During a recent trip to Japan and Thailand, Ntianu Eastmond-Visani and her husband navigated airports, public buses and trains from city to city, all the while lugging around their toddler, a stroller and all the various necessities that come with having a little kid in tow.
It wasn't until she returned home to New York City that she realized how easy it had been.
"We never had to carry the stroller up or down a flight of stairs," Eastmond-Visani, 44, told TODAY. "Despite the language barrier, we never had any issues."
Aside from the accessible public transit, she also noticed how helpful strangers were, especially in Thailand, explaining how waitresses would take her young son from her lap so she could eat without interruption, for example.
"That, of course, is not the experience I have in New York," she said. "I've had people slam the door in my face when I had a stroller, either from not paying attention or not caring."
"Just the other day, I was at the subway with a friend and a woman was standing at the top of the stairs with an enormous stroller that there was no way she could get down by herself," she continued. "She was just standing there, waiting for someone to help."
Eastmond-Visani, who has a 2-year-old son, helped that woman carry the stroller down four flights of stairs, pausing to take a break on each platform, but she saw many people rush by without stopping. "If no one is going to help her, how is she supposed to get where she wants to go?" she said. "It occurred to me, from that experience, how complicated it is in the city."
That's what sparked the idea for her upcoming app, Wayfinder NYC, which will help people find stroller-friendly subway stations in New York City. She pursued the project while attending a MotherCoders course, a crash course in coding for moms who want to break into technology. Founded in 2014 by Tina Lee, the course helps moms use the professional skills they already have and leverage them into opportunities in technology.
She started the "tech camp for moms" in San Francisco, but recently held a course in New York City, which Eastmond-Visani participated in, and has plans to start one soon in Salt Lake City. A cornerstone of Lee's programming is on-site child care, which Eastmond-Visani took advantage of, explaining that having her son being cared for in a nearby space was hugely helpful as she adjusted from 18 months at home back into a more professional setting. The course costs moms $4,000, or $4,500 with child care, although she didn't charge tuition for the New York City workshop because it was a pilot program. (Lee hopes its success encourages funding and donations so she can bring MotherCoders to more cities.)
Tailoring professional programs to moms makes sense, as they make up an increasing portion of the workforce. Mothers today are the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18, compared with 11% in 1960, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Labor. And while women overall are having children later in life, more women are having children, especially those with college degrees or higher, the Pew Research Center reported. This means that by the time many women have kids, they've already established professional lives.
"I found out I was pregnant when I was 42 years old — and that was a surprise," Eastmond-Visani said. "I never expected to have a child. So, for me, the transformation from being this individual person out in the world to being a mom was a big one. There were so many things I'd never thought about before."
Despite all this, women are still underrepresented in STEM occupations, according to the DOL, which is exactly what Lee wants to change.
"We're trying to make the case to companies that, 'Hey, here's an untapped pool of talent right under your noses, and 86% of women become moms, so the women you have on your team now, they'll probably become mothers,'" Lee told TODAY. "They're a really ambitious group of women who just need that technical skill layer to really thrive."
The program is also beneficial for moms who have been out of the workforce for a while and want to start working again but hope to refresh their technical skills so they can be competitive when applying.
Before MotherCoders, Eastmond-Visani had mostly worked in media and marketing. She did have some coding experience but said the course helped expand her skill set, and perhaps more importantly, boosted her confidence. In April, she accepted a job as a project manager for a digital technology company.
"You don't necessarily feel or understand how much your confidence gets worn away a bit by being a mom and solely seeing yourself through that lens," she said. "I don't think I would have had the confidence to go on interviews or even accept this job had I not done MotherCoders."
And in her free time, she's working on Wayfinder NYC. The project is still in its early stages. So far, Eastmond-Visani has created an overlay of the existing New York City subway map that features stroller icons, indicating stations that are stroller-accessible. One hurdle has been identifying those stations, since handicapped-accessibility and stroller-accessibility aren't necessarily one and the same, she explained. Say there's a subway station that has elevators, but for one of the subway lines the station serves, travelers must take a short flight of stairs, less than 10 steps. That wouldn't be possible for a person in a wheelchair. But for a mom with a child under 30 pounds using a lightweight stroller, it might be doable. Eastmond-Visani is working to find a way to illustrate those possibilities in her app.
Her next goal is to make the app interactive so that people can plug in their destination and get directions along an entirely stroller-accessible route, a function she hopes to have completed in January.
Eastmond-Visani realizes that while her app will be a huge help for parents in New York City, it doesn't solve the root of the problem: a system that doesn't prioritize parents the way she and others believe it should.
"There's a real issue in terms of the way that we regard parenthood in this country, to be perfectly honest," she said. "I also think that because, for the most part, women tend to be the primary caregivers, there's the perception that these are women's issues and not issues that the larger society needs to deal with."
Lee has also been surprised by the lack of support she's seen for parents in her efforts to raise money for MotherCoders.
"Fundraising has been extremely difficult," she said. "Getting people to care about moms is really hard."
But she knows it's well worth it, and she hopes businesses start to see that, too. "Women, when they're empowered economically, they not only uplift their own families, they uplift their communities," Lee said. "And companies right now are in dire need of the diversity of experience and perspective they can bring to the workforce."
As for Eastmond-Visani, she encourages moms looking to break into technology or get back into the workforce after time at home with a baby to find a support network, do some research and above all, just go for it.
"Just take the leap. It's never going to be the right time," she said. "And there's no right solution. It's about what's right for your family, your child and your career path."