Make It Black

Black employees make up just 7.4% of the tech workforce—these nonprofits are working to change that

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Many Americans have changed career paths for tech jobs in recent years, as they generally pay well and have good benefits. However, despite the growing popularity of tech jobs, Black talent is still extremely underrepresented in the industry. Women account for 26.7% of the tech workforce, and, Black women specifically, make up only 1.7%, according to a 2021 report from Similarly, Black professionals as a whole only account for 7.4% of the tech workforce.   

Thursday, Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit driving change in the American workforce and education systems, released its Purpose-Built to Advance Equity: Expanding Opportunities in Tech for Black Americans report which highlights organizations working to change those demographics. Developed with support from Comcast NBCUniversal, the report is based on an analysis of over 200 startups and educational institutions that are dedicated to developing Black talent in tech.

According to a recent JFF survey of more than 1,000 Black adults, over 6 in 10 do not currently work in digital or IT, but would be open to changing careers. Yet, over half of those surveyed said they were unsure of where to begin (55%) or that they lacked the financial resources (51%), and skills (52%). Additionally, 45% of respondents said they lack the connections needed to start a tech career, showing that accessibility to resources is a major issue.

Michael Collins, vice president at JFF and a lead author of the report, believes these obstacles are "systemic," starting from youth.

"To disrupt historic patterns of occupational segregation in technology, we cannot ignore the systemic barriers to access and advancement that begin in K-12 schools and persist in communities and in the workplace," he said in a press release. "The most successful models are not only helping Black talent build skills and secure employment, but also making long-term investments in mentorship, social capital, and networks that enable Black professionals to access—and sustain—careers in technology."

When asked about methods they thought would be effective in encouraging more Black students and workers to get into tech, survey respondents highlighted the need for positive representation and mentorship as examples. According to JFF, 55% of Black Americans reported never having a career mentor, and, of those who did, 7% haven't had mentors that look like them.

"We feel welcome when we see other people who look like us represented. When all the ads and recruiters are white, it sends a negative message. Likewise when they are all men. Thank goodness for groups like Girls Who Code," said a male respondent.

JFF also highlights the important role that access to education plays in Black people pursuing tech careers. Thirty-nine percent of survey participants said that free, internet-based educational resources would help them make the switch to digital and IT-based careers. In addition, around a third indicated that they would take career/technical education courses (33%), participate in workforce development programs (31%), and/or participate in community-based learning opportunities (31%).

In their new report, JFF and Comcast NBCUniversal highlight 14 "Innovators to Watch" for their efforts in advancing Black talent in tech. These organizations offer resources like career preparation and technology training to " foster economic mobility for Black learners and workers in technology." In addition, they all have Black leaders and/or were founded by African Americans and have headquarters across the nation.

Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that offers software development training to girls ages 7 to 17, is one of the many organizations featured in the report. BGC has impacted 30,000 students with their coding clubs, summer camps, and workshops and has 15 chapters ranging from the U.S. to South Africa. With a goal of teaching 1 million girls to code by 2040, BGC has partnered with several big-name companies, like Deloitte, Google, and IBM, and offers career preparation support to alumnae and their peers.

JFF says it selected Black Girls Code because: "Its model combines a number of the elements we have seen in leading-edge programs, including a focus on the development of both technical and soft skills, alumni engagement, and a robust capacity to scale. Beyond that, the organization is working to equip Black girls with leadership skills and an entrepreneurial mindset — both of which will help them succeed in any career, even if they don't choose tech."

In addition to BGC, Girls Who Code, Eskalera and Praxis Labs, among others, also made the Innovators to Watch list.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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