Throughout her career, academic technologist Ashley Turner has thrived while making a positive impact working behind the scenes, especially with Swarthmore’s Information Technology Services. With a depth of knowledge on educational tools like Moodle and Panopto, she’s been instrumental in the transition to remote learning during the pandemic.
Turner has been particularly impactful, though, when she’s stepped into the spotlight, taking on leadership roles that lift up women of color both at Swarthmore and within the local tech industry.
As head organizer of the public group Philly Tech Sistas, Turner plans skill-building workshops and professional-development events aimed at bridging the diversity gap in technology. On campus, she helps lead Swarthmore’s Women of Color Employee Resource Group (ERG), building fellowship and elevating the voices of an underrepresented community.
With both groups, the goal is to support women as they navigate success in their careers. “As human beings, we look for connections with people we think we would relate to,” says Turner, who joined Swarthmore as a media services specialist in 2013. “There is a level of shared experience that other women of color have. I’m looking for ways to increase that.”
Turner started her career as a sound engineer for theater productions in the Philadelphia area. She hoped to transition into a technological role and began attending conferences to learn new skills. “But I wouldn’t see a lot of people who looked like me,” she says, “people of color, and especially women of color.”
After coming across Philly Tech Sistas through Meetup.com, Turner was hopeful that she’d found a group of women who could join her at networking events. Then a week later, the group’s organizer stepped down. Determined not to let the organization dissolve, Turner volunteered to take over.
“When I saw statistics of women in tech, the breakdown with ethnicity was staggering — the numbers were so low,” Turner says about her introduction to the field. “I consider myself a problem solver, and it’s definitely a problem worth working on.”
Under Turner’s leadership, Philly Tech Sistas has expanded its offerings from social gatherings to courses on coding and web development, allowing participants to hone the skills most sought by employers in the industry. The group has grown to more than 1,000 members from across the Philadelphia region since 2014.
Turner felt a similar draw to Swarthmore’s Women of Color ERG. Soon after the launch of the pilot program in 2018, Turner asked if she could join the group’s leadership team. A key focus, she says, has been fostering a feeling of inclusion. Besides offering fun community-building activities, like a virtual crafting event last spring, the group has partnered with the Staff Advisory Council to increase their visibility on campus.
Turner’s work with Philly Tech Sistas and the Women of Color ERG has caught the attention of local media, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, 6ABC, and Technical.ly Philly. She emphasizes, though, that these groups are a team effort, and that numerous people behind the scenes have contributed to her own success.
“I love working with teams, and whether that is my academic technologist team, or the Women of Color team, or the Philly Tech Sistas team, there are people I work with who are phenomenal,” Turner says. “I love the support that we are able to give one another.
“I always tell people, you cannot go at it alone,” she adds. “Whether you’re looking to grow your career or create impact in your department, everyone has help.”