Transparency isn’t just a business buzzword. When companies release information that’s traditionally been closely held, it creates opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs.
Take Porter Braswell and Ryan Williams. Last January, the two former Goldman Sachs analysts found an opening in the aftermath of tech companies going public with their diversity numbers (or lack thereof). As a collective scramble to change the ratio among largely white, male employee pools ensued, Braswell and Williams launched a recruiting platform called Jopwell out of Y-Combinator to connect major companies with minority job candidates.
Jopwell tackles a twofold root cause for the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley: Companies claiming that there simply aren’t enough good candidates in the hiring pipeline, and those, like Pinterest, that are coming to understand that relying on existing employees to refer talented candidates isn’t helping broaden their search efforts.
Tech companies are beginning to realize that in addition to just being the right thing to do, a diverse staff pays big dividends. A recent McKinsey report found that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians.
A total of 45 companies, including the founders’ former employer Goldman Sachs, as well as Facebook, Buzzfeed, Morgan Stanley, and others, have signed up to use Jopwell’s recruiting platform, paying an annual subscription to access “thousands” of student and professional applicants almost evenly split between men and women (1% identify their gender in another category) who are black, Hispanic, or Native American.
Although Williams says the company isn’t disclosing the number of people already placed in jobs via Jopwell, he notes it’s “significant.” According to their most recent data, recruiter searches yielding an average of 250 qualified candidates and engagements–which can be anything from applications submitted to connections between individuals and interested companies–have increased to over 6,000 since the summer.
The team has grown from the two cofounders to 12 people sharing a 1,500-square-foot office in New York City, and has already raised $1 million from angel investors.
As Jopwell grows, its founders are learning firsthand how challenging it can be to diversify a staff. For many startups, the founding team is generally composed of people who’ve worked together or are friends. At Jopwell, Braswell admits the first four were former schoolmates or work associates. He maintains, “I think it is okay to hire people you trust and know, but you can’t build a product that is going to change the way people interact and change the world without diversity in your organization.”
So the two were determined to keep their own early hiring efforts loosely defined by looking for candidates “who are hungry.” “There are many people who can fit that mold,” Williams says, and it’s better to do that from the beginning, so they don’t have to course correct later. Their team is made up mostly of people of color and has a nearly even gender split.
For those companies that are having to make changes now, the pipeline problem is a pesky one, the founders admit, when asked if it was realistic to expect that workplaces could ever achieve equal representation.
When you break out engineering jobs in particular, African-Americans earned 4.4% of master’s degrees in engineering, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. 4.5% of all new recipients of bachelor’s degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities were African-American, and 6.5% were Hispanic, according to the Computing Research Association. Yet analysis by USA Today revealed that just 2% of technology workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that have released staffing numbers are black, and 3% are Hispanic.
While Williams says that achieving even 5% representation would be a win for these companies, Braswell notes the importance of thinking bigger and diversifying the entire company, not just the tech team. “There are so many jobs in sales, legal, finance,” he points out, with an ample number of minority candidates to fill them.
Filling non-technical roles with diverse candidates might create a glass ceiling, as has been the case along gender lines. Women are often in positions that don’t directly contribute to a company’s bottom line, and therefore have fewer opportunities to rise to the executive level.
Braswell agrees, but insists that overall, “Leadership has to be diverse to have a successful organization.” Williams adds that more diversity across the board makes minorities feel more comfortable that they will be able to rise through the ranks. “It impacts people psychologically,” Williams says, adding, “You have to start somewhere.” And for him, that first step is hiring.
But Jopwell doesn’t exist to fill quotas. “We want to insure the pipeline is diversified,” Braswell interjects. “Just consider people who haven’t been represented. Then [companies can] go hire the best candidates.”