While women make up approximately half of the U.S. workforce, they are critically underrepresented in the technology sector, making up a meager 28% of the industry. These numbers are even lower for women of color seeking opportunities in the field, with only 3% of computing-related jobs being filled by African American women, 6% by Asian women and 2% by Hispanic women.
Over the course of February and March, Black History Month and Women’s History Month respectively, conversations often focus on empowering diverse voices to ensure they are represented in society. While these conversations raise awareness, they need to result in action and inherent credibility to shift the narrative surrounding diverse hiring practices given that they act as the conduit between learners and the workforce. In turn, diversity becomes a guide for program development to ensure diverse and female students feel supported in their pursuit of tech-related jobs, helping to address the gender gap in the industry.
To address the gender and diversity disparities, women must have access to resources and learning opportunities that give them the skill sets and confidence to pursue tech careers. This is where higher education institutions can play a significant role in bridging the gap that has kept women from pursuing these career opportunities. Creating greater awareness of job opportunities in the tech industry, potential career paths and sharing how to attain the necessary skills provides emerging talent with a clear trajectory for a future career in tech.
Higher education institutions must recognize the need for inclusive programming and design curriculum that uplifts students from diverse backgrounds.
In higher education, diversity is often thought of as the physical makeup of the student body. But diversity also extends beyond demographic data and should encompass how students learn– taking into consideration the tools they need to succeed. These tools can come in the form of academic success teams or programming rooted in uplifting diverse students to help them achieve their academic and professional goals.
Higher education institutions are tasked with providing the most current and industry-relevant education to students to augment a work-ready pool of talent. To be successful in this mission for all students, institutions must recognize that standard curriculum only addresses part of student need and adaptive programs that can be molded to fit are necessary elements to closing the opportunity gap for female and diverse students. A prime example of a curriculum informed by student need is DeVry University’s Women + Tech Scholars Program, which was established to increase female representation in the tech field by providing women with tools, support and resources such as: access to mentors, early access to industry-related internships and job opportunities, and industry association memberships.
Providing more women with a seat at the table helps to advance the tech industry through collaboration and diversity of thought.
Despite increased efforts to diversify a traditionally homogenous workforce, nearly 70% of tech companies report a lack of diverse representation in their workforce. In 2020, Google reportedthat a mere 5.5% of new hires during that year were Black. Creating a more diverse tech workforce can lead to greater opportunities for collaboration because new perspectives are brought to the forefront that were previously unrepresented – driving innovation, creativity and productivity, which only benefits today’s increasingly digital economy.
“Considering the current workforce and the growing need for tech talent, the share of diverse and female tech employees remains at alarmingly low levels,” said Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media. “Programs like DeVry University’s Women + Tech Scholars Program help create greater awareness of tech careers and give women of all backgrounds the tools they need to persist in this academic path and obtain the skills they need to pursue tech-enabled careers.”
The value of a diverse workforce has the power to introduce new perspectives and ideas from previously underrepresented voices. In doing so--especially in the tech industry--diversity of thought enhances problem-solving exercises because teams are mitigating the potential of finding themselves in an echo chamber of a singular thought derived from similar opinions. Furthermore, studies suggest that companies that prioritize gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to see financial returns that are above national industry averages.
Higher education institutions have an opportunity to create supportive networks and communities through female-centered programming.
Seeing someone from a similar background succeeding in a career path is critical to building awareness. Higher education institutions that create opportunities for women to network and build connections with leaders they can identify with increase the chance of success in these highly sought-after, influential industries.
“Access to education alone is not enough. Students, particularly those from underrepresented communities, need support, opportunities and resources throughout their education journey,” added Veronica Calderón, DeVry University’s chief inclusion, belonging and equity officer.
As diversity, equity and inclusion maintain relevance in influencing the labor market of the future, higher education institutions can help companies achieve their goal of diversifying their employee base—a goal that’s seen significant support from employees across industries —through adaptive, inclusive curriculum. Colleges and universities can aid companies in bridging the diversity gap by creating communities for their underrepresented student populations, which encourages persistence in industries like tech. Carving out unique, defined spaces in which diverse and female communities can feel a sense of belonging helps increase overall academic performance, persistence and academic success, which can translate into professional success post-graduation.
Women represent a vital part of the tech industry’s future but creating footholds for continued success has proven challenging despite renewed efforts toward diversifying the field. Higher education institutions are in a unique position to foster diverse talent by providing access to educational opportunity and tailored support. Creating a more diverse pool of talent also empowers companies to usher in new ways of working that expand creativity and knowledge and enhance innovation. As diversity in tech remains a topic of critical importance, the deployment of comprehensive and agile programming that focuses on female learners allows women, particularly women from diverse backgrounds, to break down barriers that have persisted in the tech industry for decades.