Is there Equity in the Tech Workforce?

Oct 12, 2018 BY Ulysses Smith
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The advent of new technologies has captivated the world. From the latest phones to the ability to have a full conversation with your washing machine, technology continues to shape our lives in ways we did not previously think possible. As a result, the industry is growing at a pace with which the current workforce can’t sustain. It is estimated that there will be 1 million more tech jobs to fill than workers to fill them by 2020.[1] While that seemed far away in the days of the Jetsons, the reality is that we are already there. With this comes the time to start asking critical questions and developing solutions to building the workforce of the future with equity as the foundation.

Equity is often met with a sideways glance, particularly when compared with equality. Equity often seems unfair. Most people would agree that equality is something for which we strive in many contexts, be it equal protection under the law or equal pay for equal work. Equality in simplest terms is treating everybody the same: the same opportunities, rights, support, etc. In many respects, equality is the normative goal for which we should strive. However, equality is not enough, and its narrative is incomplete. When we treat everybody the same, we actually get disparate outcomes that often put those from underrepresented backgrounds and those with much less privilege at a constant disadvantage. Equality ignores individuality -- it does not account for history, circumstances, or unique characteristics. It certainly ignores the various parts of our social identities that are often top of mind, like race and gender.

But equity shifts that focus to individual characteristics and demands a focus on circumstances and context. Equity focuses on making sure that everyone has the specific things they need to be successful. We can think of it in the context of making people ‘whole’ in financial cases. An action by a company causes one person to lose 18% of their whole and another person to lose 36%. If we adopted equality alone to make both individuals whole, we could do one of three things. We could say that we’ll give both parties the same 18% back, resulting in one person being whole and the other recovering half of what they lost. We could give both parties 36%, resulting in one person being made whole and the other with a significant surplus. We could give both parties the same arbitrary amount of 7% (or more) of their loses, regardless of outcome. Each of these scenarios probably seems unfair to most, but that is equality. An equitable approach, on the other hand, simply requires that we give each person the amount they lost so that they are complete, resulting in each party receiving a different amount but ending at the same state of being whole.

It is the application of this concept that we must bring to the workforce of the future, and it is this pursuit of an equitable future that led me to join the board for The Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions (CTWS). CTWS is a new think tank that studies the intersection of technology and the workforce, and leverages those insights to produce data-driven, smart policies and methodologies to ensure a productive, viable and equitable 21st century workforce.

Through the work of CTWS, we can ask and answer a different set of questions around equity in the tech workforce of the future:

■What are the persistent barriers to accessing tech jobs that are present for various groups?

■What are the most effective means of removing those barriers and what resources must be dedicated to ensuring the success of those who enter?

■What are the internal practices of companies that result in a diverse workforce and increased innovation?

■How do we provide the current workforce with the resources they need to upskill, while introducing tech in primary and secondary education, with particular focus on historically marginalized groups?

All these questions and more we answer in the context of living at a time when the way in which education is being delivered and skills are being acquired is changing. We do this at a time when even the best results show us that large tech firms hire Black and Latinx individuals at less than half the rate at which they graduate from the top programs.[2] We do this at a time when we still see the denial of many rights and the lack of equal protection under the law for many groups. Though the Center of Technology and Workforce Solution’s efforts are focused on the tech industry, my hope is that the application and impact of this work will be shared universally. My passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion burns brightly and I am confident that the work of CTWS will shape the future of the tech workforce, just as tech has shaped our lives.

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Ulysses J. Smith is a strategist and consultant. He is founder and CEO of Archetype D&I Consulting. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter. Follow Archetype on LinkedIn for more updates.



[1] “Promote Computer Science,” Code.org: https://code.org/promote

[2] “Diversity in High Tech,” US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/reports/hightech/index.cfm