Employers Urged to Help Fix Leaky Tech Talent Pipeline


Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 30, 2019

Leaks in the technology talent pipeline start early. Minority and low-income children often are unable to attend high-quality preschools, putting them at an educational disadvantage, and school-funding disparities typically lead to a lack of computer labs and classes, said Cynthia Overton, director of the Tech Workplace Initiatives for The Kapor Center. 

The Oakland, Calif.-based center works to make the tech sector more diverse and inclusive. Employers have a role to play as well.

Overton led a conference session at the 31st Annual Forum for Inclusion in Minneapolis called Pipeline Perceptions and Realities: A Deeper Look at Barriers to D&I in Tech and Their Impact on Society.

She said the U.S. technology workforce doesn't match the nation's demographics. Hispanics make up 16 percent of the U.S. population but only 6 percent of Silicon Valley tech firm workers. However, Asians make up 5 percent of the U.S. population and 41 percent of Silicon Valley tech firm employees, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report Diversity in High Tech.

While the tech sector has the potential to bring jobs, innovation and wealth to communities, women and people of color often are excluded from the technology economy.

A lack of exposure to computer sciences—including after-school programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—combined with a lack of encouragement from teachers and others for students in minority groups to pursue those tracks means problems in tech diversity begin at an early age, Overton said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: Technology Professionals]

The Leaky Tech Pipeline: A Comprehensive Framework for Understanding and Addressing the Lack of Diversity, a 2018 report from The Kapor Center, makes recommendations for breaking down barriers. While some of the recommendations are outside employers' control—such as expanding computer science education opportunities in schools—others speak directly to companies, Overton said. For example:

*Enhance pathways into tech careers. In its report, the center suggests that industry leaders partner with community colleges to help revamp curricula to better align with local companies' tech needs.

*Implement comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategies within companies. Consider using resources such as www.inclusionclearinghouse.org to find tech events for minority groups. Here are some upcoming ones:

--HUE, a summit for women of color in tech, scheduled for May in Philadelphia.

--The American Indian Science and Engineering Society National Conference in October in Milwaukee.

--Afrotech in November in San Francisco.

--Latinx in Tech Summit in November in Oakland, Calif.

Also examine the barriers that may exist within the workplace, such as biases in recruitment, hiring, promotion and pay that contribute to gender, racial and ethnic disparities in the tech workforce. The EEOC report noted that about 9 percent of graduates from the nation's top 25 computer science programs are black, Latino or Native American, but only 5 percent of large tech firm employees represent those minority groups.

"This presents the unlikely scenarios," the EEOC wrote, "that either major employers in the field are unable to attract four out of nine under-represented minority graduates from top schools or almost half of the minority graduates of top schools do not qualify for the positions for which they were educated."

Steps employers can take to address this, the Kapor Center noted, include auditing recruitment, interviewing, compensation, performance management and promotion processes and practices to examine them for potential biases. Overhaul them as needed to ensure fair and effective processes at each stage in the employment life cycle.

*Increase the prevalence of diverse role models. A report from tech services provider Ensono, Speak Up: Bringing More Women's Voices to Tech Conferences, noted that few women present at tech conferences.

For example, 74 percent of women working in a technical role have been the lone woman on a speaking panel, according to Ensono's survey of 500 women across the U.S. and U.K. who have attended a tech conference in their careers. However, the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company found that 76 percent of women are more likely to attend a conference that features a woman as a keynote speaker, panelist or has some other part in the programming.

Companies can help more women prepare, the author of the report suggested, by offering to pay for training, asking mentors to encourage women to speak on behalf of the company, providing time to prepare for conferences, and paying for any materials or technology needed to present at a conference.

*Create public-private partnerships to develop the future computing workforce. "Sometimes it's good just to start off small [and] just do something," Overton said, such as partnering with a university or creating an internship program.

Step Up is one example of how employers are creating a diverse pipeline of tech talent in Minneapolis. Step Up works with more than 200 local companies to offer training and paid internships for youth ages 14-21, with the aim of building a diverse workforce of skilled regional workers.

Krissy Kocina, SHRM-CP, is a people systems specialist at Thrivent who attended the forum session. Her employer participates in Step Up by offering internships. She wants to do more and liked the idea of developing a mentorship program that paired an entry-level tech employee with a student.

"It would be cool," she said, "if my company hosted classes or some sort of weeklong seminar to continue that early [tech] pipeline." 


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