U.S. companies need to shift their recruitment paradigm to hire diverse candidates and tap into long-neglected talent pipelines, Jopwell CEO and co-founder Porter Braswell said Wednesday in a wide-ranging conversation about equity in America with Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
Braswell joined the fourth episode of Gaining Altitude, a series of conversations worth navigating hosted by Bastian to connect people while building understanding around the globe. Their conversation on race at work continued one started in January 2021, when Bastian joined a Harvard Business Review podcast hosted by Braswell.
In one segment, Bastian related that in 2020, he recognized the lack of Black leaders on Delta’s Board of Directors. Bastian said that Delta would commit to finding a Black leader to join it. Diversity isn’t an act of philanthropy and shouldn’t devolve into a quota system, Bastian said – it’s necessary for healthy, successful companies.
“As leaders, we need to be unapologetic that that is the talent we are looking for … it’s the differences that make us better,” Bastian said.
Braswell related his own story of beginning his career with Goldman Sachs, but wanting to find a way to break into the technology sector. He was stymied at every turn and told he couldn’t be hired even though he was a diverse candidate because he didn’t already work at a technology company.
That experience is what pushed Braswell to found Jopwell, which has forged partnerships with hundreds of America’s leading companies leveraging its HR tech platform, which helps diverse students and professionals advance in their careers. The company has successfully facilitated tens of thousands of connections between the Jopwell community and those companies.
Companies have long complained that they struggle to find and hire talent representing diverse communities because the talent pipelines don’t exist – but that, Braswell said, simply isn’t true.
“The talent has always been there. The pipelines have always existed,” he said. “Companies just haven’t been creative enough or invested enough capital to go get them. Historically, nonprofits have bridged the gap. But that isn’t a scalable option, and a business solution like Jopwell can help fill the need more broadly.”
“I don’t understand why solving a business challenge of better diversity … why that’s a charity,” he said.
Much of the onus lies with recruiters to pursue what Braswell calls “persona hiring” – looking at a candidate’s complete skill set to determine what transferrable opportunities exist. Not only can people master the job they’re being hired for, but they’ll bring new skills, experiences and perspectives along with them.
“We need more diverse people at the top with these incredible experiences. When you break into that,” Braswell said, “you’ll find diverse talent all day long.”
Navigating Tough Conversations and Bringing Your Whole Self to Work
Bastian and Braswell noted that while the prevailing wisdom for years has said to avoid discussing race at work, current events in recent years have made it an increasingly necessary topic to navigate. Braswell offered some advice for companies and leaders to tackle these discussions in a respectful, sensitive manner:
- Make sure to explain “why.” Employees should know why you’re prompting these conversations and understand what your company has done to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the past.
- Establish ground rules. Start with why, talk about what you’ve done in the past, what is the appropriate setting? What are the rules when you have these conversations? How do you react if someone says something offensive?
- What’s the desired outcome? What do you want to achieve, and how do you measure it?
- Don’t force anything. No one should have to represent an entire community, and instead be empowered to speak through their own individual lens. And if they don’t want to speak at all, that’s OK, too, Braswell said.
Black, Latinx and other employees from underrepresented communities can find these experiences taxing, and it’s important to be sensitive to that, both men said.
“I didn’t fully appreciate the responsibility, the pressure, the accountability (our Black leaders feel) to not only do your job but represent an entire community,” Ed said.