From PreK Education to VC, Here’s What We Can Do To Make Tech More Diverse
The Kapor Center and the NAACP recently shared the findings of their research on the state of diversity in the tech ecosystem.
From PreK-12 education to tech venture capital, Black people must overcome various challenges to progress through their careers. The research examined Black experiences at each stage of the Leaky Tech Pipeline, providing insights into the steps we need to take to ensure Black folk can thrive in tech.
The leaky tech pipeline
For Black students in the PreK-12 educational system, socio-economic disparities and a lack of access to resources hinder their tech educational prospects in the future. Amenities like high-speed internet, computers, and other technological resources that are essential for participating in the digital age affect the educational outlook of many PreK-12 Black students.
The report also points out that only 75% of Black students attend schools that offer foundational computer science (CS), which reduces their chances of securing tech-related careers in the future. Inequitable educational practices in the field, coupled with systemic practices that exclude Black students from getting access to needed opportunities, exacerbate the issue.
College and university
Black students who manage to make it into postsecondary education grapple with the costs of school fees, accommodation, and challenges with discrimination at a higher rate than other races.
A report by the National Academies Press showed that although CS majors tripled from 2015 to 2020, the percentage of Black students in the program dropped because, compared to other races, many Black students face steep challenges that make it difficult to graduate from the CS program successfully.
Entering the tech workforce
Even when Black talent secure jobs in the tech industry, they are met with several barriers to success. According to a Leaky Tech Pipeline report published in 2018, biases in recruitment and hiring practices mean Black tech employees continue to be underrepresented across all spheres of the tech industry.
Although there has been a push to increase tech diversity and inclusion efforts, there needs to be more improvement in tech workforce diversity. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the STEM workforce is still predominantly white. Although Black talent makes up 13% of the labor force, Black employees remain scarce in tech and are even less represented in leadership or C-suite roles within the industry.
Black technologists reported experiencing racial inequity in hiring, promotion, leadership opportunities, and salaries and benefits
When we consider that Black talent earn computing degrees at a rate more than twice their representation in technical roles in large tech companies, the influence of bias, discrimination, and inclusion in the hiring and retention processes becomes apparent.
Thriving in tech
For example, in a 2021 survey, half of the Black technologists reported experiencing racial inequity in hiring, promotion, leadership opportunities, and salaries and benefits. In addition, workplace discrimination contributed to feelings of isolation and job dissatisfaction, with adverse mental health impacts.
Another recent study found that women with darker skin were more likely to experience racism in the workplace than their peers. Black women corporate leaders are also more likely to have their competence questioned and to be subject to demeaning behavior than their colleagues.
When Black tech employees point out these issues, they risk backlash, like that faced by Timnit Gebru at Google and Ifeoma Ozoma at Pinterest.
An urgent call to action
The report makes an urgent call to action to those in the tech ecosystem, from companies and investors to policymakers and educators, to increase Black representation.
“Despite these significant challenges we still believe that technology has the power to help solve pressing problems and close longstanding racial, educational, and social disparities across sectors,” the report says. “But in this critical moment, definitive action must be taken to ensure Black communities benefit from the potential of technology to create a more equitable future.”
Quality education for Black students
At the grassroots level, predominantly Black PreK-12 schools need more access to high-quality teachers, resources, and experiences that will enable them to be competitive STEM candidates in postsecondary education.
Over the years, HBCUs have played an essential role in nurturing Black STEM talent, and companies such as Amazon, Adobe, and IBM have partnered with them to encourage Black tech talent. Meanwhile, federal and philanthropic funding can contribute towards efforts to provide the resources needed to equip the next generation and nonprofits like STEM Greenhouse can inspire students to consider CS careers.
The tech workforce has to implement inclusive hiring and recruiting strategies that onboard, compensate, and retain Black CS employees at the industry standard and not below.
This involves working with Black talent and associated communities to recruit diverse talent, build systems to enable remote work, and eliminate biased gatekeeping practices, such as unnecessary degree requirements.
Beyond hiring, after Black employees onboard, it is the responsibility of the tech companies to protect Black workers from harassment and discrimination through whistleblower protections, unions, and cancellation of nondisclosure agreements to enforce the rules.
Companies must recognize, account for, and understand the internal power structures associated with intersectional identities and data to address compounding equity gaps.
Also, tech companies should pay Black employees what they are worth by removing racial pay discrimination and conducting regular pay equity audits that meet industry guidelines.
Transparency and accountability
According to the report, before Black representation can thrive in the corporate tech space, companies need to set specific goals for strategies they will take to increase and retain Black employees. This will mean committing to transparency in data reporting and creating incentives for meeting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals.
Investing in the Black tech ecosystem
In entrepreneurship, public sector initiatives should invest in Black entrepreneurs and their communities to promote growth and expansion.
This involves investing in Black innovation hubs, tech accelerators, and incubators, and being transparent about diversity goals and progress.
You can read the full report here.