As the United States works to recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Black workers are being left behind. They remain especially shut out of technology and computer science careers, which are among the fastest-growing, highest-paying occupations in our increasingly digital economy.
Fewer than 5% of employees at major technology companies are Black. And as we celebrate Black Business Month in August, it’s important to recognize that Black-owned businesses make up just 2% in the United States.
While organizations across the country have announced ambitious initiatives to increase the share of Black workers in tech by widening access to education and training, we cannot educate and train our way to racial economic equity without also addressing the other systemic barriers Black workers face.
To eliminate the economic hurdles stymying Black Americans in tech, we must design a set of bold, purposefully built race-conscious solutions.
This starts with addressing basic needs like childcare, affordable housing, food, reliable transportation and access to technology. One in five Black households lives in a food desert and nearly half of the people experiencing homelessness in America are Black. Despite significant efforts by business and government before and during the pandemic, nearly 30% of Black Americans still lack access to high-speed internet in their homes. And due to racial wealth gaps generations in the making, Black students are far more likely to finance their education through loans.
Colleges and policymakers must work to reduce the financial and administrative burdens placed on students. For their part, employers can work with institutions to offer new and innovative finance models to alleviate the cost and risk of pursuing the kinds of programs that lead to higher wages and economic stability. Approaches like financial aid for short-term credentials, lifelong learning accounts and pay-for-success programs could help shift the shared financial responsibility.
Professional networks, mentors and sponsors are key to ensuring Black workers can navigate career paths. More than three-quarters of Black workers in digital and IT careers who had career mentors rated the experience as highly useful, saying the relationships helped them grow their network and receive valuable advice on how to develop their careers. But more than half of the Black workers surveyed report never having a mentor. Successful Black role models in technology remain too few and far between, perpetuating a vicious cycle of exclusion.
Closing the mentorship gap requires us to reverse decades of disparate investment in Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Even after record amounts of venture funding flowed to Black founders last year, they still only accounted for 1% of venture capital. The dearth of Black-owned businesses helps cement the lack of mentorship opportunities Black workers can access. Black entrepreneurs encounter myriad barriers erected by structural racism and sustained through implicit bias, including a lack of access to financial capital, credit and business networks. More investment is needed in accelerators, incubators and other programs that offer coaching, support, and community for Black founders and tech workers.
Comcast RISE, for instance, provides resources, including marketing support, technology services and monetary grants, to small businesses owned by people of color. Likewise, the company’s LIFT Labs supports entrepreneurs through startup accelerators, mentorship sessions with employees and partners, and educational resources designed to help launch and grow new businesses.
Employers must also commit to cultivating mentors from within their own ranks, creating and sustaining workplace cultures that will create long-term opportunities for advancement — well beyond the point of hire. They can redesign their employee engagement and workplace practices to better support Black workers, reduce bias, and promote sponsorship and mentorship opportunities in the workplace. Providing a transparent roadmap for career development and advancement helps ensure Black workers have a path toward promotion and becoming the role models younger workers need.
Closing equity gaps in tech is about removing the environmental constraints preventing Black workers from accessing the high-wage, high-growth careers that hold the keys to long-term economic and social mobility in a tech-driven economy. We must finally dismantle entrenched patterns of occupational segregation and work to move communities forward for generations to come.
Michael Collins is the Vice President at JFF.
Dalila Wilson-Scott is the Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation.