A quarter-million qualified women of color are currently missing from the tech space. Here’s one solution to the problem

The tech industry is often considered an elite space for well-educated workers who command the highest paying jobs. One of the (many) problems with this narrative is that recruiters are often overlooking qualified candidates in a search for résumés that check all the boxes. As a result, otherwise qualified workers are missing out at the same time the tech industry is facing a labor shortage.

That’s especially true of women of color. In fact, a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis found that even though Black, Latinx, and American Indian women are 20% of the U.S. population, they only make up 5% of today’s tech workers.

But many young women of color who work in non-tech jobs actually have many baseline skills that can help them make the move into the lucrative — yet often exclusionary — sector.

That’s the takeaway from Equation for Equality, a report released this week by NPower, a nonprofit with the mission of advancing underrepresented populations through tech jobs.

NPower’s researchers argue that rapid digitalization has made computer skills increasingly common in jobs that were mostly analog “even a decade ago.” And they want the tech industry to recognize these skills overlap between non-tech and tech jobs.

Women of color who might not have college degrees have “stackable tech skills that can be upskilled to increase their opportunities for economic advancement,” says Candice Dixon, who directs development for NPower’s Command Shift coalition, which trains women of color to build on their baseline skills so they can become eligible for in-demand tech jobs within a matter of weeks.

“For an early career young person, there’s never been a better time to explore a career in tech,” Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower, tells Fortune. The opportunities are increasing at breakneck speed: from 2010 to 2019, jobs in the tech sector grew 39%, and even between 2020 and 2021, the sector added 70,000 new jobs. 

NPower’s report found that there are many tech sector jobs that require skills that workers hone in the service industry, including customer service and sales. With bridge skill programs, people working in service roles can round out their résumés so tech recruiters take note, Ceccarelli says.

The way in

Since 2015, the share of tech roles that, in the job description, ask for experience like basic customer service skills has increased 17%, Ceccarelli says, and administrative skills are up almost 30%. 

Through their research, Ceccarelli and her team found 500 non-tech job categories where workers have the skills, knowledge, and ability required for many tech jobs. The researchers call those jobs ‘tech eligible’.”

Tech-eligible roles include customer service representatives, a field that already includes over 300,000 Black, Latinx, and American Indian women. Representatives commonly use customer relationship management (CRM) software and digital productivity tools — knowledge of which is in high demand in many tech roles.

Another example: electronic records specialists in the health-care field, where women of color are highly concentrated. This role often requires navigating electronic medical record (EMR) software to digitally trace records across databases. 

Women of color are doubly represented in all tech-eligible jobs than they are in tech jobs. The onus, Ceccarelli says, is on the tech companies to widen their pool to include them. 

“Young people have a great appetite for learning and digital agility, which I’m encouraged by,” Ceccarelli says. “They’re eager to find ways to position themselves for a different type of career track.” That transition into tech can mean a pay bump of anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000 within the first few months.

Barriers to entry

Tech is a notoriously difficult sector to break into without targeted prior experience, not to mention its homogenous and sometimes toxic culture. Ceccarelli acknowledges this.

“People think tech jobs are all about coding, and that’s a turnoff for a lot of young women,” she says. “People equate coding jobs with bro culture, and that’s an ethos that maybe doesn’t appeal to them. But the tech sector is so broad. There are subsets within it, like cloud computing, and risk and compliance, that don’t get as much media attention and aren’t as well understood.”

Ceccarelli urges young people — especially women of color, who are today vastly under-represented — to claim their seat at the “tech table.”

“Consider your current skills, invest time getting the ‘bridge skills’ required to land a tech job, and step on a path to the stability and fulfillment that tech jobs can bring,” she says. 

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