|If you think workforce statistics show lack of inclusion for women in tech (and they do), what do they show for women of color in tech?|
Here are some commonly reported statistics (these courtesy of Skillcrush): Women make up 47% of the workforce but hold only 25% of computer-science related positions. Within that 25%, 5% are Asian, 3% are Black, and 1% are Latinx.
Go behind the numbers, and what does inequality look like for women of color in tech? What are some of the systemic issues and how can tech companies help build inclusion for women of color?
Voices of Experience
In her Skillcrush blog post, “Working in Tech If You’re the Only Woman of Color in The Room,” Aleia Walker shares personal perspectives from women of color:
Michele Heyward of Positive Hire: “When haven’t I been the only one on a tech team?” Heyward has discovered email threads labeling her as “aggressive,” has been pushed out of engineering roles, and discouraged from applying to senior-level engineering roles.”
Awnya Creque, E-Discovery Consultant: “When something happens in the news, it’s clear colleagues don’t know what to say or how to say it.”
Walker’s post linked to Rachel Rodgers, who in her Medium post, “How to create diversity within your online business,” shares “how exhausting and damaging it can be to participate in conferences . . . and other communities that have almost no one that looks like me.”
Issues Behind the Voices
Stories like these point to systemic issues affecting women of color in tech.
Here are three:
Treating diversity and inclusion as a checkbox: Rachel Rodgers explains that “Diversity is absolutely not about having people of color . . . as decoration so you can check the “we’re diverse” box and keep it moving. It’s about having a diverse group of people permeating every level of your business.”
Excusing the lack of women and women of color as a “pipeline problem”: The so-called “pipeline problem” claims that there are simply not enough women, and especially not enough women of color, entering the tech field to hire. That doesn’t add up, says Walker. “In reality, only 38% of women with computer science degrees actually have technical jobs. Recruiters don’t always source from diverse talent pools and end up cycling through more traditional candidates.”
Thinking it’s enough to simply “get Black women in the door”: In a June HBR article, Evelyn Carter explains that while companies must hire for racial and gender equity, it’s actually more important to focus on retention, promotion, and training for leadership. “Organizations should be measuring the outcomes of all of their people practices ─ from recruiting and hiring to promotions, compensation, and attrition ─ to evaluate where racial disparities exist.”
Improving Opportunities for Women of Color in Tech
- Make it a public commitment: Rachel Rodgers urges companies to announce their position on diversity and inclusion to their team, clients and greater community so they put themselves “in a position to be held accountable” and are “forced to back up that statement with bona fide action.”
- Measure diversity on a team level: Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s global head of D&I, explained in a Tech Republic interview that when tech companies depend on only corporate-level statistics to measure progress, “that does not measure diversity, it measures representation.” She says that to find out if there are equitable numbers of women of color in engineering as well as marketing and HR, tech companies need to analyze their numbers team by team.
- Invest in bringing women of color to the design table: Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab published a study in 2019 about how the lack of investment in underrepresented groups is a trillion-dollar loss for the tech industry. “We can only imagine what businesses might have taken off, what products consumers might have enjoyed, and what innovations and returns might have been realized had women and people of color enjoyed equal access to capital and opportunity
“Diversity is Not Optional”
One of many motivations Michele Heyward offers tech companies for hiring more women of color is that they “solve problems you have never experienced by looking at data differently, based on their lived experiences.”
The desire to inspire innovation and yes, increase profitability, are all recognized reasons for advancing equity for women of color. But there is a higher calling, says Rachel Rodgers.
“Create an environment in your business where Black women can thrive. Not only because you are likely to benefit from their irrefutable ability to create revolutionary change―or even because they will add immense value to your business and community (lucky you)―but because diversity is not optional.”