( ENSPIRE She Did That ) BlackUp Founder and CEO Christabel Agbonkonkon is Helping Black Professionals Get Their Dream Jobs
ENSPIRE Contributor: Abigail Elcock
On March 31, 2022, BlackUp Tech launched its website. Its goal was to help Black professionals progress in their careers while simultaneously helping companies diversify and meet BEI objectives. In just over 4 months, BlackUp now has upwards of 9 million Black professionals on its platform and assists more than 86,000 hiring companies.
Christabel Agbonkonkon founded BlackUp in August 2020 in response to the outrage and protests surrounding George Floyd’s death. She felt strongly impressed that she needed to give back to the Black community—specifically “that [she] needed to help provide jobs for the Black community.” To help achieve her goal, she reached out to her alma mater Brigham Young University where she was put in contact with professors and soon-to-be co-founders Greg Anderson and Mark Keith. With the help of students and campus resources, BlackUp Tech became a reality.
ENSPIRE was honored to ask Christabel Agbonkonkon some questions about her experience and her thriving company.
BlackUp’s slogan is “Making Job Equity a Reality.” How did this become the slogan, and what does it mean to you as the CEO and Founder?
“Making Job Equity a Reality” is a response to the fact that most companies for the last 25 years intended to become diverse, yet a careful look at the data continues to show slow progress. The slogan reflects the reality that we can finally—through the help of BlackUp’s machine learning algorithm—help those companies move from the intention phase to the implementation phase.
You’ve discussed that Black employment is a nearly 400-year problem, but for the last 50 years, the unemployment rate has improved little. BlackUp’s research found that “only 2% of Black Professionals’ resumes are being put on the biased industry-wide algorithms.” How does BlackUp’s algorithm and strategy differ from other job search sites?
BlackUp differs from other job search sites because our algorithm is designed to reward individuals for being different versus how the current algorithms that exist today favor White men who have historically held these jobs. Current algorithms overrepresent White males and underrepresent women and minorities. I usually describe it as if I was randomly picking balls from a jar. If a jar holds 70 red balls and 30 blue balls, the chances of me picking up red balls is twice as much as it will be for picking blue balls. In the same way, the data that the current algorithms are built on overrepresent White males. The chance of finding White male resumes is exponentially higher than it would be to find a resume with a Black or minority-sounding name.
Additional research at BlackUp Tech found many companies want to diversify but lack the resources to do so or don’t know where to start. How has BlackUp’s platform and algorithm helped these hiring companies?
Yes, I have spoken to some companies that told us they are constantly looking on other job sites and are having trouble finding a collection of Black talent to pull from. I have also spoken to Black recruiters who are struggling to find Black talent. Some of that is linked to the fragmentation of data and also the fact that the algorithms are making it harder for companies that want to recruit Black talent to find them.
Most times, a company may have a small budget, but it might also want to be more diverse. The best return on investment will be to go to a certain job site find the talent you want and be done. But most times, that is not the case as multiple companies have told me about going from one job site to another in hopes of finding diversity with very little success. Having a one-stop-shop platform like BlackUp Tech will help these companies that want to hire right find the best Black talent without the wasting too much time and money with very little success.
You’ve been quoted saying, “Jobs are so foundational to our mental health, self-reliance and economic security that can help you believe in yourself. It’s about building self-esteem and a better feeling about the world around them.” How has BlackUp seen this among the clients it serves? As CEO, how does it feel to contribute to the self-esteem and self-development of millions of people?
As you know, we just launched BlackUp a few months ago, so we do not yet have the data that I can share to show that we have transformed lives in a specific way. But I know, for example, there is a company that is hiring for a remote position and the pay is $190,000. Think of what an impact that would have on the economic stability of a Black family! I speak to a lot of Black professionals all the time, and I hear of their struggles with pay inequality and what it does to their mental health. Knowing that you can find a job as a Black professional when you want and be paid what you are worth will do much to help with some anxieties and stress that impact Black professionals today.
When you founded BlackUp, you had been a hard working, stay-at-home mom of 5 for 15 years. Starting a company from the ground up must have been intimidating and overwhelming. How was that experience, and what steps did you take to start?
The struggle is still ongoing. But one thing that I can attribute to some successes we have had, like signing up over 20 companies in less than 4 months, can be attributed to my network and to the need that customers have. All those companies that are struggling to get DEI done right are happy to jump on board. Because we are a startup, some companies have been slow to come on board. But we need big and small companies to give us a chance, sign up, and post as many jobs as they can. Most of the available solutions for doing DEI will continue to go in snail speed. Any company that wants to accelerate the hiring of Black professionals should sign up and use the platform!
In many ways, you and your co-founders attribute BlackUp’s success to God. How has God guided you through the startup process, and what does that mean to you?
I started BlackUp because of the inspiration that I received. Reaching out and connecting to my co-founders was also divinely inspired. I have continued to seek for inspiration and the hand of God as I reach out to investors for funding and to customers. We are driven by our desire to do good. To change something that has been so hard to change for such a long time. Our faith and belief is that our success is dependent on the unseen hand.
The only way forward for BlackUp Tech is up! What goals do you and the company have for the future? What do you hope to accomplish?
BlackUp’s goals are to increase the pipeline of candidates and increase the number of companies using the platform. The hope is that someday every Black professional will find a job without the biases that they face today because of the BlackUp platform. And that every company that is serious about hiring more diverse Black candidates will have an easier time doing it and doing it right. By hiring the best Black talent whenever they want to. Ultimately, BlackUp seeks job equity for all, especially Black people.
Christabel Agbonkonkon is an empowering light of hope and change to all who meet her. Whether you’re a professional on the job hunt, a recruiter seeking diversity, or an advocate of the Black community, BlackUp Tech is an incredible resource for you to help make positive, lasting change in the world. BlackUp truly makes job equity a reality.