The tech industry has talked for years about increasing diversity in its ranks, with little to no progress so far to show for all the talk. One reason for that is a lack of concrete, sustained action to find and retain Black candidates, as well as Latinx and women job-seekers.
But there are deeper issues at play, according to a new Conference Board report: structural issues limit the participation of Black candidates — even for those companies that seriously seek to hire and retain them and as the US tech industry grows and struggles to fill its ranks. Adding to the problem is that those hired in tech get paid less than their white counterparts (an issue also for Latinx workers and women workers).
For example, the Conference Board’s analysis of US employment data shows that only 4% of top earners in the tech industry are Black, compared to 6% in other industries. And “among software developers — who have seen the highest income growth of all — Black representation stands at just 3.3%,” the report notes.
The Conference Board is a global, nonpartisan business-interests group, though the new report focuses on the US.
The racal wage gap is not limited to the tech industry. “Black workers are similarly underrepresented in other booming fields for top earners, accounting for just 2.8% of top-earning CEOs and 3.8% of top earners in marketing management,” the report notes.
But tech’s growth magnifies the racial wage gap across the entire working populace. For example, in 2010, Black men earned 18% less than white men a disparity that grew to 24% by 2019, “largely due to increased underrepresentation of Black workers in high-paying industries and occupations” such as tech, the Conference Board report says.
Worse for African Americans, other changes in American business mean fewer well-paying jobs outside of tech are available in areas — government, education, and the hospital segment of healthcare — that have a history of employing Black professional workers. The net result is an increasing racial wage gap in the US, as Black people find it hard to join the growing, well-paid tech ranks at the same time other professional opportunities shrink, the report concludes.
“Our research suggests there are powerful barriers to reducing these disparities and keeping them from becoming even larger: Black workers are severely underrepresented in industries, occupations, and locations where the fastest growth in high-paying jobs is taking place,” the report says.
The Conference Board’s core recommendations for recruiting and retaining Black employees in tech are familiar ones:
- Use metrics in a consistent, sustained effort to pursue progress in diversity hiring and promotions.
- Reach out to Black people and their institutions to develop sustained partnerships.
- Open offices in cities with large Black populations, to help counterbalance the existing tech centers in cities with low Black populations such as San Francisco (2%), San Jose (0.8%), Seattle (1.6%), and Austin, Texas (2.3%). The report shows that tech employment of Black people jumps in cities with large Black populations: It is 12% in Atlanta and 13% in Washington, D.C.
- Take advantage of remote work to recruit Black candidates where they live.
- Invest in community and education partnerships that help encourage Balck participation in tech and provide initial training and internships.
But the Conference Board also says more needs to be done at a systemic level — particularly in education and societal inclusion beginning at birth — to reduce barriers that exclude African Americans from the tech industry in the first place.
Another societal reality to address, the Conference Board said: Even when they have equivalent education as white people, Black people tend to work in industries and occupations that pay less, and wage gaps between industries have been steadily increasing. That worsens the racial divide in income, even for jobs requiring the same level of education and experience.