Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting, Talent, Technology

Black Women in Tech: How Companies Can Fix the Representation Gap

The technology industry is currently experiencing great success as major companies build new flagship locations, creating many new job opportunities for skilled tech engineers. However, as the industry continues to change and grow, one thing remains the same: the lack of underrepresented groups finding employment with tech companies. As tech leaders publicly address their efforts to dedicate more time and resources to diversity and inclusion, they continue to miss the mark on black women.

According to research, women in the United States make up only 29% of those in science and engineering occupations, and of that, only 2.5% of the workforce in those same jobs are black women. So, while the tech industry is booming, the reality is that various factors hinder diversity, and recruitment bias is one of the common themes. That said, it is up to tech companies to shift their focus on how they attain employees based on education, recruitment, and the interview process.

How Did We Get Here?

The best way for businesses to close the representation gap to create a holistically equitable brand is to uncover what influences this gap. Here are three of the roadblocks black women predominantly face in the tech industry:

  • Hiring discrimination
  • Cultural disconnects within the workplace
  • A lack of support from the tech community when it comes to networking and professional development opportunities

Now, how do we fix it? First, tech companies must overhaul their hiring process to identify the gaps in the system and at what point they are losing underrepresented candidates. Below are key considerations for hiring managers to consider when working to close the representation gaps in tech:

  • Eliminate pedigree bias: Hiring managers and recruiters in technology tend to consider candidates from Ivy League schools and universities from which companies have previously recruited employees. Unfortunately, this screening process immediately eliminates those who may have received just as prominent degrees from colleges and universities outside the scope of top-tier schools. This contributes to the “pipeline problem” excuse that there is not enough qualified talent from diverse backgrounds; the reality is that there are more than enough qualified black women for the tech jobs available. It is the responsibility of tech company leaders to expand their recruitment process to include a diverse group of schools and degree programs in states across the country.

Companies have spent decades, directly and indirectly, rejecting candidates from certain universities and programs that have the most qualified pools of black tech talent to recruit from. To reverse this, recruiters need to think outside the box and hire candidates from places they may not have in the past, such as participating in a job fair at a diverse college with a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program.

  • Create an accessible job screening process: If the current hiring process involves administering tests to measure technical skills, keep in mind that although some candidates may be superstar test-takers, others who may be just as qualified may not be as adept at taking tests. When testing differences aren’t acknowledged, an organization may miss hiring highly qualified candidates who add value and depth to the workforce.

One method to consider is to offer candidates the opportunity to redo their technical interviews. About 15% of candidates elect to redo their interviews (with new questions) if given a chance, and the vast majority of them improve significantly once they are familiar with the environment and format.

  • Diversify interviews: It is critical to have diverse and well-rounded interviewers setting the stage for candidates’ first interaction with a job. Not only does it create feelings of comfort and compatibility, but it also lets candidates know they are interviewing with a company that has transparent hiring practices. HR leaders should monitor their interviewers to ensure diversity standards are being upheld and are not emulating any unconscious bias.

Unfortunately, racism, ageism, and sexism still play a big role in who gets hired, oftentimes unconsciously. However, although it won’t make for a perfect system, if companies incorporate these adjustments into the hiring process, it will create significant advancements in the recruitment and retention of black female employees.

Portia Kibble Smith is the head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Karat. She has dedicated her career to helping more black professionals land jobs within tech and is continuing to pioneer that work at Karat. Most recently, she has played a key role in helping launch the Brilliant Black Minds program in order to honor the rich legacy of genius found throughout black America and empower the next generation of black engineers. Smith has also established a series called the Real Talk: Diversity in Tech forum to create a platform where women and underrepresented minorities can amplify their voices and share their stories.