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Despite the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 across the workforce, jobs in technology have largely been protected–and are now even on the rise. According to a new study by Robert Half, a human resources consultancy firm, 52% of tech managers are hiring for new positions in 2022.

The question now is: Who will be selected for these new positions?

The Equation for Equality,” a new report released on Tuesday by NPower, a national nonprofit aimed at addressing race and gender equity in tech, and the market research firm Burning Glass, shows that 250,000 women of color are ready and able to take on these positions. The challenge, however, is getting these women a shot at them.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

In 2021, TechRepublic reported on the COVID-19 gender gap, exploring the different ways the global pandemic affected employment, pay and mobility by gender. In large part due to the strain placed on working mothers during COVID-19, many of them saddled with unexpected childcare or elder care duties, a huge number of working women dropped out of the workforce. In early 2021, nearly 3 million women had exited the working world, marking a reversal of the previous trend–in 2020, women, as a percentage, were a bigger slice of the workforce than their male cohort.

A job report from December 2021 reveals that despite the rise in employment for whites–by 665,000 jobs–there was a decline in Black employment, by 86,000 positions. This decline for Black women, which represents an increase in unemployment from 4.9% to 6.2%, happened while unemployment figures for the broad population dropped to 3.9%. (TechRepublic has also reported on several solutions for helping prevent the drop-out problem, by helping keep women happier in the jobs they do have.)

So, to recap: women of color are already at a disadvantage in the tech field, represented in only 5% of the jobs, even when they make up 20% of the population–a statistic that Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower, calls “woefully inadequate.” And to compound this injustice, women of color lost their positions at a higher rate during the global pandemic.

Some hiring managers cite a “pipeline” problem–the idea that women of color are simply not available or trained for the jobs needed in the tech industry. But this view fails to take the full picture into account. For instance, this report’s authors show how a more expansive outlook could take into account the 300,000 women of color–Black, Latinx, and American Indian–currently in customer service roles, typically skilled in customer relationship management (CRM) software and digital productivity tools. These skills could translate into tech positions, and would likely bring these women greater paychecks and chances to grow their careers.

The new report shows ways that hiring managers can shift thinking toward embracing women who have similar skills. “When the tech industry reaches parity with the skills-simillar talent pool, we will know that our investments in equitable recruitment, hiring, training and onboarding have been successful,” it states.

SEE: Command Shift: Program works to put more women of color into technology careers (TechRepublic)

There have been some proposed solutions for those who have exited the workforce, including opportunities to pursue entrepreneurship or self-employment—still, getting women of color in the door is a critical priority for CIOs. Returnship programs, which are mentorship programs tailored for women who need a leg up to re-enter the workforce, can help, especially for women who have been out of the workforce for a year.

NPower has stated a goal–to double the number of women of color in tech positions from 5% to 10% over the next decade. It will take active participation from both managers and employees, alike–an earlier NPower report, Breaking Through, Rising Up: Strategies for Propelling Women of Color in Technology, illustrated how many young women don’t see themselves fitting into tech culture–but it is clearly an important goal for any CXO when strategizing the best way to create a more diverse and thriving workplace.

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