Jobs for the Future (JFF) released findings from a survey of more than 1,000 Black Americans exploring barriers Black people face to careers in technology. Conducted by consumer research agency AudienceNet, the survey provides crucial insight into the barriers and enablers to career preparation, entry, and advancement for Black Americans in digital and IT professions.
“In an increasingly tech-driven economy, careers in IT and tech can offer pathways to economic advancement and prosperity. However, too many Black Americans—particularly Black women—face systemic barriers that leave the economic opportunity of the tech industry out of reach,” said Michael Collins, a vice president at JFF who leads the organization’s racial economic equity initiative. “We need to better understand these barriers, which begin in K-12 education and higher education only to be reinforced in the workplace.”
The survey reveals that more than 6 in 10 Black adults not working in digital or information technology would consider a career change to work in the sector. However, more than half reported they were unsure where to start (55%) or felt they lacked the financial resources (51%), skills (52%), or industry connections (45%) to launch a tech career. Other findings from JFF’s survey include:
- STEM career pathways are perceived as out of reach. Almost half (45%) of those who hadn’t studied a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering, or math) said they had considered it. But 21% of these individuals thought it would be too difficult, 21% didn’t know enough about it, and 14% felt it would be too expensive.
- Gender gap compounds the racial equity gap in tech. While 4 in 10 Black Americans said they work in a digital or IT-related field, they were more likely to be men and between the ages of 16-34. Women were more likely than men to report leaving high school with only general technology skills and no access to advanced technology opportunities. Black women also were 10% less likely to report a high level of job satisfaction compared to their male peers.
- Tech careers receive high marks but come with a cost. The majority of Black workers surveyed who are currently in tech roles (57%) are satisfied in their career, with only a small proportion dissatisfied. Despite generally high levels of job satisfaction, 8 in 10 Black professionals in tech report having to work long hours to some extent, and nearly 8 in 10 felt that they earn less than they thought they should.
- Younger Black workers are more likely to view tech as an exclusive sector. While the most common perception of careers in tech is that they are well paid (64%), Black Americans do not universally feel they have access to these high-paying careers. Black millennials and Gen Zers were more likely (24% and 29%) to view technology as exclusive, compared to 17% of Black Gen Xers and 15% of Black baby boomers.
- Black workers view mentorship as key to career success, and most don’t have access. Almost half (45%) of those surveyed had consulted either a formal or informal mentor at some point, with 77% sharing the same race or ethnicity—a commonality found to be useful. But 55% of Black Americans reported never having a career mentor.
- Six in 10 would consider changing careers to work in tech. Black men were more likely than women to consider this career change, as were younger workers ages 16-44 compared to those ages 45-64. Black workers cited learning new skills (56%) and earning more money (57%) as primary motivations for switching careers.
- Black career changers prefer short-term courses to traditional higher education. Those interested in breaking into tech prefer free online resources (39%) and short-term courses (33%) to help prepare them to change careers. A lower but still significant proportion were open to enrolling in higher education either full-time (18%) or part-time (26%).
The survey is a component of JFF’s broader efforts to advance racial economic equity and increase both the number and proportion of Black Americans in high-earning careers, including digital and IT. JFF recently published a set of recommendations for promoting the economic advancement of Black Americans in today’s economy in a report titled Achieving Black Economic Equity: A Purpose-Built Call to Action. In addition, JFF published a report titled Purpose-Built to Advance Equity: Expanding Opportunities in Tech for Black Americans, which evaluated more than 200 startups, educational institutions, nonprofits, and other programs focused on the development of Black talent in technology careers. Both publications were produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal.