7 things women of color should know about joining the tech industry
The tech industry offers many job opportunities, with great pay and opportunities for career growth and continuous education. For women of color, there’s never been a better time to pursue a tech career. Read on for seven things you should know about joining the industry.
1. There’s more support than ever
There is a wealth of nonprofit and professional organizations that exist to not only help women of color gain the skills necessary for tech jobs, but to provide much-needed ongoing social and economic support for women of color to thrive in their careers. The following are a few examples:
Additionally, employers are realizing the need to create meaningful diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs, as D&I has a measurable, direct impact on a business’s competitiveness and financial bottom line. A 2018 study by consulting firm McKinsey and Company discovered that companies that had less gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were “29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability.” Organizations are developing robust D&I programs through better recruiting practices; formal employee mentoring and leadership programs; and employee resource groups where employees can bond and support one another based on shared characteristics, interests, or life experiences.
2. Tech careers are everywhere
Tech careers are often associated with the FAANG or the Big Five tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. But, those companies offer only a fraction of the total tech opportunities available. Many companies across a diverse set of industries are looking for tech talent. Companies such as Bank of America, Nike, Macy’s, The New York Times, and Verizon are just a few of the major employers actively seeking candidates for a variety of tech jobs. The federal government also has hundreds of tech job openings available across the United States, while state and local governments can offer more locally based tech opportunities.
3. A tech career ≠ coding
Tech careers go well beyond software development jobs. Tech careers can include, but are not limited to the following options:
- data science
- business analysis
- sales engineering / technical sales
- product management
- project management
- web design
A four-year computer science degree is also not a hard requirement for many tech jobs. Many people entering these positions have degrees in business, communications, statistics, mathematics and many other areas. Some employers don’t place as strong of an emphasis on a traditional, four-year degree program and seek candidates who have strong and unique work experiences (e.g., apprenticeships, co-ops, and internships).
4. Tech careers require hard and soft skills
Having hard skills (specific skills that can be defined, assessed, and measured) is a must for all tech professionals. These can be gained through formal education, bootcamps, projects and/or self-study. Soft skills (skills that are more interpersonal) are not as easily measured and not necessarily easy to teach; they often improve with time and experience. Tech professionals need both to be successful. Depending on your role, you may need more soft skills (e.g., communication, emotional intelligence, and teamwork) than hard skills.
According to Linkedin.com’s 2020 study of most in-demand skills, employers are looking for candidates with soft skills like creativity, persuasion and adaptability, as well as hard skill like artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
5. You are your best career advocate
It’s great to have mentors, sponsors, managers, and others speaking your good graces to others. But ultimately, you are the owner your career. No one will care as much about your career as you will, and it is important that you are your biggest (and best) career advocate. Here are some strategies:
- Publicly demonstrate your skills and accomplishments. Do this through public speaking, an online portfolio, social media, or other methods. The important thing is that there are ways for others to see what you can do and your value.
- Ask for what you want. Don’t assume that managers, sponsors, and others know what you want out of your career. Ensure that you’re talking with them about what you need from them to get to the next level.
- Negotiate your salary. Whether this is your first tech job or 10th, always attempt to negotiate your salary. While it’s been well researched and documented that women of color in tech are paid less than their white, male colleagues, a 2019 study from online job board Hired.com reports that women are asking for lower salaries than men 61% of the time. Utilize publicly available salary reports and salary negotiation classes (like the free online workshop offered by the American Association of University Women), so you can approach negotiations with confidence.
6. Cultivating a professional network is crucial
Networking will be one of the most important skills to have for the entirety of your career. Your professional network can consist of mentors, sponsors, classmates, teachers, co-workers, friends, and others. There will be many times during your career where you’ll need to reach out to your network for career advice, job opportunities, industry information, recommendations and more.
Giving back to your network is also important to avoid developing one-sided or transactional relationships. Give back in small ways such as by congratulating a colleague on their promotion or by sharing an article that you think would be of interest.
7. Learning Is Lifelong, Not a Fixed Point in Time
To stay competitive, tech professionals recognize that gaining new skills and refining them is a required, life-long activity. Rather than looking at education as a one-and-done period in their lives, find ways to integrate continuous learning into your daily life. While traditional education programs offered through colleges and universities are an option, they also leverage massive open online course (MOOC) platforms like edX or Coursera, bootcamps, trade schools, conferences, formal mentoring programs, industry publications, podcasts, and any other means to continuously help you augment and refine your skills.
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