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Women of color can close the tech skills gap — if given the chance

Companies can support women of color from tech-adjacent industries by prioritizing skills overs pedigree and connecting them to training, Command Shift Executive Director Candice Dixon writes.

A young woman gazes forward, a laptop open beside her. (Photo by Pexels user Andrea Piacquadio via a Creative Commons license)

This guest post is a part of DEI Progress Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

This is a guest post by Candice L. Dixon, executive director of Command Shift.

As a single mom and Air Force veteran, Brashanda Walker was stuck in a dead-end internship. She wanted to fulfill her lifelong dream of working in tech and without a formal education, she realized the importance of learning new tech skills.

Brashanda was also aware that there were barriers for women of color in entering the tech field, including a woeful lack of representation of Black, Latinx and Indigenous women at all levels. While women of color account for 20% of the US population, they only represent just over 6% of the workers in tech and tech-enabled sectors, according to new data from tech training nonprofit NPower and Lightcast.

Yet, she persevered. After completing a free tech training program, she received a CompTIA IT Fundamentals certification. Today, she works as a tech lead analyst VP at Citi and is in the process of purchasing her first home.

Stories like Brashanda’s, about nontraditional pathways into successful tech careers, aren’t common enough. Why? Because the industry currently lacks the workforce diversity that so many leaders promised during the pandemic. And with recent layoffs by big tech, women, especially women of color, continue to feel the greatest impact and continue to be left behind.

Ultimately, tech companies haven’t given women of color from tech-adjacent industries a fair enough chance.

The data underscores this reality, revealing that the share of tech jobs for women of color only increased by 1% over the last decade (2011 to 2021). Yet the talent pool of women of color working in jobs that require many of the transferable skills needed to succeed in today’s tech jobs, such as an electronic medical records specialist or customer service representative, increased by 100,000 to reach 2.7 million women of color nationwide.

This means that women of color are increasingly developing tech skills — all while their representation in the industry remains almost at a standstill.

I lead NPower’s Command Shift coalition, a national movement of women, allies, advocates, and others focused on increasing economic opportunity for women of color through tech jobs. While there are many individuals, companies, nonprofits and other organizations dedicated to this effort, much more needs to be done.

The opportunities available right now

According to a recent Dice Tech Jobs Report, “demand for tech talent, despite news of layoffs and hiring freezes this year, remains high,” and “more than 375,000 tech jobs remain unfilled.” The study also noted that sectors such as healthcare, aerospace, finance and consulting are still trying to fill tech-related positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the tech industry is set to increase 16% by 2030.

With this expanded, tech-enabled talent pool of 2.7 million women of color in mind, business leaders, corporate tech recruiters and hiring managers have an opportunity to rewire their hiring practices and workplace policies to prioritize the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women of color in these positions now and in the future.

One approach is to prioritize skills over pedigree. Imagine a team that is a mix of genders, ethnicities, educational (college and non-college) backgrounds, and more, that brought different experiences, innovation, and grit to the role. Hiring managers can create this highly competitive team by prioritizing skills over background and by partnering with organizations to broaden where talent is sourced for technology careers.

The avenue for support: tech training

To build new pathways for women of color into tech and provide new opportunities for economic advancement, we must encourage these individuals to participate in tech training programs that can provide the “bridge” skill building in IT, cloud, cyber, and other areas, helping them more seamlessly transition into tech jobs.

Our Command Shift movement, along with our corporate partners, nonprofit allies, advocates and other supporters across the US, aims to work alongside HR leaders and C-Suite of tech-enabled sectors to ensure they remain committed to honoring their previous promises to diversify their workforce.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be accelerated by a collective focused effort of nonprofits, government organizations, business leaders, and policymakers working together to invest in women of color.

Because tech-skilled women of color can close the tech skills gap. We just need to give them a chance.

Companies: NPower
Series: DEI Progress Month 2023

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