Black tech professionals in the US consistently experience systemic barriers to growth that lead to shorter-than- average tenures in their roles compared to their non-Black peers, according to a report released this week by Russell Reynolds Associates, a top-tier executive search and management consultancy, and Valence, the leading community to connect and empower Black professionals.
The joint report, “Shaping the Future of Leadership for Black Tech Talent,” studied the career histories, goals, successes, frustrations, and general experiences of US-based Black tech talent and how it compares to non-Black counterparts. The report also provides recommendations for how tech companies can close the Black representation gap.
The number of Black tech workers in the US is unknown, because only a handful of companies track, monitor, and disclose employee diversity data. Among the large tech firms that do provide such data, Black professional representation is in the low single digits and has only increased a few percentage points since 2014.
Systemic barriers lead to constant turnover
One of the findings of the report is that Black tech workers move between companies every 3.5 years on average to advance their careers. That compares to every 5.1 years, on average, for their non-Black peers. The discrepancy is most pronounced for those just starting out in their careers: Black tech talent stays at a company for two years, while their non-Black peers stay more than twice that long.
Almost half of Black tech professionals in the report said they strongly agree that they have to frequently switch jobs to seek career growth; just 28% of non-Black respondents said the same thing.
As for those who remain in the industry, Black tech professionals are much less satisfied with the evaluation and promotion process. Only 29% of those with 10 to 20 years of tech work experience are satisfied with their level of recognition and of the equality of their pay, compared to 47% of non-Black professionals who said that.
Fully 71% of Black tech professionals are dissatisfied with how their leaders evaluate their performance. And the report indicated they are promoted about half as often as their non-Black counterparts with the same years of experience.
One of the biggest diversity gaps in large companies shows up in management and senior leadership roles. Black people account for about 12% of the US population, but occupy only 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large US firms and just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to an analysis by the Center for Talent Innovation.
When it comes to leadership, Black tech executives with more than two decades of experience are less likely to have access to critical experiences that can propel them into top team positions, according to the Russell Reynolds Associates and Valence report. While 81% of non-Black professionals with 20 years or more experience had the opportunity to lead a major company initiative, only 61% of Black tech executives did.
In addition, almost one in four Black tech professionals with long careers in tech do not believe they will have the opportunity to lead major company initiatives; only 7% of their non-Black counterparts said the same thing.
Closing the gap in tech
Russell Reynolds Associates and Valence identified four areas organizations need to meaningfully address to improve the experience, retention, and progression of Black tech professionals. Those four focus areas are:
- Diversity Oversight: including presence, data disclosure, measurement, and external partnerships;
- Talent Management: implementing sponsorship programs, resources, onboarding, and improving evaluation processes;
- Equitable Opportunities: prioritizing skills over experience and adopting an inclusive mindset;
- Leadership Development: investing in leadership development, setting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals and evaluating DEI outcomes.
Jeanine Prime, vice president in the Gartner HR practice, said that one of the most important steps organizations can take to advance underrepresented talent is to make sure leaders are accountable for DEI outcomes.
Prime said that organizations often take the wrong approach and try to establish leadership accountability via trainings, by cascading broad organizational DEI goals, and by reporting aggregated DEI metrics.
“This approach is ineffective because it often only results in a sense of collective accountability,” she said. “Leaders feel a shared sense of responsibility for DEI outcomes, but lack a sense of personal ownership and commitment.”
According to Prime, creating accountability with consequences is more effective, as it means leaders have ownership over specific DEI goals and outcomes — and are rewarded for achieving them.
“By prioritizing consequential over collective accountability, Gartner finds that organizations can close gender and racial and ethnic parity gaps an average of 13 and 6 years sooner, respectively,” Prime said.
To establish consequential accountability, Prime said that organizations should help leaders use data to understand how their decisions affect DEI outcomes; customize and translate DEI goals to their business/functional context; and link leader progression to achievement of DEI goals.
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