Despite a recent push to address diversity issues in IT, data shows that Black professionals still face an uphill battle in the tech industry, receiving less recognition, opportunity, and acceptance than non-Black peers.
Because of this, according to a report from Russel Reynolds Associates and Valence, 47% of Black technology professionals “strongly agree” that they must switch between companies more regularly for career growth, whereas only 28% of non-Black respondents said the same.
To advance their careers and earn more pay, Black talent in the tech industry move employers every 3.5 years on average, while their non-black peers report switching jobs every 5.1 years on average. This is especially common for those with less than 10 years of experience. According to the report, “on average, Black tech talent stays at each company for 2 years, while their non-black peers stay for 4.5 years.”
In addition to providing Black IT pros less opportunity for advancement, companies that are not addressing issues that underlie this turnover are also costing themselves talent and money. The study assigns a value of $144,000 per tech employee, meaning that tech companies in aggregate lose the equivalent of $1.2 billion dollars each year because of inequitable and often unwelcoming work environments.
Here are five revealing statistics that show how far the IT industry still has to go before it can truly become a level playing field.
Unfair and hostile work environments
A study from The Kapor Center for Social Impact and The Ford Foundation found unfair treatment to be the top driver of employee turnover, in particular for employees from underrepresented groups. More than one in three Black participants in the 2017 survey said they left a job or company due to unfairness within the past year. Of those surveyed, 25% of underrepresented men and women of color reported experiencing stereotyping at twice the rate of White and Asian men and women — and nearly 30% of women of color say they were passed over for a promotion. Unsurprisingly, stereotyping and bullying were related to length of employment — the more toxicity experienced, the shorter the amount of time an employee will stay in their job.
While most people adjust behaviors or appearance at work, Black tech talent are “more frequently code-switching in aspects deeply related to their identity, which elicits many questions about the way authentic ‘blackness’ is received in the industry,” according to the report from Russel Reynolds Associates and Valence. Code-switching is the act of changing your behavior to better fit in to an environment and avoid drawing negative attention. The research shows that Black professionals are more than three times as likely than their non-Black peers to avoid sharing personal details about themselves, keep work and personal friend groups separate, change their hairstyles to be more “acceptable,” bring food to work that is considered more “mainstream,” and use a nickname or abbreviated name to feel more accepted at work.
Retaining hires from underrepresented groups requires re-examining your work environment to ensure it is welcoming for a diverse range of employees. If new hires quickly find your internal culture allows for microaggressions, hostility, a pressure to code-switch, and an inability to bring one’s authentic self to work, you can’t expect them to stay. Companies need to evaluate their workplace culture for bias, discrimination, and inequities to make sure everyone can feel safe and supported. If you’re experiencing a high turnover rate with people of color in your organization, that’s a red flag that significant changes need to be made.
A lack of representation in leadership
Turnover not only costs companies billions in profits, it also negatively impacts leadership diversity, a crucial factor in creating a more diverse and welcoming working environment, as it is difficult for employees to imagine career growth at a company if they don’t see anyone that looks like them at the top.
A report from McKinsey & Co. estimates that, at current tech hiring and promotion rates, it will take 95 years for Black employees to reach “talent parity” (12% representation) in the private sector. This is a disheartening statistic that won’t change without considerable work being done at the top.
Both Black and non-Black professionals agree that their leaders “regularly exhibit inclusive leadership behaviors in some way,” but only 25% of both groups said that their leaders “always lead with fairness, objectivity, and transparency.” Companies shouldn’t take that information lightly — if employees in your organization don’t feel supported by leadership, they will leave. Organizations need to take honest stock of the state of DEI in the organization and create goals to change any inequities or implicit biases that are baked into the culture.
It’s important that everyone is represented at the top — when decisions are being made, everyone’s voice needs to be heard. Diversifying leadership isn’t just about hitting DEI goals, it’s about creating an environment that takes everyone into consideration equally when developing organizational goals. Leadership needs to be honest about representation in the organization and transparent about the company’s failings, while also setting clear targets to improve and to hold leadership accountable to DEI goals.
A lack of opportunity
Black tech professionals also face an “information disadvantage” when it comes to getting ahead in their IT careers. According to the Russel Reynolds Associates and Valence report, Black IT pros are often not afforded the same “level of insight into how the game is played, who they need to know, and how to plan their paths for success.” When asked, 78% of non-Black tech professionals said they understood the importance of networking in the industry, while 56% of Black tech talent said the same. And 57% of non-Black talent said they typically find out about open roles through their network, while only 39% of Black talent said the same.
There’s also a severe lack of sponsorship for Black tech talent in the industry. Sponsorship is different than mentorship because it’s directly tied to your ability to move up in the company. Having someone higher up in the organization who can vouch for you and champion your successes when it comes time for promotions is a huge factor in corporate success. Oftentimes, Black tech workers struggle to find sponsorship in the organization because leaders tend to sponsor workers who are more like them — typically white and male. Ensuring Black IT pros have the same opportunities for sponsorship as their non-black peers can go a long way in ensuring they are afforded the same career growth opportunities as everyone else.
Evaluate your sponsorship programs to make sure they work for everyone. Connect Black talent in the organization with the resources and network to grow their careers, giving them the tools to understand how “the game” is played. Build performance reviews to have more structure and transparency, and make sure everyone in the company understands the expectations going into performance reviews, rather than just assuming they’re all on the same page or working with the same information.
Higher standards, lower ceilings
Once Black tech professionals hit mid-career, they are more likely to express dissatisfaction with the performance evaluation process. Only 29% of Black tech professionals with 10 to 20 years of experience are satisfied with the equality of their “level of recognition and of the equality of their pay,” whereas 47% of non-Black professionals said the same. This group of mid-career professionals report being promoted nearly half as often as their non-Black counterparts, even with the same amount of experience. Black tech professionals with 10 to 20 years of experience report three promotions on average for their careers, while their non-Black coworkers report having received five or more promotions on average.
Another report from Russel Reynolds Associates, Divides and Dividends: Leadership Actions for a More Sustainable Future, found that 63% of C-suite leaders agree that leaders in their company show favoritism for employees who are like themselves, especially when it comes to promotions, and 62% agreed that it’s “easier for individuals of certain ethnicities or backgrounds to get promoted than others, regardless of their capability and performance.” This is only exacerbated when companies focus too heavily on hiring for a “culture fit,” especially if the culture is one that is not inclusive to all its workers.
Leaders need to take a hard look at their hiring and promotion practices and address processes that allow for bias and discrimination to play a part in who gets to advance in the company.
Outdated mindsets, moving goalposts
Senior Black tech talent and executives with 21 or more years of experience in the industry point to the fact that “the bar moves subjectively, no matter what.” Regardless of what they accomplish or contribute, this cohort of Black IT pros say they are often eliminated or overlooked for opportunities based on what they “haven’t accomplished,” an outdated and problematic mindset about “who is qualified to lead.” For many Black technology leaders, they believe that “no matter how much they achieve, it will ever be enough,” and only 29% say they are satisfied with the career opportunities they’ve had to date, compared to 52% of non-Black tech professionals with the same level of experience.
Many Black executives and senior Black tech professionals say that one of the biggest roadblocks they have encountered has been a lack of access to “critical development experiences,” compared to non-Black counterparts. Nearly 90% of non-Black tech professionals with more than 20 years of experience have led “major company initiatives,” while only 61% of Black tech professionals with the same amount of experience can say the same. And nearly 25% of Black tech professionals with extensive experience in the industry do not feel they will have the chance to lead a major company initiative, while only 7% of their non-Black counterparts said the same.
Investing in leadership development is crucial, and it’s equally important to ensure your Black tech staff is receiving the same development opportunities as their non-Black peers. Ensure your leadership is trained on DEI and inclusive leadership skills — try interviewing leaders to get a sense of how they’d handle different scenarios related to diversity and recognizing implicit and internal bias. You can’t change inequities in your company culture overnight, but you can make concerted efforts and take steps in weeding out homogeneity in tech to build a more diverse and equitable industry.