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TECH

It’s time to put the pipeline myth to rest and start doing the work to bring about change.

Written by Tammy Xu

“It’s a pipeline problem.” That’s a common refrain when the conversation turns to why the share of Black tech workers is so low. In 2019, Wired reported that the numbers hadn’t improved much in the past five years at the country’s biggest tech companies, who started releasing diversity numbers in 2014 and pledged to do better.

CHALLENGES FACING BLACK WOMEN IN TECH

  • Biased hiring processes
  • Managers resistant to diversity and inclusion efforts
  • Fewer connections and resources for job seekers
  • Lack of representation in company management
  • Under-supported ERGs and D&I departments
  • Less access to venture capital

But Karla Monterroso, CEO of Code2040, a non-profit that works to achieve parity for Black and Latinx workers in tech, said the pipeline argument doesn’t hold up, because far more Black students graduate with computer science degrees than are in the tech workforce, and there are far more open positions in tech than there are graduates to fill them.

“The pipeline problem is an American pipeline problem — there are 700,000 open tech roles in the country, and only 56,000 computer science graduates,” Monterroso said. “And even with that pipeline problem, high-wage work is unwilling to hire Black and Latinx talent that exists. That’s the problem.”

Biased hiring processes limit Black workers’ opportunities in tech. Even when they do land tech jobs, Black women can encounter many challenges their coworkers don’t, ranging from extra personal and work responsibilities to cultural misunderstandings and biases at work, as well as the ongoing effects of historic disinvestment and lack of generational wealth.

Despite these many challenges, Black women in tech have been at the forefront of coming up with solutions, both pushing for change within companies and creating the change themselves.

But Karla Monterroso, CEO of Code2040, a non-profit that works to achieve parity for Black and Latinx workers in tech, said the pipeline argument doesn’t hold up, because far more Black students graduate with computer science degrees than are in the tech workforce, and there are far more open positions in tech than there are graduates to fill them.

“The pipeline problem is an American pipeline problem — there are 700,000 open tech roles in the country, and only 56,000 computer science graduates,” Monterroso said. “And even with that pipeline problem, high-wage work is unwilling to hire Black and Latinx talent that exists. That’s the problem.”

Biased hiring processes limit Black workers’ opportunities in tech. Even when they do land tech jobs, Black women can encounter many challenges their coworkers don’t, ranging from extra personal and work responsibilities to cultural misunderstandings and biases at work, as well as the ongoing effects of historic disinvestment and lack of generational wealth.

Despite these many challenges, Black women in tech have been at the forefront of coming up with solutions, both pushing for change within companies and creating the change themselves.

BIASED HIRING PROCESSES

New York Times study from 2016 found that Black and Hispanic workers who graduated with computer science or engineering degrees were more likely than their white and Asian counterparts to hold jobs outside the fields of technology or engineering. A significant part of the disparity may be due to bias in companies’ recruiting practices.

“Why is it that the job description does not actually match the job?” said Alexandria Butler, founder of Sista Circle, a solidarity network for Black women in tech, about companies’ descriptions in job ads.

Many job descriptions ask for far more qualifications than necessary, adding up to more of a wishlist than a list of requirements. While people of privilege may apply even though they only fit a couple of the descriptions, an intimidating list of requirements can deter other suitable candidates.

“I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri,” Butler said. “I was always taught that I had to be two to three times better than my white counterparts to get the same thing as them, because that’s how racism works … but when I’m reading the job description and it has five things, if I don’t have those five things, I’m not going to apply.”

Much of the time, candidates are hired even though they don’t fulfill every job “requirement” — but it’s impossible to get the job if you are deterred from applying.

“Stanford is not a competency, but it is often treated as if it is.”

 

Monterroso said hiring biases aren’t limited to job descriptions. She cited companies’ reliance on candidates’ academic backgrounds and performance on tricky programming interviews as additional examples. They are poor predictors of work performance, and another way the scales are tipped against Black and Latinx applicants, she said.

“Stanford is not a competency, but it is often treated as if it is,” Monterroso said.

The racial wealth gap, with white families’ median net worth nearly six to seven times higher than that of Black and Latinx families’, means that many Black and Latinx students lack resources to help them gain admission to, or pay for, prestigious colleges, she said. Furthermore, it may be difficult for students who simultaneously work to pay for school to maintain high GPAs.

Monterroso said many programming interviews, which can involve logic puzzles or obscure software concepts, are similarly inaccurate and biased.

Those types of exams privilege “a certain amount of trivia knowledge that’s taught at specific schools, over what it will be like for them to do work in the workplace,” she said. “We are using the same kind of qualifiers for tech interviewing that we use for standardized tests, which have repeatedly shown they are not advantageous for Black and Latinx students.”

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