MLT Blog

Better Understanding (and Preparing) Minority Undergraduate Career Choices


Damian Saccocio is the VP of Technology and Analytics at MLT.

A few weeks ago we released the first paper in our MLT Perspectives series. Through the MLT Perspective series, we will share data-driven insights that impact and influence the careers of diverse leaders.

This first report explores factors that shape the perceptions, confidence and career choices of college students of color, with a focus on tech sector careers. The findings are based on MLT’s Spring 2016 survey of 500 African American, Hispanic and Native American sophomores attending major colleges throughout the U.S.

We found that in general, students report increased career confidence in sectors that they know the most about, get the most exposure to on campus and in which they know someone (specifically another minority) who has been successful.

We were particularly interested in students’ attitudes and perceptions about the tech sector given the industry’s importance and also its uneven record with regard to diversity and inclusion.  Among our top findings is that there is a misperception among the undergraduates we surveyed that one needs to be specifically trained in technology (e.g., as a software developer) to work in the tech sector.

Moreover, the lack of minority leaders and role models in tech contributes to a lack of career confidence and a perception among many minorities that they can’t succeed in tech.  We also found that women are much less confident they can be successful in finance, technology and manufacturing careers than their male peers.

MLT has long focused on bridging the gap between academia and career success — a gap especially challenging for minority students.  We have worked with thousands of undergraduates over the last decade – hundreds of whom work in tech – via our unique blend of coaching, personalized playbooks, and engagement with frontline and senior representatives of Fortune 500 firms.

The data contained in this white paper provides even more support for industry-focused career curriculum, especially, “boot camps” which MLT first introduced to its program participants in 2005. These events provide a deep-dive industry-specific complement to MLT’s national Career Prep program gatherings where students are exposed to varied leadership and career insights. The boot camps directly address the knowledge gap found in the survey with the opportunity to interact directly with front-line product managers about their day-to-day jobs, the environments in which they work, and the culture and norms of specific companies in that sector.

Here’s an example of the impact of providing students with the right playbook, debunking misperceptions, and connecting them to people in the tech sector, especially those that make them feel wanted and that they belong and can succeed. When last year’s MLT undergraduate class of 310 juniors from 95 universities across the country applied as sophomores, only 7% said they wanted to go into the tech sector with another 20% indicating they would also consider a career in tech. Through coaching, webinars, panel sessions and exposure to tech companies a year later, 40% had become interested or very interested in working in tech. That percentage doubled after we flew the class out to the SF Bay Area and hosted them at LinkedIn for a tech boot camp and a weekend seminar. Afterward, 80% of the class had some level of interest in working in the tech sector.

MLT’s latest white paper and on-the-ground engagement with thousands of minority college students takes place within the context of an important and growing body of academic and policy research on diversity in the workplace and career choices of young people generally. The paper notes the importance of ongoing research in recruitment and selection, career mentoring, team dynamics, social networks, barriers to leadership opportunities, and inclusive work environments.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that many companies, including some of the best known in the tech sector such as MLT partners LinkedIn, Intuit, and Pandora are actively addressing the diversity challenges through a variety of initiatives.

It is a problem that will not be solved overnight but it is our hope and intention that efforts such as this white paper and our boot camps contribute in a meaningful way to the efforts of our university and corporate partners to achieve greater diversity at all levels of their organizations and communities.

You can find the full report here.