The demand for technology roles is perhaps higher than ever before. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs in computer and information technology are projected to grow by 13% from 2020 to 2030, which is “faster than average,” with 667,600 new tech jobs expected to hit the market by 2030.
However, tech roles are not evenly distributed. While the gender gap in the tech field has been widely reported, the numbers are even worse for women of color. Research from Built In, an online community and news outlet for tech companies, found that just 3% of computing-related jobs are held by Black women, 6% by Asian women and 2% by Hispanic women.
Learning and development (L&D), coupled with additional community and workforce supports (i.e., subsidized child care, tuition assistance, and physical and mental health resources), plays a key role in training women of color for tech roles — and helping them succeed once they land them.
Efua Akumanyi, head of training and technology at Coding Black Females, a community of Black female developers, and co-founder, chief technology officer and lead developer at furniture shopping platform Furnishful, says training that helps women climb the ranks in the tech industry will “have a positive impact” by increasing the number of Black women in both individual companies and in the industry at large. This is critical, as “the increase of Black women in senior roles will also signal to other women that tech is for them,” Akumanyi explains. After all, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”
Targeted Training and Development
The tech industry is vast, boasting a number of in-demand job roles. The U.S. News’ Best Technology Jobs of 2021 list ranks the top 10 tech job titles as: software developer, data scientist, information technology (IT) manager, information security analyst, computer systems analyst, computer network architect, database administrator, web developer, computer systems administrator and computer support specialist.
When training for these roles, L&D leaders must ensure that their curriculum hits the mark on the skills and competencies that learners need to thrive in them. Through conversations with tech employers and labor market research, Jobs for the Future (JFF) identified Python, Java and SQL as “foundational” skills for nearly all tech jobs, says Myriam Sullivan, a director in JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship and Work-based Learning.
General Assembly’s CODE for Good initiative, a social impact initiative to drive access and mobility in tech and develop diverse talent, teaches many of these core skills to people from underrepresented groups. The first cohort trained non-technical employees at large companies like Humana and Union Pacific Railroad in software engineering, where participants learned “critical programming and technical problem-solving skills” and gained hands-on experience with coding languages and frameworks, says Carly Weiss, director of enterprise sales for North America at General Assembly. All cohort participants graduated as job-ready, full-stack engineers.
While it makes sense that people need technical skills to succeed in tech jobs, soft skills are just as important. Sullivan says that tech employers are looking for talent with strong communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills. Thus, L&D must address both soft and hard skills when providing technical training.
Of course, even the most comprehensive training programs won’t translate to more women of color in the field if tech companies don’t help these women enter the industry in the first place. Sullivan suggests that tech companies partner with nonprofits, training providers and community colleges that are committed to developing people from underrepresented groups for tech roles. This means being open to hiring candidates who didn’t obtain a college degree but have learned the skills needed to be successful in the field through a certification, bootcamp or other professional development program. “Partnership is key,” she says.
It’s important to take a “robust approach” when training diverse talent, Sullivan says. Partnering with community-based organizations that are experienced in providing support for people from underrepresented groups can help set women of color up for success during and after training.
NPower, a nonprofit working to move people from poverty to the middle class through technical training and job placement, embraces this holistic approach in Command Shift, a coalition and training program designed to increase the representation of women of color in tech. Candice Dixon, coalition development director for Command Shift, says that NPower embraces a 360-degree model to support learners throughout the learning process. In NPower’s program, learners go through 23 weeks of free training that also includes IT credentialing. At the end of the program, they are placed into a seven-week paid internship to further their professional development. Throughout the course of the program, learners have access to mentors, coaching and social services to ensure that the challenges they might be facing outside of the classroom don’t impact their ability to complete the training, Dixon says. “What we’re seeing through our training is a huge shift in the way that a lot of participants are able to build their careers,” she says. Almost all of the learners begin the program either unemployed or underemployed, and 80% of learners who complete it go on to a full-time job or decide to further their education in college, Dixon says.
Organizations must build “a system of support” so that learners from minority groups feel like there are people on the ground, in the workforce, who can help them continue to grow and progress, Dixon says.
Building an Inclusive Culture
Offering in-demand training to women of color is a “fantastic step” in growing and advancing diverse tech talent, Akumanyi says. However, it is equally important that tech companies build an inclusive culture to support and retain the diverse talent they are developing.
In occupations that are largely male-dominated, there are often unconscious (and sometimes conscious) biases at play, Sullivan says. Some of these biases can lead to women feeling devalued and isolated at work. L&D can help by delivering unconscious bias training and other diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives alongside their technical training offerings. Providing opportunities for women of color to mentor other women of color coming into the organization is another way to establish an inclusive and welcoming culture for underrepresented talent entering the field, Sullivan says.
The lack of diversity in the tech sector is a systemic issue that will require training professionals, tech companies and community-based organizations to join forces. And at the end of the day, Dixon says that engaging women of color in tech is both a business imperative “and a human rights issue.” Impactful L&D can help make a difference on both fronts.