We are so excited to welcome Ayanna Smith as our new GET Cities DC, Managing Director. As an award-winning entrepreneur, start-up enthusiast, and social impact advocate, Ayanna is the perfect fit to lead the work in our second city. Beyond being an entrepreneur with a business that was voted best new business of the year in Capitol Hill, and ‘Best of DC” every year in business, Ayanna led communications and outreach for Washington DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), and the United Negro College Fund. Her ability to navigate within both the start-up world and the parameters of large institutions make her the perfect fit to lead our DC office.
Above all, Ayanna is an advocate for underrepresented communities in Washington, DC., and we couldn’t think of a better person to lead GET Cities DC. We were thrilled to sit down with Ayanna to learn about her vision for GET DC. Check out our interview below:
GET Cities: You’ve had such an interesting career path, what past experiences do you think will be most valuable in your role of Managing Director of GET Washington DC?
Ayanna: In my role as the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Washington D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer, I had to translate complex technical information into bite-sized content that was both relevant and understandable for the general public. I think that this skill will be especially useful in my work with GET, as I advocate on behalf of women to nontechnical audiences that may not understand the value of having women drive innovation, yet have the power to make decisions that could change the trajectory of women in tech.
Aside from my professional experience as a Communications Strategist and an Entrepreneur, I believe that my lived experience as a Black woman is most valuable in my role as the Managing Director of GET Cities, D.C. In a region that is predominantly made up of people of color and women, I understand the importance of creating opportunities that are reflective of the unique journeys of women of color in tech as well as the need to develop programs and initiatives that account for the many nontraditional pathways into tech for women in this region.
GET Cities: In your opinion, what’s unique about the D.C. tech community, and why do you think GET Cities is important for the future of Washington D.C. Tech?
Ayanna: What’s especially unique about the D.C. tech community is the level of diversity represented across the ecosystem. The makeup of the workforce, entrepreneurial and startup spaces, and academia really speaks to the reason D.C. is a leading tech hub in the country. It’s no secret that diversity drives productivity, which ultimately makes the case for why our work is so important.
Diversity is not about checking a box, fulfilling DEI quotas, or charity work, it’s smart business with measurable impact, and we are here to prove it.
GET Cities: Why did you join GET Cities, and why are you excited to kick off the GET movement in Washington D.C.?
Ayanna: What drew me to GET Cities was the ability to have a real impact on the lives of women in my community, where I live. Black women in tech are often undervalued and unsupported, and just getting a foot in the door feels like an uphill battle for many. An initiative of this magnitude has the potential to change lives for generations to come, by simply removing the barriers to access to high-quality academic programs, well-paying jobs, and funding opportunities.
I often dream of a “good old girls’ network,” where ambition and vision are enough for a woman to get the support and resources needed to achieve her goals, and her raw talent alone is sufficient. The GET Cities movement in D.C. is here to level the playing field so that decision-makers understand that the pathway to tech careers and entrepreneurship for women – especially women of color – is different than it is for White men, and we need to build around that; and for women to understand that they are enough. They don’t need to change; the system does.
GET Cities: At GET Cities we aim to elevate women, trans and non-binary people in tech, with a focus on Black, Indigenous, and people of color. There has been extensive data showing the inequity of resources in education, funding, and career opportunities nationwide, specifically the COVID pandemic has had a devastating effect on employment for women.” In light of this, what does a call for more, accessible resources mean for GET DC?
Ayanna: Both COVID-19 and the recent civil unrest in the country have magnified the glaring inequities faced by marginalized communities; tech notwithstanding.
In D.C., we know that a lot of commitments have been made to (re)build and sustain the existing ecosystem but what I don’t hear a lot of discussion about is the opportunity we have in this moment to completely reimagine what that looks like. Our call for more accessible resources is not just to refill the coffers – built on White supremacist ideals of power and wealth – but to build a system that is fully inclusive of women and girls from every background, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Ultimately, a call for more accessible resources means leveraging opportunities to accelerate the work that is already being done, and creating and funding new pipelines to ensure all women and girls are supported in this space; not just a status quo few, to check a box.
GET Cities: What inspires and motivates you to do this impactful and challenging work?
Ayanna: My biggest inspirations are my daughters, nieces, and nephews. They’re all smart, witty, resourceful, kind, and full of bright ideas. Yet, in a world that doesn’t support or protect Black and Brown people, that may not be enough to guarantee their success, and that’s a frightening reality. So, I guess you could say that both motherhood and empathy drive me to affect change in a way that directly impacts the people I care about.
Conversations, think-pieces, and data about what needs to happen are not enough. We need people on the ground – who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty or ruffle a few feathers – driving real change. I’m willing to do that if it will ensure a better future for my children and my community.
GET Cities: Is there anything else about what you hope to bring to GET Cities DC that is important to share?
Ayanna: I hope to bring bold ideas and measurable impact to GET Cities D.C.. I don’t want to discredit the work that’s already being done but it certainly isn’t enough, and in some instances, not even the right focus. I would like to do away with the exclusive “sorority” approach to women-focused initiatives and produce tangible outcomes with a great level of visibility and accountability.
Women in the D.C. region need to see tech as a viable and attainable path to livable wages, leadership roles, and entrepreneurship. And that will only happen if they are represented at “the table” as decision-makers.
GET Cities: GET Cities’ ongoing work and influence stretches across the fields of Academia, Industry, and Entrepreneurship. Potential partners and stakeholders in Washington DC are going to read this and definitely say, “How do I get involved?” How can organizations interested in getting involved do so?
Ayanna: We’ve already gotten that question quite a bit, and it’s a good one. Right now, we are especially interested in collaborating with individuals and organizations that are ready to put their money where their mouths are and heavily commit to funding and implementing policies and initiatives that fulfill the immediate needs of women.
More importantly, we are interested in engaging women directly, to hear about their goals, aspirations, challenges, needs, and ideas. Currently, we are on a listening tour to learn from our fellow comrades on the ground, who have been doing the work. We intend to use this data to map regional resources, identify the gaps in the ecosystem and build smarter, more effective interventions that truly support all women.