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Women in Leadership Spotlight: Katie Franco, Girl Develop It

By Emily Patrick | March 21, 2022

In honor of Women’s History Month, Common Impact is proud to spotlight women who are making history by championing gender equity, uplifting other women, and strengthening their communities. Today we hear from Katie Franco, Executive Director of Girl Develop It, a national nonprofit organization that creates welcoming, supportive opportunities for women and non-binary adults to learn coding and software development skills. Girl Develop It is committed to ensuring people of all races, educational backgrounds, income levels, and upbringings can build confidence in their skill sets to develop web and mobile applications. 

Learn more about the powerful hands-on programs Girl Develop It provides in software and web/mobile app development, the impact it has had throughout the pandemic, and how you can get involved or make a donation.

How is Girl Develop It empowering girls to build better futures for themselves and each other? 

Girl Develop It was founded on the principle that women and non-binary adults have been left out of technology education, careers, and spaces for no good reason. We work hard to reject the stereotypes that have blocked access and focus on providing skills training, networking, and other opportunities to support women and non-binary adults to learn code, build confidence, and truly build the community they need to be successful in the technology space. 

Skills-based volunteering has been vital to help us fill the gaps and has provided us real partnerships that offer valuable strategic support.

How has skills-based volunteering helped Girl Develop It to deliver on its mission, in the long-term or at the everyday level? 

As the pandemic proceeded, we found ourselves with a very small team to support our program and operations. Skills-based volunteering with NVIDIA through Common Impact has been vital to help us fill the gaps and has provided us real partnerships that offer valuable strategic support. The work has allowed us to rethink how we develop our membership strategy as well as take a deep dive into marketing strategy and tactics. In our current project, which is focused on marketing strategy, I have a regular meeting with my marketing team, which provides me clear insights, strategy, and action steps that we can easily implement and make a difference.

You’ve been the Executive Director of Girl Develop It since February 2020 – quite an unforgettable time to be at the helm of a nonprofit. Tell us about your path to leadership and your current role. 

It was an interesting time. Everything I thought this role would look like was out the window by March. Unable to network, meet with my board in person, and fundraise – I quickly had to adopt new approaches. After taking a breath and a few weeks to shift my family into lockdown mode, which included my kids being home from school and my parents moving in with us for three months, I was able to refocus and ask: “How can we help?”

We realized early on in the pandemic that there was a need among our community as many of our members were losing their jobs. I had a memorable conversation with a woman who shared that everyone at her company who wasn’t a software engineer or executive was let go. Almost all the women there were gone by May. It was really quick and painful.

Girl Develop It focused on our community. We decided to teach virtually and offer opportunities for learning and connection. We connected with instructors, leveraged our curriculum, and jumped in. We stumbled through this for a while, but we are leaning into it now. We have served over 10,000 individuals through our classes and events since the pandemic began and we are just getting started. We are adding new programs to not only offer the in-demand technical skills our members need, but also to help our community develop the confidence and networks they need to be successful. 

Employers have an amazing opportunity to recruit women and non-binary adults and to recreate workforce opportunities that work for everyone… You recruit a diverse workforce by offering diverse opportunities including remote work, flexible schedules, and great salaries (that are equal!).

We’ve seen how the pandemic both highlighted and exacerbated the gender pay gap and outsized workloads put on women both in and outside the workplace – unpaid office tasks, caregiving, etc. And we still have a long way to go to make up the number of women the workforce lost and the strains it has put on their careers. Have you seen this from where you sit? What are your recommendations for how we can create pathways for women to reenter the workforce and make it a more equitable environment in which they are set up for success? 

I feel like I hear this story every time I speak with one of our members. Careers have changed! In big ways. Our members tell me every day that they joined Girl Develop It to support them through these shifts. What makes me most excited is that early in the pandemic our members were coming to us because changes happened to them. Now, they are joining because they are leading changes in their own lives. It is so fun and exciting to be part of their journeys. 

Employers have an amazing opportunity to recruit women and non-binary adults and to recreate workforce opportunities that work for everyone – to move beyond expecting every employee to fit into the same schedule, style, and mold. You recruit a diverse workforce by offering diverse opportunities including remote work, flexible schedules, and great salaries (that are equal!). I also think building internal systems like mentors, ongoing education, and employee resource groups (ERGs) is essential to ensure that a diverse workforce is not just recruited, but welcomed and empowered at the office. 

In celebration of Women’s History Month, who is a female leader who inspires you or helped you get to where you are today? 

I have a long list of friends, mentors, and colleagues who supported me in my career. The woman whose work I am currently using as my leadership playbook is Brené Brown. Her work changed not only who I work with, but how I show up in my personal and professional life. 

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned that you’d like to share with other women? 

The biggest leadership lesson that I love to scream from the mountaintops is: “Yes, you are ready!” So many women I speak with say they are not ready or have not learned enough or are not ready for that promotion. So many of us have internalized that we are lacking in some way. This is not true. You are ready. Take that chance. Try the thing that you want, but scares you. Failure is a lot easier to live with than regret. So, apply for that job. Ask for more money. Go for you dreams.