DEI and the underrepresentation of black women in technology

Linda Brooks is the Technical Director of Atlantica fintech company providing more inclusive financial solutions for everyday consumers.

We all know that tech is largely a male-dominated industry. However, the lack of black women, especially in the tech space, is becoming more visible over time, even as DEI initiatives have become a top priority for businesses around the world.

According to Pew Research, there has been no change in the share of black workers in STEM jobs since 2016, and while women now earn the majority of all undergraduate and advanced degrees, they remain a small share of graduates in fields such as engineering and computer science. science – and continue to be significantly underrepresented in these sectors of the workforce as well.

As tech professionals, we are the ones with the power to change this narrative so that the face of the industry is not singular. The first question to answer: how can we get more black women to join the tech industry? The second, and perhaps even more important, is that once hired, how do you make sure they stay?

It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that their recruitment efforts reach diverse prospects not only to attract candidates from all walks of life, but also to retain workers by making them feel safe and understood.

The problem

Underrepresentation continues to perpetuate the lack of black women in the tech space. Over the past seven years, the representation of black professionals in the tech sector has only increased by 1%. Additional BCS studies have indicated that black women represent only 0.7% of all IT roles.

Not only do black women struggle to get their foot in the door, but they also face huge obstacles that make it harder to succeed in the role. Forty-eight percent of women in STEM jobs report discrimination in the recruiting and hiring process, and studies show that women are more likely to develop impostor syndrome, which can impact negative on retention rates.

With a limited pool of black workers in the tech space to begin with, retention is all the more critical, and yet black women are being promoted at a much slower rate than their white, male counterparts. A survey of 400 technicians at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates found that black IT employees have shorter average tenure than their non-black counterparts and change jobs every 3.5 years, compared to an average of 5.1 years among non-blacks. technology workers.

The impact

Why is the absence of black women in the tech space a problem? Team members from different backgrounds can add a different perspective to any technology innovation or idea – and when one group of people is noticeably absent from the conversation, our innovations are unlikely to be appropriate for diverse populations either. Welcoming Black women into our industry can allow technology leaders to better understand their customer demographics and potentially reach new customers, with inclusivity inside the walls of the company engendering inclusivity also informing the outward orientation of products.

Black women can also strengthen corporate teamwork. By acknowledging the ideas and concerns of groups that have historically been underrepresented and muted, other employees might find new inspiration to share their own ideas. This freedom and security will enhance the teamwork culture of the organization in which diverse voices can feel heard and recognized. Ultimately, improving DEI within the tech industry can lead to improvements in corporate culture, teamwork, and diversity of thought.

The solutions

It’s impossible to elevate Black women in the tech space unless the workforce is diverse from the start, so moving the needle on representation starts by addressing the recruitment process. Often, job descriptions contain so much industry jargon, even for entry-level positions, that they can discourage fully qualified junior candidates from applying. Technology leaders can make a substantial impact by simply revamping job descriptions to focus less on industry jargon and high-level overviews that can be difficult to conceptualize and more on specific tactical skills that are relevant to the job. role. By leaning into accessible language, we can effectively broaden the pool of candidates who might be suitable for the position and open up opportunities to connect with diverse candidates.

For those already in the industry, developing specific employee resource groups can increase engagement among disenfranchised groups, like Black women, and provide inclusive resources that help them feel heard. At work.

Mentoring programs, formal or informal, can also do wonders for fostering growth by connecting new talent with seasoned professionals who can serve as role models as they begin to build their careers. Heidrick & Struggles conducted a study which found that more than three in four respondents said their mentoring experience was important to their career development. Women and minorities were the most likely to rate their mentoring relationship as ‘extremely important’.

In the midst of the great resignation, where companies are facing recruitment and retention challenges at all levels, it is even more important to assess how to retain employees. In our efforts to improve recruitment and retention, it is also important to consider what the leadership team looks like. When leadership roles are made up of diverse faces, backgrounds and perspectives, the entire company benefits, including those just starting out in their careers.

Establishing programs and initiatives, such as DEI Town Hall meetings or employee social groups or clubs, can also help create forums for team members to talk confidentially about their experiences and feelings, thus fostering a more positive team environment. By encouraging teams to speak up, employees at all levels are able to dictate the change they want to see.

It’s a powerful thing to feel heard, especially for marginalized groups, like black women, who navigate a new environment, like technology, and determine how welcome they feel. Diversity is not about ticking a box or trying to portray a public image. By choosing to make an effort to uplift Black women in tech, we are not only benefiting these women, we are changing the fabric of our conversations by including fresh perspectives.

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