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Who’s Bucking the Trend on Diversity in High-Tech Jobs?

It's easy to be digital, but not as easy to be digitally inclusive, a Brookings analysis finds.

(Photo by Jiuguang Wang)

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Women and people of color are generally underrepresented in “high-level” digital fields like programming, but there are eight cities bucking the trend, according to new research from the Brookings Institution.

“Perhaps local culture is the reason. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of local institutions or the existence of vibrant and longstanding peer networks or active efforts to promote inclusion,” authors Jacob Whiton and Mark Muro write, drawing on data from the think tank’s Digitalization and the American Workforce report, which Next City covered upon its release last year. “Regardless of the cause, some places are achieving a higher degree of digital inclusion.”

The eight cities are Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; St. Louis, Mo.; Denver, Colo.; and Sacramento, Calif.

Some cities received props for having gender-inclusive tech workforces (D.C., Sacramento, and Raleigh), others for achieving high representation rates for Latinos or African-Americans (St. Louis and Denver, respectively).

It doesn’t take a Brookings expert to prove that the economy is growing increasingly digital. In the last 15 years, the percentage of jobs that require people to be digitally literate rose, the think tank said in a previous report. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of jobs now require “high digital” knowledge, while “medium digital” occupations rose to 47.5 percent. Most new jobs created require digital skills. And because these high-digital jobs typically pay better, inclusivity matters.

Raleigh received credit for its connections between its universities and top tech firms, which have become “effective points of intervention for facilitating female graduates’ movement into tech work or tech-related entrepreneurship,” the authors write. St. Louis, on the other hand, was cited for being the only city where Hispanic workers are more highly represented in tech than in the broader workforce. (A separate Brookings report puts Corpus Christi even higher.) All other metro areas have slight-to-huge inclusion gaps when it comes to representation of Hispanics.

Similarly, only a handful of cities have closed the representation gap when it comes to black workers. Greenville received points for the fact that about 18 percent of the region’s tech jobs are held by black people, about a 2 percent over-representation.

Black and Hispanic workers in Pittsburgh are slightly underrepresented in tech, but the region “has tried to be proactive,” Brookings writes, hosting an annual festival showcasing and encouraging diversity in hiring, and creating and working off a “Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation” created in 2015.

Sacramento, on the other hand, “stands out when it comes to women’s employment in digitally-intensive computer and mathematical occupations, and black and Hispanic workers’ nearly equitable representation in the field.” It also has a large share of “mid-tech” jobs, which are high-paying jobs in the tech field that don’t necessarily require a college degree. Tech support and entry-level coding, as well as some analyst jobs, fall into this category and often require only an associates’ degree or a certification. Another mid-tech job hub is Columbus, Ohio, where 13,000 people are employed in mid-tech jobs, Brookings said.

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Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: jobstech hubs

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