Soorya Williams packaging the left behind laptops for personal deliver to the women who were unable to secure them during pickup hours at the Families First building on the West End of Atlanta. Photo by Noah Washington/The Atlanta Voice

Are You Ready To Take Your Career to New Heights in The Digital Era? This is the mantra that the YWCA holds as they aim to make strides in bridging the digital divide to empower women with the essential skills they need to succeed in today’s tech-driven world.

The Digital Skills Academy is a class that offers its participants the opportunity to bridge this gap. In a study done by McKinsey Group, Black Americans constitute about 13% of the overall workforce but represent only 7.4% of digital workers, leading to disparities in income and wealth.

Program manager Sooraya Williams is a dedicated advocate and the driving force behind the Digital Skills Academy.

Williams was born in Macon. Her parents, her mother is from Sri Lanka, met during their time at Georgia College. Williams was raised in a family with four other children with limited access to technology. She didn’t have her own laptop until her junior year of college. This experience forged a deep connection to the need for accessibility and affordability of technology and understanding the importance of having the right tools to succeed in today’s digital age.

“We are building this program to reflect what is needed. Right now, I believe 94% of every job needs basic digital skills. And that area is where 60% of those households are all led by women,” Williams told The Atlanta Voice.

After earning a degree in political science from Georgia State University, Williams went to work for YWCA in 2019. She knows that the programs that YWCA have are more than just digital literacy programs. They are also about holistic empowerment, navigating the challenging landscape of a community, she says. Williams addresses the issues and needs faced by the community.

The YWCA’s approach is deeply rooted in strategic inclusivity and active listening, as Williams remarks. Aiming to prioritize women and community needs within their program, recognizing that many organizations often fail to listen, relying on assumptions instead. This commitment to collaboration allows the program to adapt and evolve based on what the women truly want and need, extending beyond the realm of digital

 skills and career readiness.

“A lot of the time we’re not listening, a lot of organizations, and just people in general don’t necessarily listen to the women and the people in the community,” Williams said.

Empowerment is at the core of their mission, encouraging women to speak for themselves and advocate for change in various aspects of their lives and communities, fostering a sense of agency and ensuring that their voices are heard and valued.

The program is aimed at all ages but primarily consists of women above the age of 50. This includes Leslye M. Booker, 60, a hairdresser and owner of Paper Doll salon from Center Hill, who is seeking to take her business to the next level.

“I had a client that I was expressing that I hadn’t reached my full capacity in my business because there was so much about technology that had become so vast and foreign that I didn’t know what I was doing,” Booker told The Atlanta Voice.

The YWCA program offers a range of support beyond basic digital literacy. Participants receive laptops, hotspots, professionally written resumes, and even professional  headshots, all for free. The curriculum is tailored to the needs and desires of the women in the program.

“My family – we had dial-up when everybody was already on high speed. So I spent a lot of time in the library, I spent a lot of time doing a lot on my phone. So I was already fully in when it comes to making sure participants have laptops that they own,” Williams said.

“Just having a computer that someone gave me makes me feel very fortunate and glad to be a part of the program that has so many different types of people,” Booker said.

The program extends beyond digital skills. It teaches women how to advocate for better living conditions, better opportunities, and a brighter future for themselves  and their children.

As previously stated, the class accepts all young or old. 27-year-old Kennesaw State University student Miranda Wilkinson, and mother of 9-month-old Nola, took the class to advance her business skills in the digital age.

“I just had a baby and it covers a lot from personal development to career development and those are all the things that I am looking to get better at,” Wilkinson told The Atlanta Voice.

After facing disappointing news in the job search, Wilkinson, a fresh entrepreneur, wanted to take the initiative towards her own future. Now the owner of Meditationize, her own business dedicated to personal wellness through meditation, Wilkinson is striving to elevate her business to the next stage with her first corporate event happening later this month.

“This class covers financial planning and budgeting. I am launching my business, and this helps entrepreneurs figure out retirement and what you can do outside of 401k’s and IRA’s,” Wilkinson added.

With 50 women currently enrolled and 20 more on the waitlist, Williams and her team are expanding their efforts. They’re working on creating a cycle of two sessions in the fall and two in the spring, with shorter classes during the summer to maintain connections with alumni.

“I’m extremely humbled and I know what it is like to need help. So to be in this city where I can be an avid listener and a solution to a lot of problems means a lot to me,” said Digital Skills Academy instructor Cam Miller to The Atlanta Voice.

Classes are offered on Saturdays from 10 A.M to 2 P.M and on weekdays every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 – 8:30 P.M with classes being remote via Zoom to accommodate the schedules of the women they serve. 

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