Combating Bias in Hiring

Alumna Creates Platform to Connect Diverse Talent with Corporate World

Shaniqua “Shawn” Davis worked hard to get to college as a first-generation student from a family of seven kids. She was driven to set an example and to show her younger siblings that going to college wasn’t just a dream.

So when her first job after college turned out to be less than fulfilling, the 2013 graduate of the MSU’s ComArtSci set out to find her passion. She did some research. She tapped her network. And after a few conversations, Davis discovered a common thread among diverse, largely female, professionals.

“All of us were looking to get help from one another about how to find jobs and opportunities,” said Davis. “Everyone wanted that personal touch from a diverse community on how to find a career aligned with who you are.”

Davis combined those insights with the knowledge she gained from her bachelor’s degree in media and information. In 2016, she founded Noirefy, a Chicago-area business focused on connecting diverse professionals to high-growth startups and Fortune 500 companies.

The online platform, Davis said, matches job seekers with opportunities in the corporate world, and helps combat biases in the hiring process. Companies pay to post jobs on Noirefy as a way to access diverse candidates and receive referrals for prospects. Davis and her staff of two regularly consult with company clients to assess their hiring goals, and promote Noirefy’s referral and data-driven model.

“Our goal is to provide a new pipeline between companies and candidates,” she said. “Our name reflects that with its reference to the noir film genre. Essentially, we’re representing people in the shadows who may have been overlooked when it comes to hiring.”

Within three years, more than 65 companies and 20,000 job seekers signed on to what Davis calls an industry-agnostic platform. Noirefy has capture the attention of national media like Forbes and Marie Claire magazine, and tech organizations like Midwest Women in Technology have recognized Davis for her achievements.

“Our world is incredibly diverse, so it’s reassuring that companies are working to shift the landscape in recruitment,” she said. “We hope to help change biases in hiring and replace them with career advancement and trust.”

Transforming perceptions

Davis grew up on Detroit’s East Side and attended Southeastern High School. Outside of a few cousins, no one in her immediate family had ever gone to college. Her mother worked around the clock doing everything from driving a school bus to cleaning hotel rooms. She had little time for anything else except for caring and providing for family.

“My mom was always working to make sure we had a way and opportunities,” Davis said. “She was one of the first people who showed me how to really hustle and work hard.”

As a teen, Davis studied people of influence and dreamed of being a leader. Her goal was to attend a historically black college or university, but she chose MSU after touring campus and feeling instantly welcomed into the Spartan family.

Shortly after deciding on MSU, Davis discovered she was pregnant. Feeling overwhelmed and confused, she contacted the university and discovered supportive staff, grants and programs to help her with collegiate life.

“It was hard enough being a freshman, and I also had to find my way as a young mother,” Davis said. “Everyone at MSU did everything they could to help me get through school with my daughter. I don’t know where else I would have received such incredible support.”

Davis said the experience of simultaneously raising a child and attending school strengthened her drive toward entrepreneurship. The experience taught her to expertly navigate resources, arrange schedules, and nurture relationships—all key, she said, to running a business.

“My IT specialization in ComArtSci also prepared me to start my online business,” she said. “I can’t say enough about my professors, the internships and the real-world experiences I received through my program at MSU.”

Today, Davis’ daughter is 10 and continues to be her motivation for helping others overcome barriers and build careers. There was a time, Davis said, when she had to adapt who she was to offset biases in hiring and employment—the most evident being using the name “Shawn” instead of “Shaniqua” on her resume or even in the office. By founding Noirefy, she hopes others won’t have to shield who they are to increase their job prospects or career success.

“Recruiters are always telling us they want to increase diversity in the workplace, but that the pipeline isn’t there,” she said. “With Noirefy, we’re changing that by bringing the pipeline to them.”

By Ann Kammerer