The United States is about a decade away from having a workforce that is predominantly people of color, a milestone that the nation’s most diverse states—New Jersey, New York, California, Texas, and Hawaii—will reach sooner than that. A diverse workforce leads to better company performance, with companies ranked in the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity in management 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. Similarly, companies in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to deliver financial returns above their industry average. Diversity is an asset for companies because diverse teams of people have been found to prioritize facts, more carefully analyze challenges, and to produce more innovative solutions to those challenges.
As the United States and New Jersey become majority people of color and women increasingly make gains in the workplace, having a diverse company will not just be an asset—it will become even more of a business necessity. Not only will most of the workforce be people of color and women, but people of color and women will collectively be the vast majority of consumers—so companies will need to provide culturally competent services, and create content and products that reflect and meet the needs of these populations.
Right now, though, women and people of color—especially women of color—face barriers in being hired, promoted, and paid fairly for their work. This leads to an under-representation of women and people of color in management, and perpetuates gender-based occupational segregation.
In order for an apprenticeship program to be successful in expanding economic mobility for all people, it must not only create opportunities for people to learn and expand their skills set and move up the career ladder—it must also open up more opportunities for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other under-represented groups. Historically, apprenticeships programs have failed to do this.
In particular, women are severely under-represented in apprenticeship programs. In 2016, women were only 5.6% of active, federally-registered apprentices. Both female apprentices and apprentices of color (Black and Latino) are also disproportionately in the lowest-paying apprenticeship occupations. Women tend to be occupationally-segregated in caregiving apprenticeship programs, like child care and health care, and they are rarely represented in the highest earning apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades. For example, women comprise less than 5% of electrician, plumber, and carpenter apprentices.
Female apprentices and apprentice program directors reveal some common challenges, including that women often do not receive complete information about the range of potential apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades (including the salary and industry-recognized credential potential), that they have more caregiving responsibilities, particularly for children, and that it is a challenge not to earn money during the classroom portion of the apprenticeship program. Women, people of color, and low-income apprentices are also more likely to report that transportation to the apprenticeship poses a challenge, and that receiving financial assistance for transportation and childcare helped them remain in—and complete—their apprenticeship program.
In addition to these challenges, both women and people of color report experiencing discrimination and harassment in their apprenticeship programs. Gender-based harassment is common, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reporting that anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report experiencing sexual harassment on the job. According to the EEOC, both sex-based and race-based harassment is more likely to occur in homogenous workplaces, where most of the employees are of one gender or race or ethnicity.
The small number of women who apprentice in the skilled trades report experiencing more harassment and discrimination on the male-dominated work sites. 
Surveys of female apprentices also found that “[i]n addition to the overt harassment and hostile work environments that women sometimes confront, women’s experiences in male-dominated worksites are often characterized by more subtle forms of discrimination, such as exclusion and isolation, which can keep them from acquiring the skills they need to successfully complete an apprenticeship.”