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PODCAST EPISODE 28: SHANIQUA DAVIS | FOUNDER & CEO, NOIREFY



When Shaniqua Davis was searching for a new position after being laid off, she wasn’t receiving the amount of interest that she believed she was qualified for. A mentor of hers, the head of a large Chicago corporation, suggested she try changing her name on her resume to Shawn; lo and behold, the interest in Shawn Davis was significantly greater. Thus Noirefy was born as a solution to address the bias she had encountered. Noirefy’s mission is to help level the playing field of what the workforce looks like to ultimately create a more diverse and open culture.


Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Noirefy helps companies address these changes on a systemic level.

  2. Diversity isn’t just a number but it’s also about creating a safe and comfortable space for everyone to work with each other..

  3. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace requires a long term commitment; it’s not just about checking the boxes.

So much wisdom and nuggets in this episode – Enjoy!


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TRANSCIPT

Shaniqua: How do we get around this bias to where we start accepting things that are different than what the majority expect us to look like. And I couldn’t find a solution then. So that’s where Noirefy came in. And luckily, I would say we’ve been able to grow to a point where the companies that are working with us they’re looking beyond things like that.


I’m Aaron Levy. And I have this crazy vision of a workplace where your manager doesn’t suck where instead of being the reason you quit, your job is actually the reason you stay, where your manager is your coach helping you to reach your full potential at work. I found it Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace by creating an environment where both the company and employee succeeds in this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high-performing teams and learn from them on what it takes to unlock a team’s potential.


Aaron: I’m lucky to have Shaniqua Davis, the founder and CEO of Noirefy, a diversity advancement platform that connects diverse professionals with high growth companies. Shaniqua started the company because she didn’t find a comfortable, safe place that she could work. And she didn’t find a solution that could help her find that good place to work.


So she started Noirefy. in this episode, you’ll hear more about Shaniqua’s story, how and why she started Noirefy and the impact that they’re having in the workplace. Take a listen. I know you’ll enjoy.


Welcome Shaniqua. It’s a pleasure to have you on the podcast and thank you for agreeing to have this conversation and share it with others.


Shaniqua:I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.


Aaron: So I think the first thing that I’d love to know is a little more about Noirefy and what do you do? What does the company do? And then why did you go about starting this business?


Shaniqua: [ Yeah. we serve as a diversity tech solution to high growth startups. All the way up to, I would say mid-size not quite at the fortune 500 stage yet, but right before this stage. So middle market businesses who are looking to expand and develop their overall diversity and recruitment goals. So what that looks like for us is we come in and we kind of evaluate where corporations are in their diversity practices. So if they need talent acquisition help, we come up with an overall strategy to help them attract and retain diverse talent.


So we specifically target. African-American and Latinx professionals as members of our database. And we work with our partners to connect them to that audience.


Aaron: So it’s a little bit both. You’re kind of like a platform for diversity and inclusion hiring. And then it also sounds like you’re a strategy component too, where you actually help the businesses that are on your platform, looking for talent to put together their strategy.


Shaniqua: Yeah. So we, I would say that we are always like the lead with, while we assist with talent acquisition, we are not a staffing firm. So corporations they assume that we will go out and be recruiting diverse talent for them. And while we will be marketing to that talent, we won’t actively be sourcing that talent for them just because we want to make our diversity recruiting strategies as authentic as possible.

And we also want to eliminate quotas. So when corporations say that they want to incorporate diversity, we want it to be a full holistic solution. So incorporating our strategic tips into their overall recruitment process to basically kind of just give them more pipeline equity.


So. While we assist with the talent acquisition. It’s more so just kind of a recruitment marketing piece. And then when it comes to the strategy piece, it’s more so building out, building blocks for them to understand how they can establish a DNI statement or how their career pages should look or how their job descriptions may lead to different biases.


So we help them uncover those things inside of the recruitment piece for strategy.


Aaron: So this is something that’s been long missed in the corporate world is thinking about and being conscious and intentional about how we recruit, how we hire, who we bring in, how we bring them in with the last, I don’t know, year plus of the extreme challenges from the pandemic to George Floyd, to Q Anon affecting all of it.


How has that played a role? In your business, in the business growth in, in how you think about going about business?


Shaniqua: So with the last year, I would say with the pandemic in combination with the rise of the black lives matter movement and George Floyd and Brianna Taylor incidents we saw an extreme increase.


In the amount of interest in our solutions and our strategies, but also in the number of clients that came on board for more than annual agreements, who said, Hey, we not only want to search for talent. We actually want to build out a true whole diversity recruitment strategy.


So it increased tremendously for us. I think It was a good and a bad thing just because from a good standpoint, it was great because we were able to see the demand for our services grow extremely; the bad part to that was that we did not have the bandwidth to keep up with the demands of our companies.


We have a small team, so as the CEO and founder of the company, I would say for the last. Four years we’ve been in business for five. I was essentially a solo preneur where I was trying to run this huge diversity tech startup on my own. And then sometimes if I had the capacity or if I was able to raise capital, I would bring on part-time employees.


So that’s where we are now. We have two full-time employees and it’s myself. So a team of three trying to take on 20 plus clients that demand, we were like, Oh my God, how do we deal with this? So we’ve been able to figure it out. We’re in the process of hiring more professionals. So that’s a good thing.


Aaron: Yeah, I saw on the job board on Noirefy that you were hiring two employees. So that was exciting to see.


Shaniqua: Yeah. Yeah. So we’re looking for an account manager and then we’re also looking for someone to just oversee the kind of the full gamut of our marketing strategy. And that’ll just one help us internally figure out how we want to hone in on, our potential customers, but also we create recruitment marketing strategies for our customers.


So that person would be ideally responsible for working directly with our clients to bring them the most value.


Aaron: this is something I’ve been curious about. How do you, with kind of this, like the trend is now diversity and inclusion, and how do you cut through the noise of the companies that say they want to be diverse and inclusive, but are doing it just to check the box or not to look bad versus the companies that truly want to make meaningful change.


How do you cut through that noise to really pick the right partners to showcase?


Shaniqua: Yeah. So we have we been able to come up with a pretty good filtering strategy in terms of figuring out what companies want true strategies like for the long call, as opposed to companies that are just looking to, like you said, check the box and really what we’ve done with that is we forced.


Essentially within the contractual terms of our agreements is that, you know, if you are truly dedicated to DNI statements, that there are certain commitments and responsibilities that each of our organizations have. And the first is that they have to commit to DNR strategies for at least a year.


And that’s not to necessarily just benefit our organization to say, Hey, XYZ is an annual client. It’s just that diversity and inclusion isn’t an overnight strategy. So if you reach out to us and say, you just want to post a job for 30 days the ROI on that is probably going to be very minimal, but also you’re not going to get any return in terms of a full diversity structure.


So we are able to see what partners are actually committed to building out long-term strategies through our agreements in the things that they are in court or agreeing to commit. To throughout the year. So that could be, you know, an ERG at their organization…


Aaron: Let me pause for a second.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with an ERG, it’s an employee resource group.


Shaniqua: Yep. So in ERG can be broken down into, you know, African-American groups, Latinx groups, LGBTQ groups, anything that supports individuals within that organization. As our companies are ramping up throughout the year and they are making those commitments we’re able to showcase and highlight those initiatives.


One is a good pat on the back for the organizations to be like, you know what, Hey, we’ve done this internally. But also it shows that they are actually building out true structures. And with our companies that are interested in working with our services and they only want to do a job posting or a 30 day turnaround, there’s no way that they can accomplish those DNI goals directly with us.


So that’s how we’ve been able to filter it out as does this through the commitments that companies are willing to make.


Aaron: I love that you’re really clear. We’re not going to work with you for not willing to make a long-term commitment because it’s not going to make a meaningful change. I love that.


That’s like that clear upfront, and that helps. Sounds like it wards off some of the check boxers.


Shaniqua: Yes, exactly. And it’s also been really good for us as well. We are still a small business, so as we are able to develop longer relationships with companies and we see how they, their organizations are shifting and changing, we’re able to continue to implement and shift our business model as well to accommodate our customers as they continue to grow.


Aaron: What shifts have you had to make in the business model to better suit your customers?


Shaniqua: Yeah. our most recent shift is that we are now in a position where we need to build out a full toolkit to help companies come up with once they’ve passed the first initial strategy of, you know, Hey, we have ERGs in place.


What tips can we do now to actually structure and keep these tips in place? So now we have to build out full consulting-based kind of strategies that are beyond kind of the, Hey, these are the best tips that you need to do. We were coming up with full LMS systems and or learning management systems for corporations to continue to manage their practices and our teammates.


And for us, that was a process where we shifted from, Hey, let’s just find a way to highlight your employer branding. And now we’re figuring out overall kind of toolkit solutions for corporations to continue to grow past. Once they’ve been able to knock down their first initial goals.


Aaron: So helping them like that, the next level and the next level, beyond that for them to keep going on the journey of diversity.


Shaniqua: Exactly. So as they grow, we’re like, okay, now that you know, our partner has reached a solution, we need to be able to provide them with tools to continue to get to the next step and the next step. And we’re uncovering all of those steps as we continue to grow with our partners.


Aaron: And so you mentioned earlier that Noirefy has been around for roughly five years and for most of those five years, it was you, it was you grinding away and, and building out the startup.


What inspired you to start Noirefy and what inspired you to keep plugging away at it?


Shaniqua: Yeah, well, Noirefy started off as just like a side idea or hustle. And in 2016 I was laid off from my job. And when I was laid up, I was like, okay, well, I’m going to start looking for new jobs and in my journey to start looking for new jobs I was really curious about the experiences of my peers in the things that they had gone through at certain corporations.


So instead of going through kind of the long brutal recruitment process or going through, landing a job at a company and then deciding that, you know what, actually, I don’t feel like I belong here. I was like, you know, let me get the experience of my peers. So I started off with that piece.


And then that also tied into a few other things from my own personal situation, like things with trying to decide if I needed to switch my name from Sheniqua to Shawnn, when I was applying to jobs to get more exposure, like all of that kind of really came into an enlightenment where I was like, you know what?


Hey. Let me look up and see if there are any solutions out here currently to address some of these biases, or can I find some reviews on companies that specifically talk about, cultural things that are happening and at organization and at the time there were very few resources, so I decided to start my own.


So. I was sitting down. I came up with the idea of Noirefy then the very next day I went out and I started telling everybody else the CEO and founder of this company that I hadn’t even known what it was. But you know, there was a lot of excitement behind it and I just kept going and going and here I am.


Aaron: I love it. The next day I went out and started telling people I was the CEO of this company that I just made up that it generated from kind of a need for you as a black woman to find out, Hey, where can I feel like there’s a good place for me, where I fit. There’s so many organizations where I don’t feel welcomed or taken care of or supported.


And you know, I’m just interested. You, you brushed over it fairly quickly, but it’s on your LinkedIn and you’ve mentioned it before, but you know, you changed your name or you change your name on your application in some ways to Shawn, what, like, can you tell me more about that and the genesis of that and what you learned from doing that?


Shaniqua: It was just a feeling or a recommendation that I received from a mentor that I have when I first moved to Chicago. He was the head of a very large organization here in Chicago. And just asking for advice, because I wasn’t really getting the leads or interests that I thought and I knew that I was qualified for, he just made the recommendation to switch my name and at first I was opposed to that. But then as I started switching my name around from Sheniqua to Shawn on different applications I noticed that the response to interest rate for Shawn Davis was a lot greater.


So yeah, so I did that and you know, that opened my eyes and you know, I think when I first started the company, I, I focused a lot on, Hey, I started this company because I had to switch my name from Shaniqua to Shawn. And while that holds some merit to it, and it is still a very important piece to the story of how Noirefy was founded.


That was just a building block in an element of we need to provide a solution that’s going to get around all of these individual pieces. My peers who have, you know, African-American names- some people may view African-American names as kind of stereotypical, which is very unfortunate. How do we get around this bias to where we start accepting things that are different than what the majority expect us to look like? And I couldn’t find a solution then.


So that’s where Noirefy came in. And luckily, I would say we’ve been able to grow to a point where companies, the companies that are working with us they’re looking beyond things like that. They’re avoiding, you know, the biases they’re training, they’re getting consulting, they’re developing different strategies to, you know, assist with never really happening again. So that’s a good thing in my opinion, about where we are in terms of growth


Aaron: For those of us who are listening and wondering, Hey, okay. So the companies you work with. They’ve gotten beyond that or they’re starting to get beyond that. What are some of the things that they’ve done to get beyond the initial biases?


Shaniqua: I would say outside of working with Noirefy, a lot of those companies are investing into consultants. And also if though they aren’t working with third party partners they have. A lot. I would say majority of the companies who received a lot of backlash and I would say around 2016, 2015 is where the Apples and the Googles, they were all being grilled for their diversity numbers.


But now if we look at the majority of Fortune 500 companies or even high-growth startups, all of them are usually being led by diversity and inclusion VPs who more than likely are going to be Black women. And I would say that that’s a whole nother conversation.


Aaron: And so that’s a whole other can of worms


Shaniqua: like that whole thing, because we moved from a phase where a lot of minority employees, specifically African-American employees were being put into positions inside of their organizations.


When companies started getting heat to become the, like the lead DNI. Person for their organization. For some reason, they, you know, you could be an account manager, but now, because you’re an African-American employee at this organization, we now want you to be our diversity and inclusion consultant or leaders


Aaron: As the highest ranking African-American in the company, we’re going to put you in that role because that’s all we got.


Shaniqua: Yeah, that’s all we got. And then a big issue with that was a lot of people, like a lot of times when they were being assigned these roles with still with their full-time roles, they weren’t being compensated for it. So there are still a lot of African-American or even Latinx Professionals at organizations who are still going through those issues.


But we’ve kind of moved past that just a little bit, just a little bit to where companies are now making it a vital piece to say that, you know, and now we’re going to hire a VP of Diversity and inclusion and they’re going to take care of all our problems. And so I wouldn’t say that. We have gotten past everything to the point where now the corporate world is just beautiful.


It’s flowers it’s dandy. It’s a great place. But what I do see is that companies are at least trying, or we think they’re trying to make changes so we can start leveling the playing field of what the workforce looks like. And I think as long as companies are, if they are implementing and specifically creating budgets, that are related to increase in diversity and inclusion, I think they have to continue to see growth in something.


Aaron: I like what you’re saying. I mean, I think between what you said earlier about the long-term commitments and what you’re saying now is like the systematic changes. Those are a couple of structural things to look for in your organization. It’s like what?


Systematic changes. It’s not just, are you giving a figurehead position? But is there a real role that’s carved out that the business is investing in and then what are the long-term investments that you’re making as a business towards this? And those two things combined will show that there’s some sort of commitment to this, to a greater and more diverse and open culture.


So what excites you about the future of not only Noirefy, but what you’re bringing to the world?


Shaniqua: what excites me is that I’m working with Noirefy. I literally wake up every day and I work with my team to come up with solutions on how we as a we’re a minority led team, all women, how we are working directly as a key resource to organizations to try to come up with a better solution on how.


You know, they can become better in whatever areas they’re struggling. And so that gets me excited because when days get very hard in the startup world as you may know, it, I would say even in your professional career, it gets very, very hard to stay positive at times, but when you wake up and you’re doing something that is truly benefiting somebody other than yourself, or even just benefiting the few people that you may see at a close distance I think that is just something that I continue to build on every day.


If I don’t have a solution at that moment I know that I can work strategically with my team or with my advisors. That’s around me too, so we can figure out better solutions on how we can improve our product or services. But when it comes to the full diversity and inclusion space, I think what gets me really, really excited the most is that I think we are starting to see more minority professionals in leadership and C-suite level positions than we’ve ever seen in history.


So what that means for corporations is that I think we start to see more and more mobility in terms of how. The workforce will continue to grow over, I would say within the next 10 years or so, the next 10, 20 years as we continue to develop and shape what leadership looks like, I think we’ll have more opportunities across the board for minority professionals and everybody.


That is a part of the workforce.


Aaron: Yeah, because diversity is not just a number. I think you said that quote is it, it’s not just a number of African-American men or women or Latin X matter women that you have in your company, but it’s the way in which everyone feels safe and comfortable to work with one another and to feel together.


And I love how you said that, like the more that this embeds into the depth of these organizations at roles that matter within the organization, the more people are going to be thinking in a diverse and inclusive and equitable way.


Shaniqua: Yes. That’s it.


Aaron: Shaniqua this has been awesome. If someone wanted to work with you, learn more about you, pick your brain, how do they get in touch?


Shaniqua: I can be reached I’m on LinkedIn. My name is Shaniqua (Shawn) Davis. So feel free to send me an invite or send me a message so we can arrange some type of communication or you can reach out to us on noirefy.com and we’re also Noirefy on all social media channels. N O I R E F Y. I know that gets a little tricky for people.


So I was like the spelling out, but feel free to reach out to us


Aaron: Shaniqua. This has been awesome. Thank you so much for the time. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for doing the work that you’re doing. It really makes a difference.


Shaniqua: Thank you. Really appreciate it.


Open Honest and Direct is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people you can get in touch with us at raisebar.co


Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.