Shaping the Future of Leadership for Black Tech Talent

LeadershipTechnologyDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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January 27, 2022
20 min read
LeadershipTechnologyDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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Over the course of the last year, Russell Reynolds Associates and Valence kicked off a partnership to better understand the most significant barriers contributing to the consistent dearth of Black professional and Black leadership representation in technology companies and technology functions at companies in other industries. The true figure of Black tech workers in the US is largely unknown because only a handful of companies track, monitor, and disclose employee diversity data. Among the large tech companies that do, Black professional representation is reported to be in the low single digits and has only increased by a few percentage points since these companies began making those disclosures in 2014.

Nearly 400 US-based technology professionals from both the Valence and Russell Reynolds Associates networks participated in our research, providing us insight into their career histories, goals, successes, frustrations, and overall experiences in tech. The sample was designed to focus on Black technology professionals while also providing a comparison group of non-Black tech professionals to enable us to examine trends in the tech industry overall, as well as highlight aspects of the experience that are felt differently by Black tech professionals. Overall, 307 respondents identified as Black, and 71 as non-Black (including 80 percent White or Caucasian, 13 percent East or South Asian, and 10 percent non-Black identifying Hispanics and Latinos).  In addition to our survey-based research, we conducted focus groups and panel discussions with black tech professionals that have helped add additional texture and real-life stories to the data.

The study revealed that Black technology professionals consistently experience systemic barriers to growth that perpetuate shorter than average tenures in their roles compared to their non-Black peers. On average, Black talent in tech move between companies every 3.5 years in order to advance, compared to 5.1 years on average for their non-Black peers. The discrepancy between the time talent stays at companies is particularly pronounced for those earliest in their careers – on average Black tech talent stays at each company for 2 years, while their non-Black peers stay for 4.5 years.

Shaping the Future of Leadership for Black Tech Talent

Base: n=307 Black technology professionals, n=71 non-Black technology professionals

We also found that Black tech talent are far more likely than others to feel the need to move from company to company to continue to grow their careers because of a gauntlet of systemic barriers to achievement that are introduced at every level and continue into their senior leadership years. Nearly half (47 percent) of Black technology professionals strongly agree that they must frequently switch between companies to seek growth in their career, compared to 28 percent of non-Black respondents.

According to research by The Kapor Center for Social Impact and The Ford Foundation, individuals in the tech industry experience and observe more unfairness in their working environments than those employed in non-tech industries. They found that unfair treatment is the single largest driver of turnover affecting all groups, with 34 percent of Black participants citing leaving a tech job or company due to unfairness that year. They quantify that at the average full replacement cost (lost productivity, recruiting costs, salary, etc.) of $144,000 per tech employee, unfairness-based turnover in US tech companies among Black talent costs the industry around $1.2 billion dollars a year1.

The technology industry needs diverse leaders to continue to thrive. Yet, based on the current rate of turnover, short tenures, and “must-move” mindsets of Black American tech talent, our survey suggests it will continue to face challenges in developing and retaining such leaders. This is in line with the recent McKinsey & Company finding published in their report, Race in the workplace: The Black Experience in the US private sector, that at the current rate of hiring and promotion in the US private sector, it will take about 95 years for Black employees to reach talent parity (or 12 percent representation) across all levels in the private sector2.  One focus group participant summarized the dilemma in this way: 

3 Critical Problems We Must Overcome

In this report, we unpack the challenges these barriers present throughout the careers of Black tech professionals, contributing to tenures that are shorter than others, and often, stunted career growth:

  Problem 1: Information Disadvantage

In the early career years (10 or fewer years into a tech career), Black tech talent are generally not afforded the same level of insight into how the game is played; who they need to know, and how to plan their paths for success. Our research suggests that while mentors can serve as great role models, young Black professionals seldom have access to great sponsors. The difference being that sponsors can materially move the needle on career progression, as opposed to mentors primarily providing support through career guidance.

View Problem 1


  Problem 2: Higher Standards, Lower Ceilings

For mid-career professionals (11-20 years in tech), the primary barriers are bias-prone methods for performance evaluations and compensation decisions. Power in these critical areas often rests with a single manager without much oversight, opening the door to unconscious prejudice.  Our research suggests that investing in more widespread training for managers around inclusive leadership, while actively investing in the development of next-generation Black talent, could improve retention rates among these future leaders.

View Problem 2


  Problem 3: Unequal Access to Essential Experiences

Among senior Black tech talent and executives (21+ years in tech), a key issue is the realization that “the bar” moves subjectively, no matter what. Despite what they have achieved and contributed, they are often eliminated from opportunities based on what they haven’t accomplished.  Overcoming this barrier will require hiring managers of senior talent to shift their mindset around who is qualified to lead; adopting more equitable search and succession practices to stem the loss of Black leaders at the executive level.

View Problem 3


A Deep Dive on Code Switching

Code-switching, or changing behaviors to match what is expected in any given environment, is a common (and often automatic) way of adjusting our behaviors to fit in with the people around us. It can be a taxing behavior especially when it relates to an individual's culture and identity.

Click here to learn more about how Black tech talent code-switch


Guidance for the Industry

Our research led to the development of a four-pronged framework for tech companies and leaders who wish to meaningfully contribute to closing the gap on the consistent tenure and representation lag of Black professionals in technology companies and technology functions across all companies. Of course, every organization must incorporate this guidance into their practices in a way that is tailored to their particular company’s context.

Click here to learn more



Russell Reynolds Associates
Tom Handcock | Managing Director, Center for Leadership Insight

Emily Slade | Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder 
Victoria Tinsley | Head of Partnerships
Noah Wossen | Program Manager


1. Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D., Allison Scott, Ph.D. and Uriridiakoghene Onovakpuri, MBA. “Tech Leavers Study”. Kapor Center for Social Impact. April 2017. 
2. Bryan Hancock, James Manyika, Monne Williams, Jackie Wong and Lareina Yee. “Black workers in the US private sector”. McKinsey & Company. February 2021. 
3. Job Patterns For Minorities And Women In Private Industry (EEO-1):

About Valence

Valence’s mission is to create new paths to success for Black professionals. The Valence platform connects, showcases and empowers the Black professional community through professional development and career opportunities, with an eye toward a future where there are generations of Black professionals who are skilled in the art of business. Valence also partners with companies to help them recruit, retain and promote Black talent.




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Shaping the Future of Leadership for Black Tech Talent