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Solving For Diversity

Women of Color Underrepresented in Tech

March 23, 2022 by Tim Hatton

The tech industry could double the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women in its ranks if it reached out to new pools of workers who already have many of the necessary skills. 

This is vitally important in an industry that currently suffers from a lack of diversity: women of color are underrepresented in the field, accounting for 20% of the US population but just 5% of the tech workforce.

An Emsi Burning Glass study, in partnership with NPower, found that while only 225,000 women of color hold US tech jobs today, another 470,000 are “tech-eligible,” that is, they have skills similar to those needed in tech, so they could have tech jobs with the right support and buy-in from employers and career service providers. 

For example, 27% of all office technicians/typists are women of color, and their average salary is $37,724 per year. There is considerable skill overlap, though, between that occupation and the occupation of data specialist: in both roles, workers are skilled in customer service, data entry, and scheduling. This makes for a relatively easy transition, and an advantageous one: the average salary for a data specialist is $74,139, and only 14% of workers in that role are women of color.

Because the tech industry is a source of high-paying jobs with the high potential for career growth and upward mobility, diversifying its workforce is a tangible way to promote equity in the labor market, as well as build prosperity for individual workers and their communities. 

But beyond corporate social responsibility, promoting diversity in the workforce also provides employers with a key advantage: in a historically tight labor market, tapping into new and underutilized worker pools is vital for finding the talent you need.

The report was released through NPower’s Command Shift initiative, a coalition of education and outreach organizations and corporate sponsors, all working to promote more women of color in tech, and Emsi Burning Glass serves as its research partner.

To understand this labor dynamic, the report focuses on what it has coined “the equation for equality.”

Graphic titled "The Equation For Equality Index" that reads "This reflexts the current imbalance of women of color in tech roles based on the current pool of viable skill-similar candidates. First, it shows "% Women of Color in the Tech Sector and Skills-Similar Roles (i.e. the full talent pool) divided by % women of color in the tech sector. Those are equivalent to 10% and 5%, respectively, which equals 2

Put simply, the equation shows that twice as many women of color could have tech jobs than currently do. The goal of Command Shift is to turn the equation from 2 to 1 within 10 years by making sure appropriate training and support programs are in place and accessible. This would mean that underrepresented women of color face no greater barriers than anyone else in finding training for the skills they need and ultimately finding tech jobs.

It’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one. Employers and career service providers can make it happen by giving women of color both the support they need and by creating opportunities for them to receive necessary training.

The Skills Overlap

The number of tech-eligible workers was calculated using Emsi Burning Glass analysis of job postings and worker profiles. By collecting and aggregating data that shows what skills employers need, and which skills workers possess, we can identify where the gaps are.

That information shows that many women of color have most of the skills they would need in a tech job. These tech-eligible workers just need a few more.

Graphic showing examples of non-tech jobs, their skills overlap, the bridge skills they need, and their ultimate tech destination.

Employers looking to develop and promote their current workforce can provide this training to their employees, while individuals and advocacy organizations can also seek it out themselves.

In either case, the first step is recognizing what skills workers need to advance, and the end result is an upwardly mobile labor force meeting the demands of the tech world.

Growth Through Movement

Most jobseekers looking to advance in their careers naturally look within the sectors where they already work, because changing industries seems like a bigger leap than moving upward in your current field. But that perspective is often more limiting than it needs to be. For example, a municipal clerk may look for  promotion to other jobs in public administration. However, with their experience as a custodian of digital records and assisting the public in finding the data they need, a clerk is likely well-qualified to transition into a role as a technical support analyst or data specialist.

Chart labeled "equity-building job transitions into the tech sector" with arrows showing which non-tech jobs lead toward which tech ones

Again, the first step is creating the awareness among both employers and jobseekers that these opportunities are available. When workers understand they have skill similarities that would make them successful tech workers, the entire field opens up to them. 

To facilitate that growth, employers have to be willing to commit the time and funding to training programs for their workers. Often, reskilling is a better use of resources than hiring from scratch. By learning what skills those employers need, especially in tech, education institutions and other training organizations can know which skills will be most important for their students and clients.

Continued Support 

There are 4.7 million tech workers in the US today, and 2.6 million underrepresented women of color in jobs that use many of the same skills. With the right training and support, they could transition into tech. In order to tap into this talent pool, businesses, communities, and educators need to foster a culture of training and development that supports women of color throughout the job market through targeted and tangible diversity benchmarks that work toward inclusion, not just representation. 

With those goals in mind, the tech industry can meet women of color where they are, help them grow, and enable them to find the tech roles where they can be a perfect fit.

The full report from Emsi Burning Glass, NPower, and the Command Shift coalition is available here.

Tim Hatton

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