How to Leverage Diverse Partnerships to Connect With Top Black Talent

Expert tips for using partnerships to improve your talent pipeline.

Now, more than ever, companies understand the importance of building diverse teams. However, Black workers remain underrepresented in the fastest growing markets and industries. Almost half of Black private-sector employees work in low-salary industries like retail, food service, or healthcare, which have the highest share of workers making under $30,000. Conversely, Black workers are underrepresented in high-growth and high-paying industries like financial services, information technology, and professional services. Even in industries with high representation, like retail, Black employees are rarely represented at the executive level

Developing the pipelines to recruit and develop Black talent can be challenging. In order to connect with top Black talent and start shifting these statistics, it’s essential for college recruitment teams to invest in multi-faceted strategies, including diverse partnerships. 

In our February Talent Talk, we discussed how diverse partnerships can move the needle on representation with three talent acquisition leaders from Travelers, NielsenIQ, and DICK’S Sporting Goods. The panelists, Hansford Johnson, Alicia Roebuck, and Carrie Whisel, shared their top strategies for finding and forging partnerships with organizations that elevate talented Black candidates, especially in the university and early career space. Watch the panel replay below or read our highlights for the key takeaways, including some of the partners they work with.

Watch the Panel Replay

Panel Highlights

How To Approach D&I

Before deciding on a partnership strategy, it’s important to define what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to ensure your workforce reflects your community? Are you working to create diversity strategies that extend beyond recruitment? Does your company culture reflect what you’re trying to achieve?

Some points to consider when devising a D&I talent strategy include:

  • Ensure that leadership understands the importance of recruiting top Black talent. This is both a moral and business imperative.  A 2018 Harvard Business Review study showed that companies with the most diversity were both more innovative and more profitable than less diverse organizations.
  • Modernize your methods of recruitment. Expand your recruitment efforts beyond a small set of elite schools that may not offer as much representation.
  • Focus your efforts. If your top priority is to increase representation on your technology teams, partner with schools and organizations that are focused on STEM, for example.
  • Be intentional about providing learning and development opportunities in order to advance diverse leaders. Retaining top talent is just as important as recruiting them.

How to Evaluate Partners

When deciding on new partnerships, it’s important that you have mutually beneficial goals. Keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish. Ultimately, partners should help you find the right students with a range of experiences and backgrounds, from a variety of schools.  Use data to both decide what areas you would like to focus on, as well as to help evaluate whether specific efforts are successful.

Different types of partnerships will help you achieve different goals. For example, national partners may give you access to the top talent overall. Local partners, like city-specific community outreach programs, can help you reach students who truly reflect your local area. Industry-specific partners, like the National Association of Black Accountants, will help you find talent in a specific field. Having a clear idea of who you’re trying to reach and the goals you’re hoping to accomplish will help you decide which partners are right for your organization.

Consider these factors when evaluating partners:

  • Your goals should be fact-based and quantifiable. Are there representation gaps in specific departments that you should primarily focus on?
  • Prioritize areas of investment. If your goal is to increase representation on your technology team, it makes sense to partner with tech-focused organizations.
  • Define what success looks like. Both you and your partner should be held accountable by quantifiable goals. As partners, the results should be mutually beneficial.

How to Get Buy-In from Leadership

In order to get leadership to sign off a new partnership, they must fully understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Educate your company leaders on the university landscape and the importance of recruiting Black talent. Use data to support your argument and show how recruiting Black talent ties in with your company goals.

When working with new partners, it’s also critical to set proper expectations. Leadership should know your timeline and fully understand your KPIs. Most partnerships won’t show results right away, as it takes time to build relationships and trust. Setting goals for the long term can help manage expectations. Come up with a full 1-3-5 year plan and work cross functionally to execute and measure the results.

It’s important to recognize that D&I efforts don’t stop at recruitment. If the company’s culture doesn’t reflect what you’re telling campus recruits, you won’t retain your new hires. Work with your organization to onboard successfully, create insightful projects, and host ongoing events to ensure inclusion is inherent in everything you do. When you ensure that leadership understands how D&I impacts every aspect of the organization, it will be much easier to get buy-in for your diversity recruitment partnerships.

Diversity Partners

The partners you work with will depend on your specific goals, location, and industry. Here are some partners discussed during the panel.

Organizations that provide scholarships, internships, and/or training opportunities to college students:

Ron Brown Scholar Program – Ron Brown Scholars are African Americans of outstanding promise. Scholars are provided with academic scholarships, leadership and service opportunities, and mentorship.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Management Leadership for Tomorrow works to close the college-to-career transition gap for underrepresented minority students. Each year, over 1,600 MLT Fellows are prepared to attend top business schools, earn high-trajectory jobs, and reach senior leadership positions.

Posse – Posse gives their diverse Scholars, of which 57% are first-generation college students, full scholarships to partner schools, pre-college training, support throughout their college career, and top professional development opportunities, including internships and career coaching.

Jackie Robinson Foundation – The Jackie Robinson Foundation is committed to leveling the playing field in education by providing scholarships, mentoring, support, and internship and job placement to JRF Scholars.

INROADS – “For over four decades, INROADS has helped businesses gain greater access to diverse talent through continuous leadership development of outstanding ethnically diverse students and placement of those students in internships at many of North America’s top corporations, firms and organizations.”

Partners with Diverse Job Boards and Student Databases:

HBCU Connect – HBCU Connect is the largest network of students and alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with a sizeable job and internship database.

InternX – InternX is a free platform that seeks to “to bring precision, diversity, inclusion, and efficiency to the internship matching process.” Interns on the platform are pre-screened students in the STEM and business fields.

RippleMatch – RippleMatch is college recruiting made right. RippleMatch helps companies build relationships with students from underrepresented backgrounds, including women & racial/ethnic minorities.

How to Ensure Long-Term Success with Your Partnerships

Once you’ve selected and started working with your partners, it’s important to make sure you have the processes in place to ensure long-term success. First, use internal data and data you collect from your partners to make sure you’re meeting your goals and recruiting the students you were looking for. Leverage the relationships with your partners to make changes to your strategy if you’re not seeing the results you were hoping for.

It’s imperative that your efforts go beyond the recruitment process. If your organization is not inclusive beyond student recruitment, you won’t retain your talent. It will also be more difficult to recruit new candidates if they learn that previous hires were not happy with the organization, which will lessen the impact of your partnerships.

In order to make new hires that were sourced from your partnerships feel comfortable, ensure they have access to the same resources and opportunities as your hires that were recruited from your traditional school partners. Encourage them to join employee resource groups, connect them with alumni from their universities, and utilize mentorship programs to provide support. Ensure that your company is inclusive beyond the recruitment process to retain top talent and see long-term success.

When you are strategic about your partnerships, it will be easier to connect with – and retain – top Black talent. By choosing partners that fit with your company’s goals, you’ll find candidates that fit with your organization and want to stay for the long-term.


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