Sharon Smith-Akinsanya is a woman of power who is on the move. As a businesswoman, Smith-Akinsanya has become the voice of empowerment and the advocate of employment for people of color in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is home to over a dozen Fortune 500 companies. They all share one common gap — the need for multicultural employees. Smith-Akinsanya explained how severe the problem is regarding the unemployment gap among people of color, “[The gap]is about 3 to 4 times that of our White counterparts in Minnesota. I need[ed] to do more to make Minnesota a better place to live, work, and play for all. So, I began to do culturally relevant events,” she said.
Smith-Akinsanya created People of Color Career Fair, a job fair held twice a year. This year’s POC Career Fair, sponsored by U.S. Bank has grown into the premiere job outlet in Minneapolis, recruiting job seekers not only from the Twin Cities but from across the country. There were a variety of employers from government agencies, to corporations looking to diversify their applicant pool and employees.
Smith-Akinsanya took time to speak with rolling out during her recent POC Career Fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Check out the full conversation below.
What was your vision for creating the People of Color Career Fair?
I think Minnesota is a great place to live, work and play. So, I decided to make sure I used my gifts and talents to bring professionals of color together with top Minnesota corporations, who are dead serious about changing the way they do business; about making sure that their workforce reflects the population that is growing in Minnesota. During the past decade, 80 percent of our population growth in Minnesota came from people of color; yet, we have this crazy unemployment gap. So now go figure, if most of our population growth is coming from people of color, we have got to figure out a way to make sure they are gainfully employed because this is our future workforce. So that is why this initiative is so critical.
Besides employment, how are you getting people to stay in Minneapolis?
This is a great state and people are coming from all over the United States to Minnesota. So, we need to be in a position to not only attract and recruit, we need to retain them. So, they need to say hey, “if I come to Minnesota not only will I be able to find work, but we need to be more inclusive, greeted with amazing people who can connect me to the best churches and hairdressers, maybe even get a date, get married, have a baby.”
How has POC Career Fair partnered with local corporations?
Minnesota has some amazing corporations. We have 19 Fortune 500 corporations based in Minnesota from Target, to BestBuy, to Ecolab, to Medtronic, to Cargill. There is nothing like having a good paying job and so the POC Career Fair gives those professionals of color an opportunity to make that one-on-one connection.
How does technology play a role in getting employers to participate in POC Career Fair?
Technology is everything, you need to be able to use and learn the latest technology to run this business. So, for me, it is about the website, being able to upload resumes, being able to register online, being able to reach out, and do videos. We do a lot of YouTube videos talking about our success, and interviewing candidates who have landed work from the career fair so that we can push that out on social media. So, social media has really changed the game, and being able to use technology like YouTube, Facebook Live, and just understanding how to put together a decent video, has done everything to be able to change the game and move things faster. Time kills progress. If you take too much time between the time you create an idea and execute, it is crazy. But, when you utilize technology you can get things pushed out faster. So, it has played a major role in the success of this event.
What should job seekers have on their résumé when applying for jobs?
The first thing they should do is make sure they know what they want to do. Know what skills they ring, and what value they add. They need to be able to have a powerful elevator speech, introduce themselves with power. It goes without saying, they must have a powerful résumé. The main thing is they need to have a plan.
As a successful woman of color, what would you say to women and young girls who are looking up to you?
That is a great question. My number one advice is to network. You cannot get ahead staying at home. Someone invites you to dinner, go; Someone invites you to a party, go; someone says come to lunch — go. Don’t turn down any opportunity to meet people who can add value to your life. Networking is everything. You must build a million-dollar Rolodex, so you can always have people you can connect with. And learn how to add value to other people. Not only do you want people who can add value to you, learn what you can do to add value to other folks. I have 4 to 5 coffee meetings a week, and I meet with 3 or 4 top corporations a day, with no agenda, just to find out what is going on. We have to know what is going on. So, networking is everything.