Why is there a gender imbalance in the technology industry? Based on recent research, the ratio of men to women is roughly 70% to 30%, respectfully. And, as we continue to further explore these statistics, we learn that the representation of women of color is less than 10%, with Black women only representing 3%. As I reflect on this, it brings to the forefront several questions for consideration. Are women of color aware of the job opportunities in this field? Are there enough supportive systems in place for these women to succeed? Are they being given equal opportunities for career advancement, and pay equity? I invite you to think about the possible answers to these questions when poised from the vantage point of a Black woman working in the tech industry.
As a retired technology executive, and a Black woman, I certainly have my perspectives on this topic and a few answers to these questions. Some of my perspectives are a result of my personal experiences, and others are from countless conversations I have had with other Black women in this field. There is absolutely a direct correlation between these women’s success and the workplace environment.
During a research study conducted by Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), Accenture, and North Carolina Central University, ITSMF learned that Black women were very aware of career paths in technology at early stages in their academic life. However, when they entered the workforce, they often found the environment at many companies lacked gender and ethnic balance. There were seldom people of color, let alone Black women, in C-Suite positions, and they often felt there were “unwritten rules” that impacted their career progression. In their workplace, the women experienced a lack of sponsorship, industry bias, a lack of exposure, toxic company cultures, and a lack of opportunities to advance. As a result, it highlighted a correlation between their negative experiences in the workplace and the individual’s ability to advance, as well as the company’s inability to retain their Black female technology professionals.
Utilizing this knowledge, ITSMF designed a comprehensive development program called Emerge for mid- and executive-level women of color to support their career progression as authentic, driven, knowledgeable, and conscious leaders. The Emerge program was not only designed to help these women grow professionally, but also to lead them on a path of discovery and direction through a Seek (who I am), Study (what I know), and Soar (who I become) curriculum. Eighty-five percent of the participants have received a promotion or increase in job responsibilities within a year to eighteen-months of graduation.
As a board member of the Women’s Business Collaborative, an unprecedented alliance of 44+ women’s business organizations collaborating to achieve equal position, pay, and power for all businesswomen, I co-chair the Women in Technology Action Initiative. Our goals are to decrease the female quit rate in the technology sector by 50% in 2030; have women constitute 35% of all leadership positions in technology by 2025 – with women of color making up 15% of that 35%; and increase the representation of women in C-Suite technology positions by 3% by 2025, with at least 4% of the positions held by women of color.
Based on my experiences and work with Fortune 1000 companies, I believe this is achievable if companies are committed to creating a workplace that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for Black women, and consider implementing the following actions:
- Assign a sponsor to monitor the woman’s career progression, ensure pay equity, and to be her advocate and “voice” in the room where career advancement decisions and assignments are being discussed.
- Identify executive/leadership development programs that are designed for women of color – like ITSMF – and enroll the women in these programs to position them for success.
- Identify mentors who are internal to the company and can assist with career navigation.
- Identify external mentors and places for her to network with people who are Black and can share their learnings in a safe, secure setting, while providing her with invaluable insights.
- Eliminate any inequities that exist:
- Ensure her title is the same as her peers
- Align her compensation with her peers
- Identify and address the “roadblocks” that exist as she navigates her career path
- Educate your employees, especially those who are in influential positions, to the inequities that exist, and about the cultural and gender biases that your employees of color are experiencing.
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering, and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
I was moved by this quote because it was said by Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. She was a trailblazer and an iconic leader, and I can only imagine how challenging it was for her to achieve that goal in the late 60’s. As we honor leaders, like Congresswoman Chisolm, during Black History Month, we must also continue to create pathways for others. That is why, as a Black woman who has had a highly successful technology career, I am compelled to encourage people to move away from the sidelines and move to the front. It is time for us to create a new vision for how we will work together, write a new narrative about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and implement changes that will “level the playing field” in corporate America. Be the change, own the vision, and watch to see what will emerge!