Diversity and inclusion is a strategic imperative for every talent acquisition and HR leader. With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement placing our institutions under scrutiny, employers are making public commitments to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. However, many organizations continue to struggle in making real progress with their D&I recruiting initiatives.
However, there is an entire network of diverse talent who are ready and willing to join your company — but they may be overlooked. This is the hidden talent market.
Recently, I was connected with Nitzan Pelman, the CEO of Climb Hire, to discuss the hidden talent market and learn strategies and tactics that organizations can use now to recruit and retain diverse talent and create a more inclusive culture.
Meet the Expert
Nitzan Pelman is a mission-driven entrepreneur. She founded Climb Hire, a new and innovative upskilling organization that helps overlooked and hidden talent prepare for corporate careers. What’s unique about Climb Hire’s approach to upskilling is that the program is also focused on building and leveraging social capital, in addition to skills training. The reason for this is simple — 9 out of 10 job seekers secure roles through networks and referrals. Without social capital, it’s hard to break into careers, even if a job seeker is incredibly talented.
Q&A with Nitzan Pelman, CEO of Climb Hire
Identifying Diverse and “Hidden” Talent Pools
Lori: Thanks for being here Nitzan! First, can you tell us about the “hidden” diverse talent market? How does Climb Hire support and enable this market?
Nitzan: Sure, it all started about 2 years ago when I was invited to be an Entrepreneur in Residence at LinkedIn. LinkedIn had recently put a referral button on the platform because they realized that 9/10 job seekers were getting jobs through referrals. I started to reflect on this at a personal level and realized that every job I ever got came through a relationship. My network was responsible for every dollar I’ve raised, every job I’ve had and everything I’ve built.
During my time with LinkedIn, we were in an economic environment with a 2% unemployment rate. The supply of open roles was larger than the number of talented professionals who could fill these roles. A new narrative emerged that there’s a skills gap and if only we upskilled these workers then we could hire for many of these hard-to-fill roles.
This narrative was flawed though because people get jobs through relationships. Unless an upskilling entity or workforce organization baked a social capital component into the equation, then there wouldn’t be a lot of opportunity for diverse talent to get noticed.
I had a hypothesis that there is a lot of talent out there, such as people working in retail as baristas, cashiers at Whole Foods or people selling you your cell phone at Verizon, that you might not think of for certain types of corporate roles. However, a lot of these people, who are often people of color, do have talent, aptitude, drive, motivation and grit, but don’t have the social capital or specific training. I thought that if we could marry those two things together that we could pipeline in a lot of diverse and what we call “hidden talent” into the marketplace and help advance their careers and transition from unemployment or blue-collar jobs to corporate careers.
Climb Hire emerged from this idea. We built out a network of near-peer educators to help bridge the social capital and knowledge gap. People who participate in the program often come back later as alumni to teach new participants (we call community members “Climbers”). Community and connectedness become a central part of our model in addition to skill-building. Many of our Climbers also end up referring other Climbers to come join their new company once they’re settled into their job.
Lori: What an awesome mission! Can you tell me more about how Climb Hire specifically attracts and supports people of color?
Nitzan: Sure! One of the criteria to be accepted into the program is that the applicant must be earning below the livable wage. So, most of our applicants generally end up being people of color who work in retail or work as Uber or Lyft drivers. About 98% of them are people of color.
Lori: You’ve talked about one of the components of the Climb Hire program being upskilling. What specific skills are your Climbers learning?
Nitzan: It’s a 5-month program that includes 6 hours a week of learning online in a classroom with us and then 6-12 additional hours of online learning which is completed through SalesForce TrailHead. We specifically chose the Salesforce Administrator Certification as a way into corporate jobs. Not every job will be related to a CRM specifically, but rather we think of it as a credible skill signal. Salesforce is a very popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Administrators help teams stay efficient by creating reports and dashboards – and even training other Salesforce users.
It turns out that the Salesforce Administrator Certification is a very hard exam to pass — even people at Salesforce retake the test 2-3 times! We like to think of it as a “door opener” because nearly every company has a CRM. So, we can go to companies and say, if you’re looking for entry-level, diverse talent, we have people who have basic CRM knowledge. You can have somebody on your team to customize reports, dashboards, customize fields and manage their way around a CRM tool — that’s what our Climbers bring to the table. But they can really do anything so long as the company is open to doing some internal training and development. And employers can trust that we’ve vetted them vigorously, every week, for 5 months. So they have proven themselves in every way. That signal matters a lot to employers.
Our Climbers are getting hired into Salesforce-related roles, but also operations, business and sales development, sales operations, HR, data management, finance, renewals — there are lots of different ways they get their foot inside the door at different organizations. What we found is that they are receiving offers that are doubling and even tripling their income! Our mission is around creating economic opportunity and mobility.
The Demand for Diverse Talent
Lori: Black Lives Matter and recent racial injustice protests have shined a light on employers’ diversity hiring practices. Have you seen a greater emphasis from the companies that you work with on recruiting diverse talent?
Nitzan: This is a very important moment. Prior to this movement, we would receive very warm, social-capital rich introductions to companies in the Bay Area who would say that they were searching for diverse talent and would hire a Climber. But then it would be like “oh we love them, but they don’t have enough experience.” To be perfectly honest, anybody who is trying to break into a new industry or new field is going to find there is an experience chasm that will always make employers take someone with experience over someone without.
When the killing of George Floyd happened, I watched companies start posting “Black Lives Matter” support statements. I thought, “wait a minute… you had the opportunity to hire diverse talent and you turned them down!” Once I saw the posts go up, I went back to those companies and re-opened the conversation.
When we went back, we described this experience gap. We said, “look, there are very few Black people who graduate from Stanford every year — you can try and compete for them, but this is not a diversity strategy. Instead, you can fight for and hire this hidden talent who is underrepresented, who has been trained, vetted and have proven themselves in other ways.”
I’m proud to say that all these companies are now actively recruiting and hiring our Climbers and have built apprenticeships and internships as a solution to close the experience gap chasm.
Lori: What would you recommend for a company that is trying to improve its diversity hiring strategy? How does this strategy of recruiting “hidden” entry-level talent support that?
Nitzan: So, there are a few ways companies go about this. One way is to go after people who are coming out of Ivy League schools. There is a small number of them that are in high demand. The caveat is that everybody is using this strategy, so it is very competitive, and it will cost you a lot of money.
Another obvious strategy is to hire from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Again, this is part of the strategy, but remember that everyone is taking this approach and you’re still only filtering one type of pipeline, which is new grads.
The third option is that you can look in non-traditional places for talent. Most companies don’t use this approach because how would they know what cashier from Trader Joe’s would make the best talent? That’s the beauty of Climb Hire. We identify, train and vet them actively for 5 months. This narrows the skills gap and creates a new pipeline of entry-level talent who can then work their way up in your organization!
Belonging, Inclusion and Equity Strategies
Lori: Amazing! And once you’ve hired this talent, how do you recommend creating an inclusive environment where people feel a sense of belonging at work? This is their first corporate role and I’m sure it can be quite intimidating for some.
Nitzan: Fostering a sense of belonging is really important. Once you’ve done the work on the front-end of securing diverse talent, the next part is doing the work to make sure that they are successful. If you just hire people who come from non-traditional backgrounds and throw them into the deep end, there’s a good chance they won’t be successful.
However, if you put the right programs and support systems in place you can help to counter this. This could look like:
- Creating a strong onboarding program
- Conducting regular check-ins
- Having a comprehensive feedback loop
- Providing a mentor/mentorship opportunities
The other part to take into account when it comes to belonging is tokenism. When you hire one person of color and no one else looks like them — because everyone else is referring and bringing in their friends or old classmates, and they all come from the same background — that person is not going to feel they can bring their true self to work. I always advise organizations to not stop at hiring one person from this “hidden” talent pool. I encourage them to make a commitment to hiring a class or cohort, hiring in twos, or hiring in even numbers — anything so that people have camaraderie, friendship and a network of peers that they can lean into!
If you want to prioritize diversity hiring, you have to put in real energy around creating the right environment to make your culture attractive and welcoming to diverse talent demographics on an ongoing basis. Organizations like Climb Hire are really opening up diversity hiring by bringing forward “hidden” talent, and I think that in partnership with great employers that we can make a significant difference here to both the employer and the people who work for them.
Lori: It’s been so great speaking with you and learning about addressing diverse hiring in a new way! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and share your organization and perspective with the Rally community! How can people connect with you if they want to learn more?
Nitzan: Thank you! Absolutely, please connect with me on LinkedIn.
We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Nitzan. She is a true inspiration and leading the charge on a great mission!