While 2020 brought increased attention to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, the tech industry still has work to do to attract and retain talent from marginalized communities. Built In conducted a DEI survey earlier this year and found that while tech companies said diversity is important to them, teams were still mostly white. Tech companies also statistically have a difficult time retaining Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) employees. According to a mthree report, 68 percent of marginalized employees felt uncomfortable at work because of their identities, and 50 percent left or wanted to leave a tech job for the same reason.
One startup that just opened a new office in Richmond is trying to make tech more inclusive. Tribaja — a combination of the word “tribe” and the Spanish word for work, “trabajo” — connects thousands of BIPOC job seekers with equity-vetted tech and startup employers. Tribaja is dedicated to increasing the percentage of BIPOC individuals in tech-related jobs by offering a support network of training, mentorship and networking — something Shannon Morales, CEO and founder of Tribaja, says is lacking in a lot of tech companies.
“Because there are not as many professionals of color in senior roles [at tech companies], it can be discouraging to see so little representation,” Morales told Built In. “Tribaja tries to create a space to share those frustrations, but also facilitate mentorship relationships with professionals that have already secured roles in tech.”
Morales first started connecting diverse talent with more fulfilling careers in 2017 as a freelancer. Her consulting company of one, then called EchoMeForward, was originally just a side gig connecting workers and employers on a local level. Then, the 2020 pandemic hit, and Morales decided to take the company globally and rebrand it under the name it has today. Now, Tribaja connects thousands of BIPOC job seekers with fulfilling, equitable work opportunities in the tech and startup realm.
Tribaja doesn’t see itself as a staffing agency or even really a job board. Its business model is all about personal connections and vetting both job seekers and employers. Those who join Tribaja’s vetted Slack community of tech professionals usually come from one of the company’s skill training partners — organizations like General Assembly, Treehouse and Pursuit — as well as municipal job programs. Job seekers are typically entry-level professionals who are either looking for their first job post-graduation or changing careers.
Employers looking for talent are also vetted to make sure their companies are dedicated to creating diverse, equitable workforces. For example, Morales said Tribaja won’t work with a company where a potential hire is their first BIPOC employee.
“We want to make sure that there’s already the foundation to develop and retain the candidates that we’re sending their way,” Morales told Built In.
Tribaja also checks whether the company has pay transparency for job postings, career development programs and that the company is capable of holding itself accountable to high DEI standards.
Within the Slack community, job seekers and hiring managers are able to connect, network and post open positions. The community also has a number of resources for tech professionals beyond job postings such as mentorships, skill training opportunities, grants, events and more.
2021 has been a year of growth for Tribaja. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the small but mighty team of five just opened another office in Richmond’s Innovation Center and plans to hire a new community manager and an intern from Virginia Commonwealth University. Morales said the motivation behind expanding to Richmond was graduating from local accelerator program Lighthouse Labs and wanting a presence in the communities Trabaja operates in.
“People ask me all the time, ‘if you’re an online business, why do you need to have a presence in these different cities?’ and I tell them it’s because we’re built on relationships, not transactions. … We want to give back to the communities we’re operating out of,” Morales told Built In.
Other contributing factors to the new office opening include the support system and grant that came out of Lighthouse Labs, Morales added.
Tribaja has big plans for the rest of 2021 and beyond. The company will hold a hiring event on December 15 for Microsoft in which 75 to 100 entry-level job seekers from diverse backgrounds will have the opportunity to interview with hiring managers at the tech giant. Tribaja also plans to hire additional community managers in Miami and Atlanta sometime next year to expand its network.