In this third interview of my series, I learned all about the inner workings of diversity talent firm RippleMatch from Jaron Parham, an Account Executive whose focus is selling the platform to partners. A lifelong musician drawn to sales because of his outgoing nature, Jaron candidly shared his feelings about his workplace, the industry, and specific ways that companies and individuals can step up.
In my previous job as an internship program manager, I was a client of RippleMatch, and used their platform in order to build a more diverse summer class of students. RippleMatch approaches diversity in a unique sense, using machine learning to source racially and socioeconomically diverse candidates for specific roles. Their model, somewhat similar to the company Jopwell, uses on campus brand ambassadors to source resumes from candidates, subsequently building a hiring pipeline from internship/entry level and up. What sets RippleMatch apart is its full arsenal of tools for all things campus recruitment: They offer both event management and brand marketing in addition to virtual and diversity recruitment. Candidates of all identities can sign up for RippleMatch, but they have specific emphasis on helping recruiters connect with candidates who identify as non-white, female, LGBTQ, or first generation college students.
But does a company founded on the principles of diversity practice what they preach? Having had an incredible customer experience with RippleMatch, I figured I’d reach out to them and ask. As a diversity sourcing mechanism, RippleMatch provides a needed service both to companies and diverse candidates new to the job market. But as I found, what truly sets them apart is their commitment to support and advocate for both their BIPOC candidates and their employees in the age of #BlackLivesMatter.
LIZ: I’ve been chatting with people who identify as Black in HR and recruitment, and getting a feel for how the industry could better serve them, not only as an HR employee or recruiter, but also as a candidate. I think it’s particularly interesting speaking to people who work for diversity-focused talent firms such as RippleMatch, to hear what it’s like to have that inside perspective, and how that plays in…to start, if you’d like to just walk me through your background, and tell me about how you got introduced to RippleMatch.
JARON: Yeah, so I grew up in Philly, graduated from St. Joe’s in the city in 2015, and was unsure of what I wanted to do after graduation. I’ve been a lifelong musician, so I was just like, “I’ll be a musician for the next few years” without realizing exactly how hard that is…then I ended up moving to New York in 2016, and this is my third sales job since I’ve been here, and everything about RippleMatch has been great. It’s definitely my favorite job that I’ve had out of the three. I’ve been here since January, and spent about two months in the office before quarantine hit. it’s been interesting learning the job while we’re working remote as well.
LIZ: That’s interesting–you and I have the same graduation year, I also moved to NY right after I graduated, and I also have worked in sales in the past. I’m sure you have some interesting stories about how that’s gone, as it’s an interesting industry to find yourself in. What did you study while you were in college, and what led you down the sales path?
JARON: I majored in marketing, and I’ve always been a fan of the psychology behind marketing, why people buy what they do, and how you create meaning to the services people buy and whatnot. I minored in Spanish as well, since I always loved Spanish. When I moved to New York, I…gravitated towards sales because I’ve always been outgoing, I love talking to people, and I’ve been in sales ever since.
LIZ: So in terms of RippleMatch, how exactly would you describe your role? I know it’s sales, but what does your day to day look like? What’s your interaction with candidates?
JARON: So I’m a Junior Enterprise Account Executive…I’ve been making some sales, which is obviously good, and the team has been supportive, which is nice. In terms of interactions with college students, I don’t have any, since my interaction is on the company side…I’m dealing with selling to companies that are looking for ways to boost their college recruiting, especially when it comes to diversity and virtual recruiting.
LIZ: So in terms of the diversity recruitment industry…I know you and I graduated college in the same year. I felt like it wasn’t as present as it is today, I don’t know if you had a different experience, but it seems like a booming industry for companies like RippleMatch and Jopwell. How effective do you think diversity talent firms are in terms of genuinely diversifying companies?
JARON: It’s an interesting question…if you’re a diversity-focused recruitment company, it’s one thing to have diverse candidates, it’s another thing to have diverse candidates that are qualified for the jobs that these companies are looking to source for. I think that’s where RippleMatch has somewhat of an advantage because that’s always been their focus, helping kids who wouldn’t get these opportunities based on [their background], even though they’re really qualified for the positions.
All companies have a D&I wing…and I think that the recent events and what’s been happening, people are becoming much more aware and focused on diversity as something that’s important. …with everything that’s been going on I think that diversity is definitely a very important topic right now. People feel–I don’t want to say “pressured” to be diverse, but their feet are being held to the fire in terms of realizing that diversity is important whether you think it is or not.
LIZ: Right. I agree, and to your point–I think that a lot of companies actually do feel pressured just from a PR perspective, because they’re being forced to publish their numbers, they’re seeing that those aren’t good, and then they’re hiring people like RippleMatch to come in and improve those statistics. What do you think that diversity talent firms could do better?
JARON: That’s a tough question as I can’t really speak for other talent firms, but I know for a fact that RippleMatch, when it comes to diversity here, it’s not just your typical forms of diversity. It’s not just Black and [Latinx] kids, it’s also gender diversity, LGBTQ diversity, first generation college students, not just the definition of what diversity has traditionally been [defined as in corporate settings]. It’s important to advocate for these diverse candidates that are super qualified, but they might not have the same networks as someone who was raised in a wealthy family and has multiple connections. Those diverse candidates can be just as qualified if not more, and bring even more to the table, they just don’t have those specific avenues and connections to go down. I think that’s one of the nice things about RippleMatch, that we’re highlighting candidates’ strengths outside of their diversity, they just happen to be diverse as well.
LIZ: I would agree with that, I think the candidate pool you all pull from is super strong, and I know I had a super positive experience with them. So in terms of being a Black person, and working for a company that advocates for diversity, do you feel like their mission is reflected in their day to day work, in that way that they’re staffed, and in what your priorities look like?
JARON: I think it’s funny because a lot of companies, you know, they’ll say ‘we champion diversity,’ and then you get there and they actually don’t. When I think of RippleMatch, about how the company was started with our CEO and our CTO both [having an epiphany that] “it shouldn’t be this hard to get a good job, you shouldn’t have to know the CEO’s nephew in order to get an interview.”
Even from day 1, that was the mission statement that they had, and it’s something they stayed true to, and something that reflects in the day to day as well. I remember right after the George Floyd incident happened, they were very vocal about “what can we do,” and reaching out to the African-American members that work there, and saying that they were there to listen…They also said that if we wanted to take time off work to go to a protest, we had their blessing to do so.
When you hear that from the CEO and CTO of a company, it makes you feel comfortable and like they actually do give a s***. Something like that is super important, because when you have fake diversity, it makes you feel, as a Black man, more uncomfortable, because it’s almost like they’re looking to you for answers. I think that the real change comes when people who aren’t “diverse” start to ask questions about how they can be more effective and be more aware of any privilege they may have, or any flaws that they may have subconsciously. I commend them immensely for being very genuine, and the fact that these conversations are still being had says a lot about what RippleMatch is actually about.
LIZ: That’s great to hear. I think that, coming from the perspective of a white person, I’m trying to effectively learn how I can help without asking questions that place a burden on Black people. Instead of asking “what do you need” and “how can I help you” it’s more trying to improve our own actions.
JARON: I think the project is awesome, I’m glad you’re doing this. I think it’s important too, I grew up in an area where a lot of my friends are white, and I don’t want them to feel like they owe me anything or have to feel guilty, but the best you can do is continue to educate yourself.
LIZ: Right, and it’s hard to not feel guilty, but not making it about your guilt and instead making it about action is pretty key…Jaron, I’m going to ask you a hypothetical question: If you were a company, like any company in the talent space, diverse or not, what do you think a company’s ideal response would be to George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, and everything that’s happening in the news? I know that RippleMatch had a pretty positive response, but what is the most effective thing they could have done, and did they do it?
JARON: I think that the best thing to do when things like this happen is to speak out on it, give your company stance, and in addition to speaking out on it, give an actionable list of things that you plan on doing, and then hold yourself accountable to those things…. [it’s important to have] a plan that’s based on the needs and ideas of diverse members of your team, and things that you think are good things to do, and just to continue that conversation. The worst thing that I think you can do is to engage in the conversation half-heartedly.
LIZ: That reminds me–touching on checking in on the members of your team who are Black on what your next actions should be, I know you mentioned at RippleMatch that you did some diversity trainings. There’s always debate around whether it’s actually effective…if you were to hold an effective diversity training, what would that look like?
JARON: I think it’s tough. The traditional answer is just, you know, do some online diversity training, and when you pass, you pass. I don’t think that you can train in diversity necessarily, it’s just something that has to come from open conversations and uncomfortable conversations, which is something that’s hard to do in a place of work, because you want everyone to feel comfortable, you want everyone to be able to do their jobs effectively… it has to come from a personal commitment.
LIZ: I agree…so in my last interview for this project I interviewed Ify Walker, she’s the CEO of a talent firm, and she was saying that people who are Black already have that learned experience on diversity, and an understanding of racism and white supremacy, in a way that white people just don’t. We have to create that learned experience for ourselves.
Is there anything else you’d want to add that you feel like people in the professional arena could do better in terms of their personal work outside of their professional environment? What could they do to learn more, and to unlearn white supremacy?
JARON: I think that the best thing you can do is educate yourself. One really huge step is to read–buy a book that was written during the Civil Rights Movement, or someone like Angela Davis or James Baldwin. Especially for people who are still uncomfortable having those uncomfortable conversations, read…buying a book written by someone who has that learned experience and hearing their perspective is a great start. That’s how I’ve been advising my white friends who reach out and ask “what can I do?” I’m like, don’t ask me what to do, you need to find what you can do. Here’s some books I recommend, here’s some links I recommend checking out. That’s a great place to start.
LIZ: Right…ask Angela Davis what you should be doing.
JARON: Yes, and James Baldwin. They’ll give you plenty of answers.
My name is Liz Desio and I am a white author and talent professional. The purpose of this project is to highlight and amplify black voices within the Talent and HR communities by utilising my existing platform, Fistful of Talent. I have not profited from any of this work. Views of interviewees are entirely uncensored and the final product is pre-approved by each individual prior to running. Special thanks to Brianna Addison, my colleague and friend, for ensuring that this project was ethically conceived and executed in order to benefit the Black community.