The Tech Pipeline Issue: The Greatest Half Lie Ever Told

Photo borrowed from techcrunch.com

One of the greatest incomplete stories I’ve heard in the last 6 years is that there are not enough candidates in the pipeline in the field of STEM. When you hear people refer to the pipeline itself they are describing number of women and racial minorities that are “qualified” for a job opportunity. I am calling BS on this half fact and there are 3 reasons why: 1)the absence of acknowledging that the term “qualified” is homogeneously biased 2)the flaws in the recruiting process of visible and invisible diverse populations outside of homogenous cultures, and 3)the lack of resources being poured into K-12 educational institutions that serve underrepresented populations.

When looking at the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds taking AP computer science courses in the state of California, Black and Hispanic students make up 60% of California’s student population, yet only 16% of the population taking AP computer science courses. These underrepresented groups are also less likely to have access to and exposure to computer science at home and elsewhere (Forbes, 2018). These are a few of the areas where we must enforce systemic change in order to produce more equitable outcomes for current and future candidates in STEM areas.

When you hear people speak about the fallacy of the pipeline problem, bias causes us to do a number of things. First, being that we immediately use blame aimed at the victims of systemic oppression and ask “why aren’t you picking STEM as a focus.” As if girls are choosing to sit in the back of the class isn’t heavily due to the misrepresentation and encouragement enabled by the perpetuating and historic representation of STEM as a man’s field. Just one example, there’s more. Second, there is this myth that our communities do not encourage our children to go into STEM. It seems as if we don’t recognize the contribution of historical oppression impacting the progress of underrepresented communities in the field of STEM, especially tech. STOP blaming the victim for their/our underrepresentation in this nation’s workplace.

We also don’t do enough recognize and solve for the barriers facing graduates from underrepresented populations with STEM degrees from getting in the door. Issues of homogenous institutional selection for candidates, biased interviewing processes, misadvising of students, and financial barriers, etc. Let’s go as far as even recognizing candidates in higher educational institutions who fall through the cracks of the pipeline due to institutional bias and discriminatory practices. Yes my readers, it is a shit show!

Jobs in the field of STEM, especially computing and math, are expected to be the fastest-growing of any other occupation by 2022. Yet STEM programs that aim to train and support underrepresented populations can’t grow fast enough to keep up with the demand. This is why it is up to us to change our current systems to ensure that no one is left behind. We expect these programs to solely undo the work to fix their problem. It’s not just their responsibility! In order to undo this a reality we must work to do what some people might think is outrageous, but required. Large tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Uber, SnapChat, and others, are starting to invest in programs that will change the outcomes. It is not only their job to solve this problem, it’s up to all of us and here’s what I am recommending:

  1. Invest financially in non-traditional STEM programs that have a mission to change the outcomes. Remember, it took hundreds and thousands of years to create oppression, and it’s going to take a hell of an effort to undo the oppression. You’re not going to fix it by giving a one time donation that makes you feel good! Programs that train and develop convicted felons, young children and women in poverty, immigrants, disabled people, veterans, LGBTQIA+, etc. These programs need long term (5–10 years) of financial support to truly get off the ground and develop inclusive cultures. They also need the people from those communities to help support and run these programs. Training and development must also be necessary for their staff, this is going to sound harsh but remember just because we identify with the populations we serve doesn’t give us a pass into knowing what they need. Also, we don’t need visible and invisible privileged saviors single handedly deciding what’s best for such populations. It will take us all with equitable support and impactful platforms, and humility to approach this problem!
  2. This one is not as lengthy as #1. Stop mistreating the underrepresented populations that you do have in the workplace. You also need to work to increase inclusivity in the workplace for everyone and not just the majority. Remember, even if you get them in the door and your culture is trash, you’ll lose them quicker than you can recruit them. Hence, perpetuating a cycle of underrepresentation that was there in the first place.
  3. Change the way you recruit, develop an equity lens into the way you interview, the same institutions from which you recruit, who you hire as recruiters, your selection process, and the way you write your job descriptions.
  4. Higher educational institutions you need to do a better job of defining diversity, recruiting diverse populations, and giving them support while their in your program. If you don’t start to change your retention numbers, you’re not going to help change the industry and in order to do that your must add an equity lens to your admission processes, representation and tenure expectations for diverse faculty, advising strategies, and funding of your cultural departments and their student support programs has to increase.

Every industry, especially those that pay liveable wages could do a better job of supporting underrepresented populations. I have named a few areas of improvement in this blog. What are your experiences and recommendations for improving outcomes in the current workplace and recruitment and selection process?

Dr. Cheryl Ingram aka Dr. CI, is a very successful entrepreneur, blogger, content creator and expert of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

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