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3 Ways to Debug Tech’s Diversity Gap (2021)Silicon Valley is struggling with a bit of an image problem. That image?Straight, white, male.In 2018, women filled only 25% of all computing-related occupations — which isabout the same percentage that we saw in the 1960s. For African-American andHispanic populations, the representation in these fields is far below thenational distribution.And at the intersection of race and gender, the state of women in tech is evenbleaker: 65% of women in computing occupations are white, 19% areAsian/Pacific Islander, only 7% are African American, and 7% are Latina.In 2021, computer programmers are meritocratic winners who wield considerablepower in society. Engineers at Facebook — or more precisely, the algorithmsthey program — decide what news we see and what ads we get served.(If you think that ads aren’t linked to economic opportunity, think again.)Many formerly analog tasks — hailing a taxi, dimming the lights — now rely oncode that only programmers can hope to understand fully. If women andminorities are left out of coding jobs now, that omission could haveramifications on the structure of our society for years to come.It’s clear by now that social and environmental forces contribute to thedifferences in earning potential for women and minorities, and that theseforces also hold the same people back from careers in STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, and Math).What needs to be done? Let’s take a look at how to debug the diversity gap.## DreamHost Takes Inclusivity SeriouslyWe regularly report on diversity, accessibility, and representation in thetech workforce. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter so you never miss anarticle.## 1. Give Every Student Access to Computer Science ClassesEarly exposure to skills is crucial for securing a job in one of the best-paidand fastest-growing industries around. Yet, the majority of U.S. high schoolsare not teaching computer science classes.Some schools in the U.S. are exposing young people to the basics ofprogramming, which serves to improve their familiarity and comfort with thesesubjects. But to open the doors of the tech meritocracy to theunderprivileged, coding needs to be taught in public schools as early aspossible — even in elementary school.As you’d expect, there are a lot of barriers to this.Because the U.S. public education system depends heavily on local control,it’s impossible to design and implement sweeping changes to curricula in onefell swoop. National standards like Common Core and testing-focused federalprograms like No Child Left Behind often leave little room for enrichmentclasses or electives.In some cases, nonprofits and businesses are stepping in to fill the gap. Forinstance, Google pledged $25 million to support programs that help Black andLatino students access computer science education. But a charity initiativehere or there isn’t likely to create broad-based change.## 2. Expand the Scope of NonprofitsWe’ve certainly been entering the Era of the Nonprofit for the past few years,and nonprofits that aim to teach coding to women and people of color abound. Afew examples:Lack of access to training isn’t the only issue these groups face. Forinstance, in the case of underprivileged youth, a major challenge is thelimited access some of these underrepresented students have to computers.But the hurdles extend beyond the physical, especially when it comes toconnecting students with jobs that utilize their training. Limitationsexperienced in this realm — such as the absence of a professional network oran unfriendly corporate culture — can prevent any would-be software engineeror developer from thriving. Successful nonprofit coding programs will be thosethat succeed in the final stretch: job placement, hiring, and support duringthe transition.## 3. Retain Diverse TalentIt’s not just a lack of candidates in the pipeline that’s keepingrepresentation low; it’s also a lack of retention. Support needs to continueafter coders become established in their careers. At 10 to 20 years into theirtech careers, 56% of women leave the field — at a quit-rate double that ofmen.Why are they leaving?One small study found that the most common reasons women leave tech jobs are alack of opportunity for career growth, poor management, and the gender paygap. Older research cites poor workplaces including few opportunities fordevelopment and training, little support for outside-of-work responsibilities,and undermining bosses.A 2019 study published in Nature found that nearly half of women in scienceleave after having their first child, compared to 23% of men. Clearly,something needs to be done to better support parents in STEM fields,particularly working mothers.There are a number of ways to support and retain female and minority coders,starting with simply calling out their accomplishments and good ideas.Nonprofits that encourage professional networking, like Women Who Code, cancertainly help women find their tribe in the industry. Still, in the end, itwill be up to tech companies themselves to enact policies to retain femaletalent.## The Reality of the Diversity GapThe tech industry is booming, which, in theory, should mean more demand forprogramming labor. But with barriers to intercontinental communication quicklyvanishing, more and more programming and web-design jobs based in the U.S. arebeing outsourced to lower-paid workers in other countries.In fact, computer programming jobs are projected to decrease by 9% over thenext eight years in the U.S., even as the computer technology industry isexpected to grow by 11%.Whether computer programming serves to be an equalizer or perpetuator ofinequality in the U.S. may depend on how fast minority groups can participateand get a “piece of the pie,” so to speak, before the available opportunitiesshrink.The bad news is that it’s looking like underrepresented groups will still haveto try twice as hard for a shot at the same jobs, which is truly unfair.There is good news too.People are more aware than ever that the diversity gap in tech (and beyond) isa real problem. Ultimately, the U.S. education system will adapt, nonprofitswill grow, and more female and minority students will find — and stay in —careers in computing-related tasks.After all, diverse teams are the only way companies will keep up with thechanging demands of a world where computers are not going away.