The tech industry has a problem. While it’s made significant contributions that have benefitted the world — more information and better access to it, expanded security, improved communication, enhanced education, and so much more — when it comes to the people working in technology to deliver these “modern miracles,” it falls far short in diversity. The statistics paint a stark story.
While nearly 8% of the U.S. labor force worked in tech in 2021, Zippia reports that:
- 62% of those jobs were held by white Americans.
- Black Americans held just 7% of technology jobs.
- Latinx Americans represented just 8% of tech employees.
- Men held over 73% of all technology jobs and 79% of executive tech positions.
- Women in tech earned 3% lower salaries than men with the same experience in the same jobs at the same companies.
White and Asian men continue to represent the highest demographic of employees in the tech sector. There’s been some progress, but the industry still struggles with diversity, with bigger companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft increasing their diversity stats by just a percentage point or two since 2021.
And yet all companies benefit from a diverse workforce regardless of industry. Diversity supports inclusivity and strengthens company culture. It’s past time for tech companies to plan and execute more robust strategies to broaden their diversity.
Employers must expand horizons beyond the tech industry and actively seek qualified candidates of different genders, ethnic backgrounds and races. And the industry must address the wider digital skills gap among underrepresented populations. In this article, we’ll evaluate the digital skills of today and how to upskill the underrepresented tech workforce.
Digital Skills of Today — And the Future
To launch, scale and maintain a company requires employees with specific skill sets. Championing and fostering a continuous learning culture that promotes professional development helps companies — and their employees — thrive.
The Institute for the Future predicts that 85% of the tech jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet, so it’s not too soon to develop skills the industry needs now that will benefit employees in the future. Closing the digital skills gap now serves another important purpose: removing barriers preventing minorities and underrepresented groups from finding jobs in the tech industry today.
According to research, the top digital skills employers want include:
- Data analytics and data science, including knowledge of programming languages, math, statistical analysis and probability, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), data visualization, business strategy, cloud computing, and a range of soft skills from collaboration and storytelling to out-of-the-box thinking and an analytical mindset.
- Data visualization and digital design are used to create effective, dynamic user interfaces that deliver a solid user experience (UX). Data visualization enables designers to analyze, visualize and present complex data and its valuable insight to senior business leaders.
- Digital business analysis generates insight organizations need to present a strong business case for developing their own digital ecosystems to drive business growth.
- Digital product management requires strong analytical, communication and organizational skills to help with innovation planning, defining and developing digital products.
- Digital project management includes a solid understanding of scrum and agile methodologies as well as a holistic, big-picture understanding of how digital projects develop — from concept to prototype and fully developed product or service.
- Digital marketing, which includes a good understanding of content writing best practices, familiarity with conversion rate optimization (CRO), search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) and knowledge of data analytics and tools.
- Programming, app and web development are regularly listed on LinkedIn among the 10 most in-demand skills employers want.
- Social media savvy requires solid writing, research, problem-solving and time management skills, the ability to analyze data and manage content and communities, comfort using different digital and social media software and platforms, and at least a basic understanding of graphic design.
The best ways to develop these skills? By taking a holistic, big picture approach to offering multiple options and steps. That approach starts with management. When executive boards sharpen their digital skills and help managers become tech leaders, the companies thrive. An MIT Sloan Management Review study found that the revenue growth and market valuation of companies with digitally competent leadership and management increases by almost 50%. Knowledge from a digitally robust top tier also trickles down to the rest of the workforce.
Organizations must embrace continuous learning by folding learning and development (L&D) into their long-term planning and strategy — including anticipating what digital skills will help drive organizational success in the future.
Another area often overlooked but crucial for developing digital skills is onboarding. Incorporate training sessions into this process to help build up the digital skills employees need to succeed in their jobs. Offer training programs, formats and delivery options aligned with how people work and that fits comfortably into their workflows.
Upskilling the Tech Workforce
One reason the tech industry struggles to find and hire more diverse people? It’s harder for underrepresented populations to access training to develop marketable digital skills. And only one in five undergraduate students enrolled in computer science programs is female, with the percentage of female graduates lower now than two decades ago.
The recruitment of students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs should begin well before students look at colleges.
Other barriers holding women back include few seeing a path to growing their careers in tech companies. But when supported by allies and mentors — and they have role models looking like them and thriving in tech — women are less likely to quit.
Columbia University’s Barnard College has redesigned its approach to attract more of its primarily female students to STEM fields. Now the college offers STEM classes designed to engage and introduce students to possibilities — instead of making the introductory courses incredibly challenging to weed out students too early. According to Columbia University’s president Sian Beilock, this approach helps students break expectations about what they are (or aren’t) good at and rethink their limits.
Another key strategy exists within tech companies themselves: upskilling — a key to building diverse, equitable workforces. An increasing number of organizations nationwide have partnered to upskill people from underrepresented populations entering the tech workforce. For example, Be Nimble Foundation partnered with Eleven Fifty Academy, gener8tor Skills and Microsoft and Google to launch a series of UX/UI design and development, tech sales and customer success bootcamps.
Companies committed to upskilling their tech teams should remember that the process takes time before they may see a significant return on investment (ROI), but the investment is worth it. And there are many options available, including:
- Lunch and learns require a low time commitment from already busy employees to learn a new or refine an existing skill in a more relaxed, casual environment.
- Mentoring programs can benefit both participants. Mentors can hone their leadership skills while providing knowledge and cultivating softer skills among their mentees.
- Microlearning can address topics or concepts that might not require in-depth training but need more treatment than what’s covered in a lunch and learn. Studies show that microlearning sessions in the form of “retention boosters,” or reminders of what you have previously learned, are the most effective way to retain information over the long term.
- Tuition assistance or reimbursement to support employees working toward Six Sigma, Amazon Web Services and other technical certifications or degrees.
- Virtual learning can include more formal classes scheduled at specific times or set up as a self-guided learning journey to help increase accessibility for remote employees.
Looking to the Future
From the metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI) to quantum computing and cybersecurity, the tech world will keep evolving at lightspeed. Training and developing workers of all backgrounds on in-demand tech skills can help bridge skills gaps and set them up for lasting success in the field.