How to get more Black women into IT roles

Race and gender bias, as well as a lack of representation, are among the obstacles Black women face when pursuing a career in IT

Women, and in particular Black women, are hugely under-represented in the IT industry. Research from the British Computer Society (BCS) shows Black women account for just 0.7 per cent of IT roles, 2.5 times below the level of other professions.

Black British Business Awards released a report with J.P. Morgan in January that identifies “the gross failings of businesses to collectively address and act upon racial disparity in the workplace”.

Afiya Chohollo, director of technical programme management at digital identity firm Onfido, says: “For companies with big pockets and all the ideas to solve the world’s big challenges, it’s not an acceptable excuse to not have Black people and women in your teams, particularly in major cities like London. It’s lazy and negligent and bad for the bottom line.

“Important, life-impacting applications should not be built by teams that do not represent society.”

Lack of role models

One of the key issues is the absence of Black female leaders in the IT sector, which then discourages Black women from pursuing a career in the industry.

“Role models are important. It is always affirming to see someone like you when you walk into a room because dealing with micro-aggressions is more challenging than anything,” says Chohollo.

Dinah Cobbinah is the first Black female partner in KPMG UK’s history. She recognises there are few women in similar positions.

“There aren’t many Black women in senior roles, let alone within IT. But when you start to funnel down in terms of ratios of women in IT roles, there are even fewer Black women within that,” she says.

“If organisations are serious about turning the dial and increasing opportunities for under-represented groups, things need to be done differently. Change cannot happen overnight, but we all need to build a sustainable pipeline of talent, rethink how and where we source talent, provide the career path and have visible role models. You need to see it to be it.”

Recruitment bias

The problem starts with recruitment, says Chinonso Izugbokwe, managing director of Get2Talent, a recruitment agency committed to promoting and driving diversity in the hiring process.

Izugbokwe believes racism and gender recruitment stereotypes remain a significant barrier to Black women’s career entry into IT. However, it is also difficult to identify and prevent.

“Recruitment processes and practices can be designed to reduce the role of gender recruitment discrimination, such as making the recruitment process gender neutral, promoting female candidates in their selection or anonymising CVs. The hiring managers and talent acquisition team alike can avoid the negative outcomes associated with gender recruitment stereotypes,” he says.

Izugbokwe adds that lack of recruitment guidance promoting career progression opportunities poses another problem. This puts off Black female candidates as they cannot see future opportunities for development.

Encouraging talent

There are, however, several initiatives currently underway to encourage more Black women into tech. Coding Black Females has joined forces with the BCS to offer 50 women membership of the BCS. At the same time, Niyo Enterprise and Coding Black Females have partnered to put on a six-month Coding Bootcamp programme for UK Black women aged over 18 who are unemployed or employed with a salary of less than £25,000.

HOST, the Home of Skills & Technology at MediaCityUK, has just launched Skills City in Salford. Offering technology bootcamp academies, it says it is committed to fast-tracking 450 technology career starts for women and the Black, Asian and minority ethnic community in the North.

Additionally, the TechUPWomen training programme recently took 100 women from the Midlands and North of England from under-represented communities, with degrees or experience in any subject area, and retrained them in technology. It then gave them the opportunity to interview with a company for an internship, apprenticeship or job.

“There are lots of great initiatives helping to not only upskill women in tech, but also work to change the narrative and dispel industry myths,” says Dr Rashada Harry, enterprise account manager at Amazon Web Services, and founder of Your Future, Your Ambition, which encourages young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

“This work is critical as organisations and leaders recognise the importance that culturally diverse perspectives bring to businesses, especially in fostering innovation on behalf of customers and ultimately advancing the wider industry.”

Diverse workforce

The IT skills gap continues to cause problems for organisations, especially with the pandemic forcing organisations to accelerate their cloud migrations quicker and digitalise their business processes. But there is now an opportunity for organisations to fill that skills gap, while diversifying their workforce.

Organisations must start by examining how accessible their employment practices are and what barriers to entry exist to candidates of all genders and ethnicities.

“Being a woman comes with its fair share of challenges, often facing gender discrimination and bias in the workplace,” says Izugbokwe at Get2Talent. “But, if you are a woman of colour, these gender-based challenges are often compounded by obstacles of racism, making it even harder for Black professionals to navigate their way to the top.

“Organisations need to evaluate their work performance strategy to see if they have barriers in place stopping Black women from reaching roles that are more senior.”