Three Pillars to Recruiting and Retaining Black Talent in Today’s Competitive Market

Here are nine action items to revamp your D&I strategies and meet your goals.

It’s no secret that it’s a candidate-driven market. A recent report from the U.S. Labor Department found that as of December 2021, there are 10.9 million job openings across the states – an increase of 4.1 million vacant jobs compared to just last winter. At the same time, more companies are joining the race to increase their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts, and the market for securing Black talent is becoming even more competitive as employment opportunities continue to grow across the board. However, despite investments into securing diverse talent, many companies still haven’t improved their workplace culture, made efforts to manage biases, nor found success in retaining Black talent at the higher levels. In fact, Black workers remain underrepresented in booming industries such as science and tech, and account for just 3.2% of senior roles at Fortune 500 companies and less than 1% of CEO positions at those organizations. 

So how do you position yourself at the forefront of the battle for diverse talent and ensure that your company is committed to supporting Black candidates’ professional development within your organization? According to a panel RippleMatch held earlier this month, the answer lies in your ability to rethink your target schools, invest time building relationships with students, and give attention to younger learners.  

In our February Talent Talk, we discussed how crucial it is to expand your recruiting efforts and forge early and honest connections with Black students with three talent acquisition leaders from Peloton, Hyatt, and Ernst & Young. The panelists, William Chichester III, Alexia Huggins, and Brianna Addison shared their strategies for capitalizing on face-to-face interactions with Black students and ensuring you have a support system in place to help nurture them as they grow their careers. 

Here are nine strategies with staying power to help you increase representation of Black employees.

Watch the panel replay and read the article below.

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Expand your search beyond a target schools list and beyond well-known HBCUs to reach untapped Black talent 

Determining how to find more success scaling your diversity efforts may mean revisiting the most basic tenets of your recruitment strategy: which schools you target. Here are four things to consider as you go through that process:

1. Take a School Agnostic Approach

One way to reach more talent is to favor a school agnostic approach over an adherence to a core schools list. RippleMatch data shows that on average, companies recruiting from a core schools list find that only 16% of their candidates represent underrepresented minority groups and just 22% are first-generation college students. In contrast, companies without core schools lists saw those figures rise to 32% and 29%, respectively. RippleMatch’s platform includes student profiles from more than 1,300 schools across the country – including more than 150 HBCUs and Hispanic Serving-Institutions – and matches students with opportunities based on their interests and backgrounds. In fact, a 2020 RippleMatch survey found that college recruiting teams received 50% more underrepresented minority applicants after they began using the RippleMatch platform. 

2. Form a Diverse Set of Partnerships

At the same time, it’s also important to form a diverse set of partnerships to reach talent based on your specific goals, location, and industry. For example, national partnerships such as HBCU Connect will give you access to the top talent at HBCUs across the country, while city-specific partners will provide you with students in your more immediate area. There is also a range of industry-specific partners you can explore — such as the National Society of Black Engineers — that will connect you with students interested in pursuing a career in a certain field. 

3. Look Beyond HBCUs for Talent

In the same vein of shifting away from a core schools list, a D&I strategy focused solely on recruiting students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) may no longer be enough to keep your company competitive. It would be worth exploring how you can tap into the host of Black talent residing in lesser-known places, including predominantly white colleges and community colleges. Identifying and shifting focus to those schools that aren’t as well-known as hubs for Black talent will also expose diverse students to opportunities they may have otherwise never had the chance to explore.

4. Offer Remote Opportunities

Plus, if you are willing to lean into what is increasingly becoming a remote-first job market as Gen Z continues to express a desire for flexibility in the workplace, you can reach even more talent across the country. There is a higher concentration of Black talent in certain regions such as the northeast and southeast — you will have access to significantly more diverse talent if you offer attractive remote opportunities that were previously reserved for those willing to relocate. 

Maintain a constant presence in students’ lives and connect them with diverse members at your company early

The most important asset when it comes to building relationships with Black students and their school faculty is not money – it’s time. While that can be a hard sell for companies that want to see fast results in securing Black talent and increasing their D&I efforts, it can also be the reason current recruiting strategies aren’t working as well as they could be. 

5. Meet Students for Informal Coffee Dates Throughout the Year

Taking a school agnostic approach and partnering with national diversity organizations can help you tap into a wide network of talent, but at the same time it’s also valuable to select some schools where you can focus on forming connections with students. Building relationships and trust with individual Black students is crucial – and involves constant communication and maintaining a physical presence in students’ lives. This can be accomplished through informal coffee dates (which can be virtual as well!) getting into classrooms to present opportunities in front of students, and visiting campuses often to remain a friendly face. 

6. Connect Students With ERG Members

Another way to engage students is to connect them with members of various Employee Resource Groups (ERG), who can either make in-person visits to campus or take advantage of a borderless recruitment process by signing onto video calls and presenting. In fact, introducing students to members of your ERGs early on in the recruitment process is a great way to highlight to candidates that your company values and nurtures diverse talent. Connecting students with ERG members will allow prospective candidates to talk more informally about company culture, and help them make informed decisions about where they might be a good fit.

7. Deploy Diverse Recruiters and Interviewers

As you explore implementing more campus visits or virtual meet-ups, it’s important to take a hard look at who is appearing in front of Black students. If you don’t have enough Black recruiters on your talent search team, you may not see the results you are hoping for in attracting diverse candidates if they don’t feel represented at your company. The interview process can be intimidating enough, so it’s important to ensure candidates can connect with and see themselves in the folks representing your organization.

Pay attention to freshmen and sophomores & nurture diverse employees as they grow their careers to fill higher roles

8. Engage Black Talent New to Campus With Internships

Once you solidify your efforts to connect with early career talent, you may also want to rethink which students you are targeting – and ensure that you don’t miss out on talent by focusing solely on seniors. You can start building a network of talent by forming relationships with freshmen and sophomores in addition to those with closer graduation dates either by involving them in presentations and events when you visit their campus, or offering them summer internship opportunities with the potential to lead to a job at your company. It’s important to continue to build that relationship with students into their senior years, so you can help them hone in on specific opportunities and expose them to industries they may not have otherwise considered.

9. Ensure Diverse Employees Have Access to a Support System Within Your Company

To retain the talent you have worked so hard to recruit, you should ensure that the nurturing and support doesn’t end when employees receive their first paycheck. When Black employees see that your organization offers an inclusive environment and is invested in their long-term professional growth, they are more likely to remain at your company and progress as future leaders.

Many Black students — especially as many are disproportionately first-generation college students — lack a support system to help them navigate the nuances and unwritten rules of the labor market. You can set your Black early career professionals up for continued success by assigning them mentors who can help them in their career journeys – whether that comes in the form of advice on how best to negotiate a salary increase or how to work toward a promotion in your company. That being said, Black students shouldn’t be limited to the diverse employees at your company – ensure that allies are also stepping up to provide mentorship and support, and that the burden doesn’t only fall on your employees of color. 

As it becomes clearer that Black early career professionals are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the job market, you need to shift away from asking what they can provide for your company and instead open the conversation with questions surrounding what you can do for them and their professional development. Tapping into talent at lesser-known schools, forming sincere relationships with students early on, and setting them up for a successful career through mentorship and support are three overarching ways you can ramp up your efforts to diversify your company and help move the needle on creating a more inclusive workforce. 


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Global Head of University Recruiting & Programs

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University Recruiter

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