THE POWER OF INCLUSION
a conversation with Shaniqua Davis, Founder & CEO of Noirefy
Nneka Ude, founder
FOUNDER & CEO, NOIREFY
“Culture needs culture”
– Shaniqua Davis
Can you have an organizational culture that lacks culture? Can a company truly build world class products without diversity? These are all questions I had the opportunity to ponder with Noirefy CEO and founder, Shaniqua Davis this past March, 2017. Shaniqua is one of the many entrepreneurs, living beyond the Bay, who is using technology to solve problems critical to modern business culture.
We all know the stats on diversity, recruitment, and inclusion in Corporate America.
Despite all the rhetoric and dollars committed, the numbers remain dismal. In 2015, Google committed to spend $150 million to promote diversity only to see small increases in minority and women representation in the halls and the boardroom. In 2016, the presence of African-American men in Fortune 500 boardrooms increased by 2 percent (Missing Pieces Report). And this year, the conversation continues to shift as companies are under pressure to make progress along both racial and gender lines.
Diversity is arguably one of the most prolific yet controversial topics looming in the halls of corporations – from the Bay to Madison Avenue. A quick google search reveals countless articles, from HBR to Forbes, calling for greater levels of gender and racial diversity, as well as the need for companies to fully understand the function of inclusion within their culture. We can always “tip the hat” to companies who aim to be on the right side of history. However, the measure of a business (or brand) is in its actions and not its words. Where industry behemoths seem to be struggling, several female owned and operated startups are taking charge. Companies like Blendoor, Jopwell, and NemNet are using tech to solve for challenges such as unconscious bias and diversity recruitment. Now, Chicago based Noirefy is aiming to propel the conversation forward by using referrals as a bridge to diversity and inclusion.
As a referral based recruitment platform, Noirefy connects underrepresented minorities to opportunities in companies across the U.S. The platform leverages the power of an employee’s network to pull other qualified minority candidates into the hiring process. “Right now, there’s no other platform that specifically focuses on recruiting people through referrals,” says Noirefy founder and CEO, Shaniqua Davis. Noirefy centralizes the act of sharing job information amongst your network, by creating a space where people can post job openings to an extended network of talented professionals of color. It’s a simple way of building a centralized pool of qualified candidates of color, while helping underrepresented groups tap into a network larger than their own. Companies can cast a wider net for qualified candidates of color and proactively create the culture they want to see within their home organization. “[Our platform], lets the culture that already exists within the organization fill the culture gaps that maybe present. We use employees [of color] to bridge other people [or color] into a company.”
Referrals are the number one recruitment tool used by companies to find new talent. Whereas platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter streamline the job search process, they have yet to find ways to eliminate hiring bias or help minority candidates directly leverage their network to bring their peers into the process. Noirefy aims to close the loop on diversity – using a company’s existing talent arsenal to accelerate its commitment to diversity. “To have a [truly relevant] culture that makes everyone feel included you need to include everybody,” says Davis.
Building Noirefy hasn’t been easy. Shaniqua is essentially leading the charge not just as the CEO, but also the Chief Product, Marketing, Revenue Officer and everything in-between. But the ability to wear multiple hats while flawlessly building a visually stunning, feature heavy, digital product seems to come easy for Shaniqua. A digital designer and developer with a knack for business, Shaniqua isn’t aiming to be the next Reid Hoffman but the first Shaniqua Davis of tech. She’s fearlessly driven by her passion to build something great, impactful, and relevant. She’s on a mission to create a product that not only asks people to show up to the corporate party, but also gives them permission to dance.
To build something amazing, every entrepreneur must possess a stubborn determination to overcome challenges that will greet them during the early stages of their journey. Shaniqua has faced many. Here’s what we learned.
In the beginning, you will find yourself building alone. Don’t let that stop you.
“I’ve always had a lot people to say, ‘oh that’s a great idea,’ but there wasn’t anybody specifically to say ‘ok, go! Let’s do this. I’m here with you [to] ride this out.’”
People will often be excited about the thought of what you are doing, but don’t misconstrue that excitement for potential action. There may not be many people who will actively raise their hands to help you build. Those that do may not be with you every step of the way, and that’s okay.
“The people that were originally on my business plan are not on my business plan anymore.”
Not everyone will understand what you are doing, and that’s okay.
Somewhere we’ve started to believe that if a product is created for and meets the needs of a specific group based on their race or ethnicity, then that product is the embodiment of reverse racism. This is a harsh reality that Shaniqua has had to face head on.
“When I began building the project, I did get a lot of naysayers. [Many stated] ‘why are you focusing on a project that’s only geared towards minorities? Is this racist?’ I couldn’t believe that people were asking me if this was racist. I felt like, NO! This isn’t racist, this is needed!”
You will have to defend your efforts at every step of the journey. Don’t let the inability of some to understand your vision cripple your mission.
Your vision and the fruits of your labor will be critiqued, criticized, and doubted in every way. You will have to learn to ignore the noise and believe in your vision. Your belief in your vision must be stronger than the opinions of others.
“I heard ‘there’s already a project out there where someone is erasing name biases,' and someone is doing this, and someone is doing that. 'Why do you feel like your product will be any better?’ I just used their critiques to shape my vision.”
It’s easy for upstart entrepreneurs to get derailed by the opinions of others.
“…the thing that made me hold firm to my vision was that originally I did have all these ideas (suggestions) coming my way….and at first I thought I had to incorporate all these ideas. In the first six months, I changed my mission and idea like four times. It got to a point where when people where asking what my platform does, I didn’t know what it did. I [had to] sit down and start diving into what was important and it literally always came back to my original idea.”
At the end of the day you have to trust your instincts.
Lastly, be intentional about what you are creating and how you are creating it.
“I started seeking out resources and finding mentors. I connected with Score Chicago and I got a business and financial mentor who helped me shape my business plan. Creating a business plan literally helped me think about things that I hadn’t thought about before. I thought business plans where outdated because they change so many times. Everything is constantly shifting but it [the business plan] helped me to solidify the mission and my audience. At first [Noirefy] was for black people. That’s it. Then I realized there was a bigger market opportunity to assist other people who were also underrepresented. It [the business plan] also helped me solidify my financial model, which I struggled with in the beginning. I didn’t even think about how I would make money. I just had a great idea! I had to dive deep on the revenue model and be specific about how this could and should work. These are things I had not thought about before I sought out more resources.”
images pulled from Noirefy's Instagram and Facebook pages.