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While many career opportunities exist in the information technology (IT) and tech fields, it’s no secret that diversity remains a challenge. While progress has been made by women and people of color in not only building careers, but also becoming leaders in the industry, more work needs to be done. That includes schools providing more access to computer science education for students living in underserved communities.

As an estimated 200,000 tech jobs will be created each year to keep up with demand, training, finding, and retaining talent is a key priority. With that in mind, we will explore some of the current challenges impacting diversity in the field and provide some next-step solutions for organizations.

Improving Computer Science Education Opportunities for All Students

Before someone even starts an IT career, they were probably exposed to tech while still a child. Today’s kids are surrounded by technology every day, so it’s not a surprise that many of them would be interested in working in the field. The issue is that gaining necessary core skills can still be a challenge, especially for students from underserved communities. Computer Science (CS) programs have expanded across the country in recent years. Yet, many students lack access or are not encouraged to participate in these courses.

A recent report, “The State of Tech Diversity” from the Kapor Center, revealed many of the current inequities for CS classes in K-12 schools.  

  • Currently, Black students represent 6% of students in advanced Computer Science (CS) courses despite being 15% of the overall student population.  
  • Students who participate in Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science courses are 3-4 times more likely to major in Computer Science in college, but Black students only make up 3.5% of participants in those courses. 
  • In 2020, just 2,246 Black students took an AP CS course, and just 715 were Black girls.

The issues continue in higher education and even non-traditional “boot camp” or tech apprenticeship programs.  

  • Just 8% of CS Bachelor’s degrees were conferred to Black students. 
  • Only 6% of coding “boot campers” are Black talent, partly due to high tuition rates for these non-traditional programs and a lack of scholarships.
  • Tech apprenticeships, which blend paid classroom and job-based learning, have a participation rate of just 17% of Black talent.

Many girls and young women excel in STEM (science, technology, education, and math) early on in school. But often, they do not finish or pursue a tech education after graduating from high school. A recent study found that women in college are only 21% of engineering majors and only 19% of computer science majors.

STEM fields still are inaccurately viewed as a “male” profession. Too often young women, while still in elementary or middle school, are discouraged from pursuing tech careers and instead are pushed into more “traditional” careers such as education or healthcare.

Addressing Inequality in Hiring and Retaining Diverse Tech Talent

The tech industry still faces the issue of being primarily filled with white men. Recent statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission support this fact, despite recent efforts by many tech firms to improve the issue.

Compared to overall private industry employment, the high-tech sector employs a larger share of Whites (63.5% to 68.5%), Asian Americans (5.8% to 14%) and men (52% to 64%), and a smaller share of Blacks (14.4% to 7.4%), Latinos (13.9% to 8%) and women (48% to 36%).

Latino representation in the tech workforce has barely improved, despite overall increasing participation in the total U.S. workforce. Among top-grossing companies like Google, Apple, and Meta all headquartered in Silicon Valley, CA where Latinos make up 26% of the local population, there has been basically zero growth in the Latino tech workforce there. Over the last four years, the Latino tech workforce has only marginally grown by one percent within the 30 largest tech companies.

Black tech talent is also an issue, especially regarding retention. Black men represent only 7.4% of the tech talent pool, and Black women only represent just 3%. Black tech professionals are more likely to leave their current role for a new company position to achieve career progression. On average, Black tech workers move between companies every 3.5 years, compared to every 5.1 years for their non-Black peers. Many Black tech professionals, even with long successful careers, still feel that opportunities to lead major companies or initiatives are limited.

Women in tech also continue to face an uphill battle. According to a new McKinsey & Company report entitled “Women in the Workplace 2021”, only 52 women in technical roles were promoted to manager for every 100 men.

The biggest contributing factor is that entry-level women tech talent are often passed over for promotions or new roles. This is often due to a lack of access in gaining new skills, and a lack of internal support and structure to ensure advancement. Companies that fail to encourage and support their female talent also miss out on financial growth. The research also shows a strong correlation that financial performance will improve as the most gender-diverse companies are 48% more likely to outperform the least-gender diverse companies.

How to Improve Education and Career Opportunities for Diverse Talent

While tech and IT companies may not be able to address all the issues listed above, there are certainly things that can do within their own organizations and the communities they serve to help expand opportunities for more diversity within the industry.

Improve Education Opportunities: One way to get the next generation of tech talent interested in the industry is to give them more opportunities for training and hands-on experience. Companies can reach out to their local high schools, universities, community colleges, and non-profit organizations to find out what computer science or other tech courses they currently offer. Based on the opportunities offered, companies can get involved by either providing needed resources, including computer equipment, scheduling a company representative to speak to a class about IT careers, or potentially teach a class as a guest speaker or lecturer on an important tech topic.

Also, tech firms can find out if current or even prospective students would be interested in internship or mentorship opportunities with someone in the company. Many established tech professionals cite that having a mentor early in their careers as the main reason they pursue opportunities.

Improve Hiring and Retention Process for Talent: Even when professionals gain the necessary tech credentials, training, or a degree, they can still face barriers when seeking employment. Specifically, during the initial application process, when human resource software or hiring programs scan resumes for potential employees. Organizations must consistently review their hiring algorithms and processes to ensure that bias and potentially discriminatory language or criteria are removed to ensure equal hiring opportunities for all candidates.

Once a candidate is hired, ensure that the company’s onboarding and employee growth plan offers a clear pathway to advancement. That includes professional development, mentorship, sponsors, and clear job goals and benchmarks.

Work with Leadership: Often, every level of an organization can benefit from an outside perspective, especially when it comes to creating positive outcomes in professional development, staff retention, and management communications. When providing leadership training, a consultant should address current hiring practices and how leadership can drive change in seeking more diverse talent, whether for full-time positions or on a temporary or contract basis. By making this a priority, leadership will ensure that the organization is competitive and thriving in the long term.

Today’s tech industry needs more talent than ever before. Yet all IT companies must find ways to improve pathways for diverse students and professionals to give them the skills and confidence they need to create successful careers. More diversity, more voices, and more perspectives will ultimately lead to new technology breakthroughs that will advance society.

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