Op-Ed: Why We Must Close The Black Tech Talent Gap Now
Tech moves at a fast clip. I’ve seen this firsthand in my career, the last eight years of which I’ve spent at McKinsey & Company helping businesses use tech more efficiently, by developing cloud and security transformations.
The systems and technology may evolve, but one thing has remained largely the same: I’m often the only Black woman in a room full of technologists. We might speak the same technical language, but our experiences couldn’t differ more. I’ve tried to embrace everyone’s differences, relating to people in other ways. Because this has been my journey, this topic was incredibly important to me as it is so to so many others.
Closing the Black tech talent gap — which persists despite diversity efforts from the world’s leading businesses — is now more important than ever. Black people make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce but only 8% of employees in tech jobs, and an even smaller 3% of technology executives in the Fortune 500, no surprise to many of us who are one-of-one in a room. That disparity has a sizeable impact on Black wealth: The wage gap in tech roles is expected to grow 37%, worth a cumulative $350 billion in lost wages for Black families, by 2030.
Increasing Black representation in technology jobs isn’t just about bridging wage gaps. It means improving the lives of those who are regularly othered, diminished, and discounted in workplaces where they may be the only Black person. For businesses, it also means having a clear competitive advantage, like being able to develop inclusive technologies that have transformative potential for Black communities. For example, digital banking platforms designed to be inclusive of Black consumers provide financial services that can improve the living standards in communities underserved by traditional banks.
What can be done? Across the career journey, there are five critical areas where aspiring Black technologists change paths, lose out on jobs, or get stuck. It happens as early as grade school when young Black students miss out on STEM learning opportunities. As a result, STEM careers are often seen as less attractive.
According to research by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, Black students are twice as likely to view professional athletics as a successful career choice as opposed to a career in engineering or science-related fields. The gap reaches college-age students, particularly those enrolled in HBCUs, where corporate partnerships and internship programs may fall short. In hiring, Black people have often been overlooked for roles they may be qualified to do, but where they may lack some technology skills they could easily learn. And when it comes to retention and growth, Black technologists often lack sponsors who are invested in them, while companies may not offer nuanced or relevant executive training courses specifically to help Black tech talent thrive.
While it’s on everyone — but particularly the people at the top — to drive change, you should feel empowered to ask your teams what they are doing to help close the gap. Does our company have a relationship with more than just the most well-known HBCUs? Where are hiring managers sourcing talent? Have we removed systemic barriers and ingrained biases from our recruiting and interviewing processes? Could we be training talent with a diverse set of skills? Do we have a sponsorship program instead of just a mentorship program to provide interested employees with access to career growth opportunities?
For example, at McKinsey, we’ve taken steps to ensure we’re helping to close the tech talent gap ourselves. We recently expanded our tech presence in Atlanta, where more than half of the population is Black, with plans to open a full-scale Technology and Innovation Hub by 2025.
But there’s more work to be done, not only by us but by every technology employee and leader. The next generation of Black tech talent depends on it.
Jan Shelly Brown is a partner in McKinsey & Company’s New Jersey office.