentially disrupting an industry that’s currently male-dominated?

AH: Biggest challenge? I’d say making sure you know yourself. Because if you’re going to walk into a room that is completely the opposite of you in race and in gender, you’ve got to know yourself. You need to know what you’re talking about and say what you need to say.

BR: What is changing for women of color in tech? And what do you feel is staying the same?

AH: Businesses that women have started have created a path for women to be like, “Oh, this is a place that we can get in and be successful” — it affects everybody. Technology, we all use it, it’s part of our everyday lives from the watches on our wrists to the computer. We all utilize it the same way. So it’s a space that we all need to be in.

BR: How should employers, allies, supporters, and others step up for women in tech?

AH: They just have to take the chance. Stepping up is just giving us the opportunities to prove that we can do it.

BR: Is there a woman of color in the field or any tech-based field that you looked up to in your professional journey?

AH: Because women are still very scarce in this field I wouldn’t say, technically, in this field that I have anybody in particular. But as far as the educational path I took, there are a few people I’ve looked up to and they’re in more administrative roles … but I can’t say that I have a role model I’ve looked up to in technology right now. I think if I would’ve had someone at a younger age that I could’ve seen doing something like I do now, that would’ve definitely pushed me more in this direction from the jump — ”Oh, you can do this!” I think when we’re growing up we want to be firefighters, policemen, schoolteachers, because that’s what you see, that’s what you know, what you see in your everyday life. But you don’t see a lot of women in technology.

BR: Looking back, when was the first time that you realized that being and remaining a woman of color in this industry would be challenging? Was there ever a point where you were like, “This is not easy…”? Or, just recognizing that you’re the only one in the room, what did that feel like?

AH: I think when you have ideas about something or you have a solution for something, and you present that solution, and then somebody can come back and say the exact same thing, embellish it or take away a few things I said, and it’s like, “Oh, it’s great, we should do that!” I think when it comes from a different person at the table and it’s perceived differently or said differently, that was when I realized I’m in the room, I’m saying the same thing, but I’m clearly not being heard.

BR: What do you think an inclusive future of tech looks like for women of color?

AH: Being open to our ideas, our opinions, and being able to collaborate in a way that’s inviting, right? In a way that women feel comfortable being part of the conversation or the big idea, and for us to present the idea that we have.”

If you would like to be part of the Rural Slice, please be sure to fill out our application form. Our team is always looking to chat with women in tech.

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