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NPower’s Command Shift will drive representation of women of color in technology

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Equity-focused nonprofit NPower has launched a coalition dubbed Command Shift to drive the representation of women of color in technology.

The coalition includes Fortune 500 companies including Citi, Amazon Web Services, Comcast NBCUniversal, and Guardian Life to help non-degreed women of color access to tech careers.

Given the heavy economic impact from the pandemic on underrepresented women of color, the group believes it’s more urgent than ever to find them jobs that pay well above the minimum wage. New York-based NPower is a nonprofit that moves people from poverty to the middle class through free tech skills training, mentorship, and education.

Citi’s Citi Foundation has joined NPower, which has a $20 million operating budget, as a founding member of Command Shift, committed to prioritizing women of color for tech careers, alongside additional steering committee members Amazon Web Services, Comcast NBCUniversal, Guardian Life, and World Wide Technology. In February 2021, the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.2%. But for Black women and Latinas, it was over 8% compared with 5.2% for white women. Women of color are also less likely to have the wealth and savings necessary to go for an extended period of time without earnings, making them particularly vulnerable.

“​The timing couldn’t be more essential as recent racial and social justice movements are bringing issues of racial and gender disparities to the forefront,” said Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower, said in an email to VentureBeat. “And as tech is one of our nation’s most innovative industries that has already begun a fast recovery from the pandemic, tech cannot afford to forget that women and women of color stimulate business growth and prosperity.”

Command Shift aims to rewire the hiring practices of tech and tech-enabled companies to be more inclusive of low-income women of color from nontraditional backgrounds and without college degrees. The group is harnessing the energy from the social and racial justice movements to address a critical issue. Black and Latinx women are woefully underrepresented in tech and only account for 5% of related jobs overall. While this lack of inclusivity has been an issue facing the industry for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the barriers that prevent women of color from entering and thriving in the tech industry and spotlighted the hardships women of color face in the job market overall.

New leadership

Above: Command Shift will help women of color without college degrees get tech jobs.

Timicka Anderson, managing director of Citi Commercial Banking, and LaDavia Drane, head of global inclusion, diversity and equity at Amazon Web Services, will serve as co-chairs of the coalition.

Burning Glass Technologies will serve as research partner to track tech job opportunities with the highest likelihood of positive results for both employers and women of color job seekers. And funds from coalition partners will support expansion of NPower’s free programs that train and upskill women of color for today’s in-demand tech positions across IT, cloud computing and cybersecurity.

Command Shift is the latest in NPower’s efforts centered around boosting economic prosperity and inclusion for women of color. In 2018, NPower and Citi Foundation launched 40 by 22 to increase enrollment of young women in NPower classes to 40% and increase the number of female instructors by 40 by 2022. Early successes from this program include NPower increasing
the salaries of young women in its program by three times the standard and their instructor pool is now 47% women of color.

A key strategy of Command Shift’s mission is to trigger a shift in recruitment practices of women of color for tech jobs by expanding the focus on ‘traditional candidates’ — those with two- or four-year college degrees — to include women of color who are tech-trained and haven’t yet attended college.

Ceccarelli said she wasn’t surprised at the corporate support for the cause.

“After all of our work, research, and listening, we know there is an incredible need for this focus and action,” said Ceccarelli. “Companies are hungry for answers and guidance on how to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable future for tech. And many companies are doing this work to advance equity and are open to sharing their approach for the benefit of all. What surprised us most is the lack of data on women of color in tech from non-traditional (non degree’d) backgrounds. No one is looking at the impact and opportunities for this valuable slice of the tech workforce – we are about to change that.”

The group is bringing together a driving force/dedicated alliance of business leaders, corporations, nonprofits, and community organizations to expand and sustain a national network of companies committed to hiring young women of color. It is advising corporate partners on tactics to strengthen their hiring and retention practices, by building a practical toolkit with resources, data, and solutions for companies to advance the tech careers of underrepresented women.

And it is investing in original research specifically identifying the percentage of women of color from non-traditional backgrounds that are in need of employment, and the amount of opportunity that exists in tech-enabled industries.

More data needed

Above: NPower says more data is needed on women of color in tech.

Little to no data is currently being tracked for tech jobs held by women of color from non-traditional backgrounds. The Coalition will work with Burning Glass Technologies, a leading labor market analytics firm, to leverage their proprietary skills data and custom analyses to identify job opportunities with the highest likelihood of positive results for both employers and women of color job seekers. The group will use these new insights to develop informed goal for the coalition and create a method of regular tracking against that goal.

Additionally, NPower recently commemorated the 2nd annual Women of Color in Tech Day in New York City alongside Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who designated March 2021 as “Eddie Bernice Johnson Black Women in Science and Technology Month” in response to NPower’s commitment. NPower also worked alongside local policymakers in Newark, New Jersey, and San Jose, California, to declare March 12 Women of Color in Tech Day in those regions as well to promote the importance of respect, dignity, fairness and equity in supporting Black and Latina women as they pursue tech careers on a national scale.

NPower envisions a future where the U.S. technology workforce is diverse and clear pathways exist for all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic background to succeed in
the digital economy. Over the past 10 years NPower has served 5,400 young adults, women and military veterans—placing them in quality jobs in seven regions across the United States.

Started in 2000, Npower has 120 employees in New York, Texas, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri, and Michigan. Command Shift has raised $5.25 million to date.

“We’ve done the unpacking, now we’re doing the reshaping – together – with business leaders, corporations, nonprofits, community organizations, DEI experts, and diverse young women starting their tech careers,” Ceccarelli said. “As a nation, we are recovering from a COVID-19-impacted economic downturn, companies are realizing that they cannot leave behind the intelligence and ingenuity of people of color from nontraditional backgrounds; their perspectives and impacts are critical to driving innovation and keeping America competitive on a global scale.”

She said the work cannot be done by NPower alone.

“We need employers, elected officials, other nonprofits and the philanthropic community to work together to disrupt the culture that threatens our progress. This is both a human rights issue and business imperative,” she said.

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