Special Reports

The Skills Gap is a Result of Sexism and Ageism in the Industry


For quite some time, a lot of employers have been lamenting that there has been a huge skills gap due to the dynamic nature of technology nowadays and the inability of educational institutions to cope up with it thus failing to provide students the education they need to become relevant when they graduate. Because of these, a lot of experts and leaders in various industries have suggested creating an alternative form of learning and teaching to help bridge that skills gap. However, a tech panel at the recently concluded 2016 GeekWire Summit agreed that the real culprit is in fact sexism and ageism.

According to the report, it is true that tech jobs are being created each year but there are not enough qualified candidates to fill up those positions. For example, there are more than 3,000 tech jobs in Washington State alone but only 500 Computer Science graduates. However, Scott McKinley, Dean and CEO of Northeastern University's Seattle campus said that instead of creating a solution that promotes diversity in the workplace, the tech industry has refused to budge and stubbornly held on to a solution that is not relevant to the problem.

McKinley called it the 'square peg round hole approach" wherein companies reject a candidate because they don't fit the stereotype description of a new tech hire or they did not graduate from a top school. That is largely true because when one looks at the tech workplace, there are mostly young, white males in the office. If there are any females or older, they are vastly outnumbered. The panelists admitted that tech companies usually shy from hiring those who haven't got a traditional Computer Science degree.

During the discussion, the panelists also said that they are doing something to change all that. Bridget Frey, CTO of the Seattle-based tech company Redfin, said that the company has made certain efforts to encourage diversification by hiring those who come from non-traditional backgrounds and other industries. They have also increased the number of their female engineers which are already 30 percent.

Meanwhile, Microsoft General Manager of talent, learning, and insights Joe Whittinghill said that the company has started taking into account the "unconscious bias" that can influence their judgments unknowingly.

"We don’t know where the next talent is going to come from, and it isn’t always going to be the people who look like us or talk like us," he said.

The result of these biases then leads to the "lack" of talents in the industry resulting in poaching where companies try to steal each other's talents. This is a waste of resources said OfferUp’s Vice President of Engineering Peter Wilson because it costs companies a lot of money just to attract an engineer who works for another company than investing on someone to study.

In the end, the panelists have agreed that it will be a challenge to keep a very diverse workforce, remove any prejudices, and "put resources towards more broad education" but taking the necessary step no matter how small they are is a start.

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