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Women of colour face obstacles in pursuing tech careers

Two-year study takes in-depth look at challenges and what the industry needs to overcome diversity barriers


NPower, a large nonprofit tech training program in the USA, has released a two-year study that takes an in-depth look at the obstacles young women of colour face entering the technology industry and what the industry needs to overcome diversity barriers. 

The report supported by the Citi Foundation, Breaking Through, Rising Up: Strategies for Propelling Women of Colour in Technology, interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 tech executives, board advisors and NPower alumni to quantify and qualify how the tech industry views women of colour and the barriers women face. The data driven report highlights the challenges and opportunities that emerge from investing in women of colour from low-to-moderate income communities. It also sheds new light on the industry fact that less than 10 percent of all tech professionals are women of colour.

Solutions and recommendations for tech leaders

The CEO of NPower, Bertina Ceccarelli, said this new research delves into the industry’s shortcomings for diversity in the workplace, while also providing solutions and recommendations for tech leaders.

“This is one of the most in-depth looks at specific and unique barriers young Black and Latinx women face in pursuing training and employment in the tech labor market – specifically those without college degrees and from underserved communities,” said Ceccarelli. “The recommendations in this research will help tech executives recruit, hire and retain more women of colour in their workforce. This diversity report is in line with the NPower mission to bring more diversity to the tech industry by empowering and offering men and women of colour the opportunities and resources to succeed.”

Citi Foundation awarded NPower a $1.64 million, two-year grant in 2018 to increase enrollment of young women of colour in their training program to 40 percent by the year 2022 and to increase the onboarding for women of colour to their instructional team to 40% as well. The “40 by 22 Initiative” was an intentional effort to deploy new strategies and share best practices on how to attract and prepare women of colour for a career in technology.

“Two years ago, we extended our longtime partnership with NPower to further support and empower women of colour in their technology careers through the 40 by 22 initiative,” said Brandee McHale, Head of Citi Community Investing and Development and President of the Citi Foundation. “Through the publication of this report, we hope to inspire others to create pathways to opportunity for young women and communities of colour as we continue to address the systemic inequities in our nation.”

To date, the intersection of gender, race, and class in the technology industry has received little attention. So far, NPower’s 40 by 22 Initiative:
Increased the enrolment of young women in their program 105 percent; helping 378 women of colour to launch tech careers. With close to half of young women unemployed before the program; average salaries of young women after completing their fundamental training reached $42,500; while women taking advanced offerings earn $77,000 annually. Increase the number of women on their instructional team from nine (from one in 2018).

Key Research Findings from NPower female graduates

  • When reflecting on their time in the NPower program:
  • 90 percent of participants had an interest in learning about technolog
  • Women face more challenges and hardships related to childcare, housing, food and transportation and therefore more likely to withdraw from training programs than men
  • 24 percent of female alumni said they worry gender bias will impede their future success, compared to 1 percent of men.

When references their experiences in the workplace:

  • Women report more incidents of stereotypes or discrimination in the workplace (28 percent of female graduates compared to 9 percent men).
  • 35 percent of female graduates were more likely to be assigned administrative tasks like note taking in a meeting compared to 29 percent of males.
  • 29 percent of female students are still searching for employment in IT – among those who are unemployed in IT compared to 1 percent of males.
  • Average salary for NPower alumni was $55,600 with no significant difference between male and female graduates.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we all live and work,” said Ceccarelli. “As the country recovers from the health impacts, and the economy begins to rebound from the current recession, it reinforces that communities of colour who have been most impacted by the pandemic and institutional racism—particularly women of colour—must be part of any inclusive workforce plan.”