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February is Black History Month, a time where we reflect on the major milestones we’ve marked on diversity and inclusion, but also a time where we step back to identify the remaining challenges. With the black community making up only 8.3% of the IT-workforce, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Diversity in tech is clearly lacking, and the numbers of black IT professionals in predominant tech companies are disappointing: Apple’s Inclusion and Diversity Report shows that black employees make up only 9% of their current workforce, while only 3% Facebook’s staff is represented by members of the black community. Further, Microsoft is only 4% black and black managers at Amazon make up only 5% of their total workforce.
Despite the shock of such low numbers, there’s no doubt that the tech industry is heading in the right direction: minority enrollments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs are increasing significantly. Organizations such as the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) work to inspire more black professionals to achieve their professional goals in the computer science and IT industry by providing an outlet to network, obtain professional insight, and participate in job programs. Additionally, groups like People of Color in Tech (POCIT) are a valuable asset to minority students with an interest in technology, and provides empowering stories from the community, testimonials and employment resources.
Though the increase in resources and opportunities provide optimism, minor moves in the right direction cannot be considered the “norm.” It’s crucial to understand that increasing diversity in the tech industry is more than just a welcoming hand and catchy phrase – it’s a deeply rooted necessity that requires the tech industry to support underrepresented communities as their ally. There is much more progress to be made.
Tech companies and recruiters hold an innate responsibility in this fight: time and time again, we see that black professionals are excluded from technology jobs. One of the reasons for this, according to the New Yorker, is because recruiters lack the ability to evaluate technology-specific skills, such as coding or networking, and end up relying on “traditional” credentials, like a computer science degree or a previous position with Google or Facebook.
If black students are underrepresented in technology education, and are obviously not working at Google or Facebook, we must take proactive steps to even the playing field. Reports show that white men, who are already overrepresented in the tech industry, have greater access to technical education than any other ethnic group. Additionally, many tech giants, especially those in Silicon Valley, argue that there are not enough students of color graduating with bachelors or advanced degrees in computer science or related fields. While it’s true that the education pipeline must be widened, the tech industry must loosen their attachment to university degrees while emphasis must be placed on alternative, more attainable education.
Online boot camps and IT training schools nation-wide have stepped up by offering less expensive, less time consuming training compared to 4-year universities, which CourseReport considers imperative for single-parents or low-income learners who can’t drop six-figures on a college degree. Additionally, curriculum is based around job-specific skills and hands-on training without the hassle of unrelated courses or electives.
While hiring a more diverse staff is in the tech company’s favor, too. Studies show that a diversified workforce leads to higher morale, increased problem-solving, motivation, and creativity as well as improved revenue and profits, expanded customer bases, and greater global impact. Changing the way we provide technology education is a start in the right direction, but only a start. The tech industry as a whole must continue to proactively pursue programs that increase workforce diversity.