More than 70 million U.S. workers don’t have a college degree. This talent, which amounts to half of the country’s workforce, is often overlooked for jobs they are perfectly qualified to perform based on their previous on-the-job experience, training programs, military service and their appetite and ability to learn.
Too often, these workers are discouraged from applying based on rigid requirements in job postings. This hinders qualified talent from moving up and employers from finding the skills and people needed to fill open jobs.
This is especially true in the tech sector. Furthermore, these workers comprise often-underrepresented groups in the workforce and could help fill an ever-widening skills gap with diverse tech talent.
According to McKinsey research, tech jobs across all industries are expected to grow 14 percent by 2032; however, the tech workforce has not evolved to reflect the diverse makeup of the American workforce. For example: Despite representing 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, only 8 percent of Black people are in tech jobs. That percentage shrinks the higher one looks up the corporate ladder.
If companies fail to change their recruitment and retention strategies, underrepresentation of Black and other professionals in tech-related jobs will likely increase.
Enter Chief Technology and Platform Officer Jacky Wright. Wright is passionate about driving inclusive employment in tech by recognizing excellence everywhere. She joined McKinsey as the new CTPO in November.
“The role at McKinsey excited me for many reasons, one of which is the opportunity for me and my colleagues to partner with clients in solving the world's toughest problems and accelerating sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Wright.
Over the last three years, McKinsey has performed more than 23,000 digital, analytics and AI projects. In 2021 alone, the firm has served more than 1,800 companies on digital and analytics transformation topics.
A linchpin of that growth at McKinsey comes from employees who are encouraged to share opinions openly and often. “One of the cornerstones of our firm — a core value of who we are — is our obligation to engage and dissent. We cannot dissent effectively and be strong critical thinkers if all of us have the same point of view or the same background,” said Wright.
“A cornerstone of our firm is our obligation to engage and dissent. We cannot dissent effectively and be strong critical thinkers if all of us have the same point of view.”
That’s why attracting, retaining and nurturing diverse talent is front and center in the firm’s vision for digital transformation. “Cultivating diverse talent creates a better and more enriching experience for everybody — our clients and colleagues alike,” she said.
To this end, the firm embraces candidates from all backgrounds and offers alternative routes to employment, such as military service, community college, tech apprentice programs or on-the-job experience like data boot camps and fellowships.
“We seek exceptional talent, and ‘exceptional’ can come from anywhere. We are passionate about attracting new, distinctive and diverse talent,” said Wright. “We’ve evolved our hiring in many ways, one of which is our commitment to getting to know more tech candidates who come with different backgrounds, educations and experiences — including those without a bachelor’s degree.”
McKinsey has developed fair and equitable assessment processes that help level the playing field for prospective candidates — such as game-based assessments to allow candidates to demonstrate critical-thinking skills. The firm is also hiring candidates from a broader range of sources than ever before. Last year, its recruiting sources amounted to 1,700; this year, McKinsey plans to expand that to 5,000.
One of those sources has been through a pro bono partnership with nonprofit [email protected] on a US campaign to ‘Tear the Paper Ceiling,’ referencing the invisible barrier that can prevent workers without a bachelor's degree from being hired despite possessing the skills or experience to succeed in those jobs.
Diverse STARs are all around us
The [email protected] program helps workers who are skilled through alternative routes, or STARs, achieve upward mobility. STARs represent:
- 66% of rural workers
- 61% of Black workers
- 61% of veteran workers
- 55% of Hispanic workers
“We want to hire distinctive talent for their potential, not just their pedigree. Capturing the full benefits of diversity is not about hiring people who fit the existing corporate culture; it’s ensuring the culture itself is supportive and adaptable enough to embrace all kinds of talent and unleash potential. Part of this means screening and assessing our candidates for values, and identifying people who have great leadership skills and want to create a caring and inclusive environment in their teams,” said Wright.
Leading Real-World Change
Wright herself has an impressive resume that includes executive roles at General Electric, BP and Microsoft. In 2022, she was voted the most influential Black person from the U.K. by Powerlist — outranking Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya.
Wright first found her passion for tech while working at a bank part-time while at University. She had the opportunity to work with computers, learned to code and was offered a role in IT. Throughout her career, Wright sustained herself through mentorship, sponsorship and hard work.
For some leaders, the story would end there. But Wright is looking to pay those opportunities forward, keeping the door open for the next generation.
What would the tech industry look like if there were more stories like hers? Or, looking through Wright’s bigger-picture lens: What would society look like if there were more stories like hers?
The work being done at McKinsey has the potential to effect real-world change.
“I believe that technology has the opportunity to be our society’s great equalizer, removing barriers and creating equity,” said Wright. “McKinsey technologists not only conceptualize, design and build technologies — they also have unparalleled opportunities to help reshape institutions and industries. We hope that this kind of work inspires distinctive tech talent to get to know us and pursue a career here.”
Coming from her own diverse background, Wright deeply understands the importance of building a culture of inclusion.
“In addition to emphasizing inclusion, I think it is crucial to build a culture of belonging — where our people see that they have a responsibility and commitment to each other in their professional roles, as well as a responsibility to our society beyond the firm. I hope that our colleagues work to empower our communities — to connect both with each other and with the larger world around us,” she said.
In her role as CTPO, Wright’s enthusiasm for new technologies will offer a strategic advantage for the firm. Clients have an accelerated need for tech solutions and McKinsey is dedicated to meeting those needs.
To achieve this, Wright is considering the organization holistically, enabling McKinsey to transform from its roots as a strategy firm into an impact partner. In addition to incorporating new technologies, the firm is equipping its people with upskilling opportunities to thrive in the rapidly changing landscape of tech.
WHAT MIGHT SURPRISE OUTSIDERS ABOUT MCKINSEY?
“Though it did not surprise me personally, it may surprise some job seekers to learn about the impressive rate of tech innovation and the breadth of tech talent that exists at McKinsey. Yes, we are a management consulting firm, but we are also very much a technology firm. Nearly half of our consultants are digital practitioners; we have established a large ecosystem of alliances with technology companies; and tech is woven into virtually every aspect of our work — including the tools we use to support our clients,” said Wright.
“Our people and teams at McKinsey really are exceptional, and I am energized thinking about how much we can do together,” said Wright. “A lot of our focus is on internal capability building, and by continuously developing our people and innovating together, we thrive. We have built into our culture a constant two-way street of teaching and learning, coupled with a substantial investment in internal training programs.”
This knowledge-sharing culture is one reason the team hires for skills, capability and potential over pedigree. People who are looking to push their abilities — rather than rest solely on the laurels of a degree — will thrive at McKinsey.
“We are deliberate in the way we compose teams at McKinsey,” said Wright. “We often refer to it as ‘teamwork as a science.’ Bringing together colleagues with complementary skills enables us to deliver distinctive client service and create an environment for mentorship in which everyone can continuously grow and evolve.”
That same mindset extends outward into the work McKinsey does with its clients, and the ripple effect it carries into the world at large.
“I am keenly interested not just in what we tackle internally, but externally: how what we do can be a use case for our clients, and how we engage with our communities and positively impact society,” said Wright. “I believe that our involvement in the greater good is a critical piece of how we show up in our roles, both individually and collectively as a firm.”