While diversity and inclusion efforts have raised the representation of racial minorities in corporate America, the numbers aren’t equal across industries. The technology and information sector in particular, despite its reputation as a “new frontier”, continues to be dominated by white men even more than other corporate sectors. Given that it is Black History month, we want to bring attention to the underrepresentation of Black talent in tech—its causes and possible solutions.
According to data gathered by Talenya, the US technology industry is only 8% African American—one of the lowest of any industry. At Fortune 500 companies dealing in technology and information, the company found, they make up only 7% of workers both in general and in managerial positions. For context, African-Americans make up 13.4% of the US population. That’s a big discrepancy—almost 5.5% difference, to be exact.
As a statistical bonus, it’s worth noting that even when African Americans are admitted to the sector, the conditions under which they work are often not equitable: Pew research found that of STEM field workers (including computer science and technology), Black talent make less than any other race, and Black women significantly less than men.
So what are the causes of these low numbers?
Understanding the Discrepancy
There are a couple of main reasons it’s so much harder for African-Americans to break into tech than for their white counterparts. These include the homogeneous pools tech recruiters often tap for new workers, and scarcity in the pipeline.
Reliance on Networking
In the tech field, and especially in Silicon Valley, there’s been a diversity problem since before the “mammoths” like Apple and Google became what they are today—and Black representation hasn’t risen much since despite their growth. According to Diversity and Inclusion experts, one reason for that at the recruitment level is that people recruit from their own networks. And hiring managers within these companies will trust people they know to hire or vouch for candidates rather than taking chances on people who don’t have connections. This creates a “chicken and egg” paradox—tech companies are largely run by white and Asian men, whose networks are made up of white and Asian men, so very few outside that demographic get recruited…and the cycle continues.
D&I expert and Talenya advisory board member Tamika Curry Smith summed up this phenomenon in an interview with Talenya’s writers: “Recruiters typically rely on their personal and professional networks to identify potential candidates. If their circles aren’t diverse, which is often the case given that the majority of recruiters are white, that disadvantages candidates from diverse backgrounds. While I see some organizations making attempts to build more inclusion into their processes, the area where I don’t see as much effort is in diversifying their recruiting teams.”
Perceived and Real Pipeline Problems
Another big problem is the double-edged sword of Black talent scarcity in the pipeline and perceived scarcity in the pipeline.
In 2016, 8.6% of American computer and information science Bachelor’s graduates were Black; that’s still low compared to the total African-American population…but representation in the tech field is even lower. So the problem is twofold, both at the point of recruitment and from an education standpoint.
In terms of recruitment, underrepresented talent is often harder to find—and when recruiters think there isn’t more Black talent to be found, they won’t try very hard to find it. In a recent report, Talenya has found that underrepresented groups don’t list as many skills and use less common professional language on their profiles. They are also are less likely than their white male counterparts to apply to jobs they aren’t 100% qualified for. That makes finding them and getting them into the pipeline a lot more complicated.
What Can We Do?
Now that you know the extent and the origin of Black underrepresentation in the tech industry, you may be asking yourself, “what can be done? How do we make Black representation more equitable?” There are many ways to approach, but here are a few of the most effective to keep in mind:
- Make CEOs and company leadership accountable and involved. According to experts such as Diversity & Inclusion consultant and Talenya Advisory Board member Michele Shelton, “The most significant factor contributing to diversity and inclusion in the workplace without a doubt is CEO engagement. Often diversity officers…are placed within human resources. But when you have CEOs engaged around diversity and inclusion, it sends a different message. Having the CEO involved reiterates that diversity and inclusion is a priority for the organization.”
- Use technology like Talenya to find talent that wouldn’t be found otherwise. As we discussed, underrepresented groups often use fewer skills or different language on professional profiles. Talenya’s AI can find these candidates that manual searches won’t uncover using inferred skills, granular search terms, and candidate backgrounds. The AI can predict diverse identities at 98% accuracy, without allowing for unconscious bias on the part of the recruiter.
- Get involved or donate to organizations that encourage African American young people to get into coding and computer science such as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, or Year Up.