Technology, an industry that promises innovation and meritocracy, is at a moment of reckoning. Major technology companies have come under fire from elected officials, social justice leaders, and the general public for neglecting important social responsibilities in both external and internal operations, largely by allowing racism to run rampant on social platforms and by creating toxic, homogeneous work environments that deter many from pursuing a career in the field or advancing.
This backlash is representative of a longstanding issue in Silicon Valley and in other technology hubs, where women and people of color—specifically women of color—are often denied jobs for which they’re qualified or are passed up for promotion and leadership opportunities due to unconscious or conscious bias. The impact of this exclusion is devastating, leaving not just individuals but families and communities behind, and forcing a ripple effect through the entire economy.
The solution? Bold leadership from the public and private sectors. We’re at a critical inflection point. There’s an economic crisis that’s only projected to get worse, combined with a national awakening to systemic racism, where the systems that perpetuate racial inequities are being examined and reimagined. As they stand in the spotlight, private and public sector leaders must step up, acknowledge the drivers—the policies and practices that are fomenting inequity—and lead the change that is long overdue, in the tech sector and beyond.
The case for centering underrepresented women of color in tech
Technology is the future of work. Across sectors, technology jobs in information technology, data research, software development, artificial intelligence, and more will increase significantly in the next decade. As new companies look to long-standing tech giants to set the tone on how to operate, the old model isn’t the one we want them following. We need to act now and act with urgency, to ensure monolithic tech companies do not set the norm as technology develops across sectors and becomes one of the largest job creators.
The growth of the tech sector currently benefits a small and homogeneous group of people. Women of color, especially Black, Latina, and Native women who make up just 4% of the computing workforce, suffer the most at the hands of economic exclusion. This hurts not only the women experiencing exclusion but their families, communities, and the entire economy.
Getting to the heart of the issue means addressing it at the intersection of the associated racial and gender inequities. As long as women of color, who are positioned to be the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2060, are severely underrepresented in the tech sector, the benefits of this job growth will be uneven. Advancing women of color in the technology workforce—specifically Black, Latina, and Native women who are being left behind—is both a moral and an economic imperative.
Centering women of color means creating and investing in solutions that account for the barriers women of color face due to their race and gender. When we center the most underrepresented groups, everybody experiences the benefit. A recent study from Boston Consulting Group found that earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margins for companies with diverse management teams were nearly 10% higher than for companies with below-average management diversity. But very few companies have specific strategies as they set objectives to increase the representation of women and people of color. Centering their success can help people understand how broad initiatives often overlook the specific barriers for underrepresented women of color and underscore the need for targeted and specific action.
What private sector leaders can do
Companies have the power to invest in solutions that impact not only their employees but the industry and talent pool at large. For corporate leaders, addressing racial and gender inequities means:
- Significantly reimagining recruitment, retention, and promotion practices to center their employees who are women, people of color, and women of color.
- Gathering and publicly sharing gender and racially or ethnically disaggregated data on workforce diversity, or lack thereof, and committing to specific equity targets.
- Engaging outside experts, drawing on best practices research, and sharing data on outcomes with all stakeholders—shareholders, employees, and the general public—in an open and honest process.
- Investing in internal systems that support all working parents to manage work and family commitments through flexible work schedules, paid sick and family leave, on-site child care, and other measures.
Some companies are starting to shift toward diversity and inclusion already. Intel publishes easily accessible gender and racially disaggregated data by job type and level on their website to hold themselves publicly accountable to their diversity goals. Dell pledged that by 2030, 50% of its global workforce and 40% of its global leadership will be women and 25% of its U.S. workforce and 15% of its U.S. leadership positions will be held by Black and Latino professionals. In addition, companies have pledged to stand for racial justice by recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday, adjusting contracts with police departments, investing in Black entrepreneurs, and more.
Companies can also support efforts that benefit Black, Latina, and Native American women specifically. Based on findings and actionable recommendations from Reboot Representation, these are some of the most powerful interventions for women of color:
- Invest in pathways at the higher education level. This is a critical and overlooked on-ramp for students of color, who may not have had exposure to computer science classes in elementary and high school.
- Support organizations with a specific focus on girls and women of color. Women of color are not a monolith. Philanthropic dollars that go to organizations with a targeted focus on Black, Latina, and Native American women can make an impact where broad efforts fail.
- Work hard to retain and promote the women of color you’ve hired.
- Consider distributing a survey across affinity groups and disaggregating the responses on the back end to see how leadership can best support underrepresented women of color and other marginalized groups.
- Collect and analyze data on their progress.
- Create objective promotion processes.
- Reward managers who engage in innovative approaches that produce promising retention data regarding retention and advancement of women of color.
What public sector leaders can do
Private sector companies typically decide on their priorities as individual actors. Policy encourages new norms, expectations, and rights across the board. Policymakers can support and encourage these private-sector practices by passing policies that center the needs of Black, Latina, Native American, and other women of color. For example: national paid leave, universal health care, public support for child care, and refundable tax credits that enable workers at all income levels to save and invest in their futures.
Politicians are starting to step up to address the drivers of racial and gender inequity. In early July, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, teamed up with Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, for a bipartisan proposal to support struggling Black-owned businesses in the wake of COVID-19. In late July, former vice president Joe Biden rolled out his “Build Back Better” agenda, followed by his “Agenda for Women,” which included commitments and specific policies to close the racial and gender wealth gaps. Candidates in local races have embraced solutions as well, sharing plans to advance racial and gender justice in their own communities.
A public-private approach is important
Women of color need more than plans; they need action and commitment. Even if companies do their part to ensure women of color have better access to tech jobs, policymakers need to step in and support those efforts. Diverse companies benefit by seeing more innovation and increased revenue. Our economy benefits as people of color, women, and women of color are able to save and invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.
We’re in an important moment where private and public sector leaders are recognizing the importance of race and gender-conscious policies. If we build on the momentum by boldly centering women of color in a new economy for all, the benefits will be groundbreaking and far-reaching.
Dwana Franklin-Davis is the CEO of Reboot Representation.
Heather McCulloch is the founder and executive director of Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap.