The demand for information technology workers is growing, and the available supply isn’t keeping pace. With the retirement of the baby boomer generation in full swing, worker shortages are only going to be more apparent in the year to come. In addition, if the information technology field cannot attract a more diverse population, the field is going to suffer.
Tech companies are generally not known for diversity. The IT workforce is predominantly White or Asian males. Even though many companies announce diversity initiatives on a regular basis, they can only hire from the worker pool that is available. In addition, that pool is created based on their choices in higher education.
Minorities in computer science
In 2013, a study showed that, out of all of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer science through 179 prestigious universities, 4.5 percent were awarded to Black students, and 6.5 percent went to Hispanic students. However, the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the population was 12.6 percent Black and 16.3 percent Hispanic as of 2010.
This suggests that minority students aren’t being attracted into the computer science field. Couple this with the low number of Black and Hispanic students participating in the AP Computer Science exam in high school and that fact becomes more apparent.
Since Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in technology-oriented education, they will be underrepresented in the information technology workforce as well. In addition, this issue is compounded by negative impressions many minorities have regarding the culture at many tech companies.
Minority hiring at tech companies
The hiring numbers from tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook do not paint a welcoming picture to minority students interested in technical fields. Often, this negative impression leads minorities to seek work in lower-paying positions outside of traditional tech companies. In fact, many default to office or administrative positions even though their degrees indicate greater potential.
So how can additional diversity in information technology higher education help overcome low levels of hiring? By creating a larger qualified candidate pool of minority students. If there are more available, then companies may be moved to hire more minority applicants.
Part of what encourages students to pursue specific degrees is a sense of belonging. Often, this involves finding a role model with traits similar to their own as a source of inspiration to move forward. In technology, the population working in the field lacks diversity, making it more challenging for students to find suitable role models from which to choose.
In some cases, the lack of diversity is apparent even sooner. For example, university, college and high school teachers are seen as representatives of the field for many students. If there is no diversity in hiring for these teaching positions, minority students may be less inclined to picture themselves pursuing these fields even if they otherwise have an interest in the work.
If educational institutions hire with an unconscious bias, similar to what may exist in the technology community as a whole, then they are likely to choose instructors based on preconceived notions instead of purely on capability. By breaking the cycle, and introducing computer science and technology students to a diverse group of educators throughout their schooling, the amount of diversity in the field as a whole can increase. In addition, once diversity is seen as the norm, it will support a cycle of diversity and inclusion instead of what we see today.
Matthew Lynch is a higher education consultant and owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC. He currently resides in Richmond, Virginia.