How Employers Can Better Support Black STEM Workers Through Tech Layoffs

An anticipated economic downturn and massive layoffs are rocking the tech industry and creating a new sense of uncertainty. But the pressure on opportunities within the industry can create more challenges for workers of color than for their white counterparts.

Despite the much appreciated efforts of DCI, Black workers still make up just 7.4% of the tech workforce, according to a 2021 report from AnitaB.org, a tech-focused nonprofit. Factor in the 2022 cut of nearly 40,000 jobs in the industry, and black tech talent faces a new upsurge.

“Historically, the unemployment rate for people with tech skills is significantly lower than overall unemployment — but black unemployment rates are typically double that of whites,” says Michael Collins, vice president of Jobs for the Future, a non-profit organization that supports equity economic progress. “Recent layoffs in the tech sector could impact companies’ DEI initiatives, which could stall emerging efforts to diversify the tech workforce.”

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But the recent layoffs are just a small piece of a bigger puzzle, Collins says, pointing to a historic lack of available technology opportunities for colored workers.

A recent JFF survey of 1,000 black professionals found that more than six in 10 black employees do not currently work in digital or information technology, but would be open to a career change. But 55% of respondents said they didn’t know where to start, 51% said they lacked the financial resources and 52% said they lacked the necessary skills. Forty-five percent of respondents said a lack of connections held them back from a career in tech, highlighting the difference in accessibility that workers of color often experience.

“Black learners typically don’t have access to the kinds of relationships that can help them navigate the tech industry and secure the experiences that come from internships and workplace learning opportunities,” Collins says. “Preferences and hiring practices are not enough to [create] technical skills and qualifications.”

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To support existing black talent through a technological slowdown — and ensuring that future entrants to the workforce have a clearer path to opportunities within the industry — employers need to think beyond mere recruiting efforts.

Collins suggests building coalitions of employers and bringing in independent evaluators to review company data and identify and address anti-black biases in hiring, compensation and promotion. This includes improving job quality for entry-level and front-line workers (who are disproportionately Black Americans, Collins notes) and building ladders to opportunities for advancement as well as promoting skills. sponsorship and mentorship opportunities in the workplace. These relationships can be significant steps towards closing the gap in access to professional networks and social capital.

“Dismantling systemic racism requires careful thought and planning,” Collins says. “Sustainable gains will not come through a single wave of philanthropy, especially if longstanding policies and frameworks are not addressed.”

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