How does a company recruit top talent with the tenacity to get the job done and the diversity to bring new and valued perspectives to their work? These days, this is a ubiquitous question being asked by hiring managers at startups and Fortune 500 companies alike. The answer is not straight forward, but as one of New York’s largest social services nonprofits with nearly 2,000 employees and constant hiring needs, at The New York Foundling, we know that merely posting on job boards and culling for pedigreed resumes isn’t working.
A year ago, The Foundling began offering New York City’s first digital divide programming targeted at the foster youth population, with an aim towards launching a new group of talented and diverse millennials into the workforce. Nationwide, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Less than half of these youth will be employed within four years of emancipation, and just three percent will graduate from college.
At The New York Foundling, we empower foster youth to take charge of their futures and establish themselves in today’s job market. Our Digital Inclusion Program teaches foster youth basic digital literacy skills and provides them with a laptop and mobile Internet access for five years, two things that most of us take for granted but can be life changing for students who are accustomed to writing essays on their cellphones. Another offering, the Technology Workforce Development Program, then helps them receive coding and other technical training at schools such as Per Scholas, General Assembly and Year Up, leading them to internships and jobs they never dreamed possible.
Our graduates have the right skills and possess a grittiness and diversity of views that pay off for employers. Yet, without the proactive assistance from The Foundling and our partner training schools, the resumes of most of these young people would never have received more than a glance. That’s a shame, and there are some valuable lessons to unearth about mining overlooked candidate pools for true diversity.
1. Read beyond the resume.
Too often we think "high standards'' only means work experience or an Ivy League education, so we fail to recognize how a young employee who has the aptitude, is a hard worker and eager to learn can be even more valuable.
One of The Foundling’s recent graduates, Allen, had only a high school degree and a few college credits; he certainly did not have your typical computer engineering resume. Yet, he finished his tech training program at the top of his class and is now working for an agency on assignments at companies like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. All Allen needed was a shot.
2. Diversity is just that -- diverse.
The Harvard Business Review defines two types of diversity: inherent and acquired. So often when we hear about diversity in the workplace, companies are mostly touting an increase of women and minorities. While this is incredibly important, gender and ethnicity are indicia of inherent diversity. Just as important is acquired diversity, described by the Harvard Business Review as “traits you gain from experience.” In other words, our past helps define who we are both personally and professionally. For example, growing up in the foster care system, without a permanent home, can often result in a quest for stability and community in adulthood. As Gallup estimates that millennial job turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually, loyal employees who are seeking constancy and long-term employment can be invaluable to your company in the long run.
3. Take a chance.
Once in a while, when an unorthodox, gritty candidate comes along, recognize that he or she can be invaluable to your company even without the polished pedigree. Take a chance, and hire them. Access to jobs for diverse populations only comes when someone who has already transcended the barriers to entry decides to deviate from the norm in a way that further widens the gate.
Without champions from within, the kind of diversity that comes from a life of struggling and hustling -- the backbone of America’s history -- will simply not be a part of this country’s corporate identity. That doesn’t only hurt young people like Allen, it hurts us all. If you are bold enough to seek it out, untapped, diverse talent is everywhere just waiting for an opportunity to shine.