Mind the (IT) gap — and fill it with more women
A recent CIO article pointed out that despite composing 47% of the U.S. labor force, women still make up just 25% of tech workers. Unconscious bias due to lack of representation or possibly more blatant gender discrimination could understandably be deterring women from pursuing tech jobs. It’s important to understand and try to combat these forces when formulating solutions.
The global talent gap in the IT and technology industries has been well-documented but progress has been sluggish. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal estimated that 1 million tech jobs go unfilled each year in the U.S. alone, and an in-depth Korn Ferry report projected that the world may have as many as 85 million unfilled tech jobs by 2030. The skills gap is a massive problem and well-worth trying to solve, especially considering the technology sector represents a whopping 10% of the U.S. GDP. The solution to a skills gap is, of course, education. In the U.S., the domestic workforce is not growing or reskilling quickly enough to keep pace with open tech jobs. The U.S. graduates around 65,000 computer science students annually, which is in stark contrast to neighboring country Mexico with over 130,000 annual graduates. While the widening talent gap is problematic, a more optimistic angle is that it also presents an opportunity to reshape the industry to become more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.
Women and women of color have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic as job losses hit these demographics in higher numbers than other groups. 55% of net job losses in 2020 affected women, and 8.4% of black women and 9.1% of Latina women 20 years or older experienced unemployment in December 2020. In total, 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, which is a record 33-year low for the U.S. In the starkly male tech sector, women were twice as likely to lose their job or be furloughed due to the pandemic. Now more than ever, it’s critical that tech companies redouble efforts to attract and retain women, particularly women from underrepresented communities. This reflective exercise should include a thorough review of the candidate and employee experience. What language do your recruiters use in job postings? Gendered language can be offputting to a prospective candidate, even if it’s not a conscious choice. What benefits do you offer to working parents? We know that women are often balancing childcare responsibilities and may place greater value than men on flexible working hours or parental leave policies. Seeing your company through the eyes of the candidate you wish to attract is a key step in making meaningful improvements to your employee experience.
Education, particularly in the form of on-the-job training or reskilling, can be a powerful tool for tech companies to put a dent in their hiring needs while simultaneously taking real steps to improve the gender gap. Tech companies should consider the skill sets both required in candidates as well as what they may able to uniquely offer prospective students. For example, does your company currently offer an internal training program for new hires in your proprietary software? What prevents that training from being offered externally? Converting internal training programs to paid apprenticeship programs is often overlooked but can be a powerful tool for vetting and locking in the next more diverse wave of talent for your company. Apprenticeship programs and paid internships provide structure for evaluating candidates, providing targeted education to level-up any missing skillsets, and mentoring students as they learn. In a world where tech companies are making diversity commitments over the span of years, paid apprenticeship programs can accelerate your impact in just weeks or months.
Educational programs and philanthropic efforts tend to focus on early development – middle school, high school, and potentially college-aged women and girls. However, there’s evidence that we may be overlooking adult students interested in a career change and in need of an on-ramp to the tech sector. A 2018 McKinsey study found that a staggering 66% of tech companies’ philanthropic efforts targeting the gender gap go to K-12 programs. There’s a real opportunity to engage college-aged women and those later in their careers to upskill or reskill into a potentially more lucrative career in technology.
Progress won’t be possible without a real commitment and focus on ‘last mile’ education from tech companies. A recent CIO article pointed out that despite composing 47% of the U.S. labor force, women still make up just 25% of tech workers. Unconscious bias due to lack of representation or possibly more blatant gender discrimination could understandably be deterring women from pursuing tech jobs. It’s important to understand and try to combat these forces when formulating solutions. However, the corporate world has the resources (and at least some of the responsibility) to pick up where traditional education has left off by funding and organizing skills training programs. Improving gender diversity in technology, beyond just being a good thing to do, is linked to a 15% increase in company performance. Tech companies may be in a better position than our university systems to identify the most employable skillsets mid to long-term, and they can also utilize these programs to funnel more diverse talent into their companies.