DEI Marketing Firm CEO Sharon Smith-Akinsanya Is Dedicated To Providing Equal Career Opportunities For People Of Color

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( ENSPIRE She Did That ) The People of Color Careers Social Hiring Network was Founded To Promote Equitable Access For Diverse Career Advancement

ENSPIRE Contributor: Re’Dreyona Walker

Sharon Smith-Akinsanya is the CEO of Rae Mackenzie Group–an award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) marketing firm, and is also the author of COLORFULL: Competitive Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent of Color. Smith-Akinsanya is committed to making sure that professionals of color have access to top-paying careers from employers who are committed to increasing racial inclusivity at all levels of the organization. 

In January 2021, Smith-Akinsanya founded People of Color Careers—the premier social hiring network for professionals of color to apply to current career openings, career advancement opportunities and access career development content while communicating directly with hiring managers and recruiters for free. The platform has recently tripled the number of professionals of color who have completed their free talent profiles in anticipation of the unique opportunity to connect one-on-one with hiring managers and recruiters at the top of the year. 

Photo: Sharon Smith-Akinsanya

The innovative careers platform is designed for all professionals, from college graduates looking to launch promising careers to those with years of practical experience to managers skilled at leading teams to executive-level practitioners looking to occupy the C-suite. People of Color CareersTM is an invaluable resource for any company, regardless of industry, and is playing a critical role in advancing workplace equity. 

People of Color Careers is not just a job site, but a solution to the problem that professionals of color face of not having exposure and access to decision-makers in charge of hiring and promoting. People of Color Careers brings professionals and employers together in one place, addressing the access gap that professionals of color usually experience.

Smith-Akinsanya is working hard to level the playing field of Black and brown professionals—by creating opportunities for companies to follow through with their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through the People of Color proprietary equity hiring and career advancement platform, and by creating change from the top down through her competitive strategies to attract and keep top talent of color. 

ENSPIRE had the chance to speak with Smith-Akinsanya about her diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, how her book has served as a guide to companies, CEOs and recruiters looking to hire talent of color, and how existing and future companies can work to ensure diversity and inclusion is a priority, and not simply an afterthought.

Since creating Rae Mackenzie Group, how has the diversity, equity, and inclusion marketing firm worked towards helping brands recruit and retain the talent of color?

Sharon: The core of what we do at the Rae Mackenzie Group is position brands in the marketplace to better attract talent and consumers of color. To do this, we work with companies by looking at every facet of their business–starting with their mission, vision and core values. This type of deep-dive allows us to comb through their organizational structure from top to bottom, which helps them better understand how to interweave diversity, equity and inclusion into the framework of their company. At the end of the process, brands are better equipped to attract, recruit and retain talent of color.

How would you describe working with companies on pledging to increase DEI?

Sharon: First, let me say that we work with companies to get them past just making pledges. Pledges are not action, and too often, companies make pledges in place of actually doing anything. We work with companies to get them to move toward taking real, tangible action.

There is a similar overall process for every company, even though every company is unique. We work with companies to get them to make a deliberate decision. Just decide to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority. Because once the decision is made, companies will make the necessary provisions to get the work done. With the company’s genuine commitment, then we, at Rae Mackenzie Group, will perform an extensive audit of their entire business and give our recommendations around what they can do to become an authentic leader in DEI.

What exactly does your authored book, COLORFULL: Competitive Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent of Color entail? How has it served as a guide and pathway for CEOs, recruiters, and hiring managers wanting to hire talent of color?

Sharon: COLORFULL is filled with my advice about how to think about and tackle DEI in the workplace. In this book, I share my thoughts about how companies can take an actionable approach to creating a welcoming and inviting culture for People of Color. This culture is necessary to not only attract but also retain talent of color.

The book is also filled with my direct conversations with CEOs, CDOs, and CHROs at top companies, past and present. It gives an inside look at the challenges leaders have faced and highlights the opportunities they have seized to create company cultures that appeal to people of color and foster equity and inclusion. 

Having a copy will provide business leaders with a guide for navigating the DEI landscape and avoiding pitfalls into which other leaders have fallen. COLORFULL is a resource based on actual events and lived experiences that gives attainable solutions to the challenges that so many companies face as it pertains to creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.

How do you think Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and top employers should go about having tough conversations about race and foster a culture of inclusion in the workplace?

Sharon: To broach race conversations, a company’s leaders have to first deepen their understanding of race and the systemic implications that form the pervasive societal biases around race. This is a crucial step because it is here that biases will be called to light and checked. Then, the leaders must broaden their personal and professional networks. They’re going to have to be intentional about attending events with communities of color and putting themselves in situations where they are not the predominant culture. Active listening and open-mindedness will only come through deepening understanding and broadening networks (by surrounding yourself with the right resources, the right people, etc.)

Once the leaders begin to Lead Out Loud by example, companies can embark on the journey toward true inclusion. This should start with a company assessing where they are currently. I suggest conducting an internal audit that examines business practices spanning across the entire organizational structure. The list should include, but not be limited to: hiring practices, promotional tracks, sourcing, internal communications, marketing content, professional profiles for leaders, company website, etc.

All in all, companies have to be intentional and hit it all head-on. They can’t beat around the bush around what must be done.

How do you think the People of Color Careers platform will revolutionize how companies and their recruiters interact with people of color seeking career opportunities?

Sharon: People Of Color Careers™ Social Hiring Network is changing everything. The platform offers something totally unique, something nobody is offering: direct, guaranteed access to recruiters. We have a commitment from our employer partners that their recruiters on the platform are being accountable to engage proactively with professionals. Recruiters will get back to you if you send a message or even look at one of their open roles! Who else can say that?

How can existing and future companies ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are one of the first steps in developing their brand? And not make their diverse employees feel like an afterthought or as if the company is trying to cover themselves?

Sharon: Those companies seeking to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (and every company should) must start with including people of color in the planning and implementation processes. Too often, decisions that primarily impact Black people and other people of color are made by individuals who are not of color, and so the decisions are often uninformed and presented from a place of “we know what’s best for you better than you know for yourself.” Black people and other people of color need to be in the room, with seats at the decision-making table. This type of representation is key to getting buy-in and ensuring that DEI initiatives don’t feel like publicity stunts or throwaways. Companies should avoid making decisions for people of color at all costs. This will help…a lot.

More about Smith-Akinsanya can be found through her professional website and the Rae MacKenzie Group’s official website, as well as her Instagram and Twitter pages. You can also find more about the thousands of career opportunities available for people of color via the People of Color Careers website.

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