To make matters worse, both big and small tech employers often filter minority candidates out of that pool in advance by limiting searches to people with four-year degrees. “That self-selects out a lot of Black and brown people who don’t complete college at the same rate as their white counterparts,” Hopcroft observes.
It does nothing to improve hiring outcomes either, many experts contend, as there’s usually little correlation between a college diploma and the skills needed to succeed in many IT roles. NPower, Mitchell proudly notes, regularly imparts those skills to high-school graduates in as little as six months. “Many employers are looking for that higher-ed credential, but in fact we’re able to provide, in a shorter time frame and in much greater supply, more candidates for those jobs,” she says.
The issues that discourage people of color from pursuing careers in technology, however, begin years before training or apprenticeship programs enter the picture. “We lose people at every step along the way,” Hopcroft says. Underfunded grade schools in minority-heavy urban neighborhoods, for example, often lack the computer labs and robotics clubs found in whiter, more affluent districts, and their students typically don’t have a PC at home.
“There’s a challenge if you haven’t even been exposed to computers that bleeds right into high school and college,” Hopcroft says, noting that many urban children, and rural ones too, don’t have access to broadband either.
The obstacles that keep women out of technology start early as well, and affect girls at every income level. “Girls in grade school and even up until middle school show the same amount of interest and aptitude around some of the science and technology concentrations as boys do,” April says. “Yet by the time they get to the cusp of high school, it becomes almost a social stigma.”
Amy Cliett, who is director of both the annual Women in Tech Summit event and TechGirlz, a CompTIA program that strives to get middle school girls interested in technology and tech-related careers, has witnessed that dynamic firsthand. Middle school, she notes, is when newly adolescent girls once drawn to computers start to become self-conscious about enthusiasms that stereotypes say they’re not supposed to have.
“What happens typically is the girls tend to go into a shell, and if there are boys present then more times than not the boys will be the voices heard,” Cliett says. Middle school, she continues, is also when girls start thinking about who they want to be when they grow up.
“What they know is what’s around them,” Cliett observes. “If nobody in their family is a woman [who’s] in tech, then they don’t know that they can be that."
TechGirlz tries to combat both hurdles by hosting interactive girls-only tech workshops led by industry professionals, community leaders, and fellow students. “If you’re looking at this as a pipeline issue, we’re all the way up [top] filling the funnel,” Cliett says. Along the way, she adds, the group shows girls that they’re not alone in loving computers and exposes them, often for the first time, to grown-up role models who work in IT.
“We hear a lot from the girls that they were really surprised that this woman is high up at [a technology] company that they know,” Cliett says.