Zach has the pleasure of speaking with Porter Braswell, co-founder and CEO of Jopwell, to learn more about the company and to hear his story behind its creation. Jopwell is the leading career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals – check them out! Porter shares a bit about the work Jopwell is doing to encourage inclusive cultures within institutions that black and brown folks are trying to enter and a whole lot more.
Check out his book, Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work, on Amazon!
Zach: What’s up, y’all? And welcome to Living Corporate. You know what we are. We’re talking about real talk in a corporate world. Now, look, I come on here, and I typically will say “What’s up, y’all?” But to be honest with y’all I’m a little nervous, ’cause, you know, every time we come at y’all we’re coming to you with a really great guest, but this guest is a little bit–you know what? Let me not do that, ’cause we’ve had a lot of really great guests, right? Like, we’ve had J. Prince. We’ve had Chris Moreland. We’ve had Jennifer Brown. We’ve had DeRay Mckesson. You know, we’ve had some big names. We’ve had Chilla Jones, the battle rapper. We’ve had people, right? We’ve had CEOs, executives. We’ve had Accenture – we spotlighted them a couple months ago. So okay, let me not get too starstruck, but a personal hero of mine, somebody I’ve been admiring from afar, we have Porter Braswell on the show today. Yo. Listen, if you don’t know about Porter Braswell, Porter Braswell is a Yale graduate and former Goldman Sachs associate who co-founded Jopwell.com, the leading career advancement platform for black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. Braswell frequently speaks about diversity in the workplace with Jopwell’s corporate clients. He’s been profiled in Fast Company, Forbes, TechCrunch, Vanity Fair, and Ad Week, and has received numerous rewards and recognitions, such as LinkedIn’s Next Wave, Top Professionals 35 and Under, Ink Magazine’s 30 Under 30, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Vanity Fair’s–look, I’m getting loud, just getting excited, talking about all of this dude’s accolades, but I’m really excited to have him on the show, and so with us–we have him, man. Porter, what’s going on? How are you doing, man?
Porter: [laughs] That’s a very generous introduction. I appreciate it.
Zach: Well, look, it’s great to have you on the show, man. Look, not to put too much sauce on it, but, you know, you’re the man, right? You graduated from Yale. You know, you hooped all four years. Now, I have a question for you, ’cause I looked all around–were you, like–you look like a two-guard. What was your position?
Porter: [laughs] I was a point guard. Definitely the point guard.
Zach: Okay. Now, look, were you the–now, let me ask you this, were you the POINT guard, or were you, like–like, what style? Are you a facilitator? Or are you more like the–or are you kind of like a Russell Westbrook type where you’re just out there?
Porter: Well, you know what? So I was a scoring guard, and if I could go back in time I would’ve made me way more of a facilitator, recognizing that, you know, almost 6’1″, I’m not gonna go to the league as a scoring guard, and so–I feel like nowadays people draw their inspiration from, like, a Steph or whatever, but when I was growing up it was Allen Iverson and, like, you scored as a point guard. And you still score as a guard now of course, but–
Zach: But it’s different though.
Porter: Yeah. You know, like, a stepback three-point shooter. Like, you can get away with that now. When I was playing, you had to go to the hoop and finish.
Zach: Yeah. No, you’re absolutely right.
Porter: Yeah. I would’ve [?] my game after other people, [laughs] but it worked out
Zach: [laughs] Well, look, let’s talk about this, right? So, like, you know, what point did you realize that diversity, inclusion and equity was, like, important enough to transfer and transition from Goldman Sachs to create Jopwell? Like, was there a specific moment that rung out to you? Like, what did that look like?
Porter: Yeah. So basically when I was–when I was working at Goldman, at the time I was there for about three years, and I was a product of the diversity recruiting efforts starting back in high school. In high school I spent two summers interning at Morgan Stanley via diversity recruiting initiatives, and then at Yale I spent three summers interning at Goldman Sachs, all via diversity initiatives, and so my whole life, up until that point in time, was about diversity and inclusion, and that’s where I found my opportunities. And buying and selling currencies, while fulfilling, it wasn’t the fulfillment I was looking for. I wanted to do something that I felt was more impactful, something that I felt I was uniquely qualified to do and something that was solving, like, a real pain point–solving a real challenge that people or companies were facing. And so with those ingredients, I took a step back and recognized that diversity recruiting and inclusion was a massive pain point for corporate America. It was something I was uniquely qualified to solve, and I was incredibly passionate about it, and so I decided that my life’s focus was gonna be on building more diverse and inclusive organizations and doing it through a tech company – that became Jopwell, and I think that’s really important because we took a traditional non-profit model but made it into a for-profit tech thing because we’re solving real pain points of companies, and we wanted to basically build a competitive atmosphere, like any other tech company, where you’re disrupting an industry and you want to win at it. And so we took that approach, and, you know, I’m very thankful that my life’s work and my passion and my actual day-to-day job all align with each other.
Zach: [“ow” sfx] Man, I’m really thankful for it too, right? Like I said–I told you, like, right before we got on, like, it’s been incredible because Jopwell hasn’t really been around that long, right? Like, y’all launched in 2014, right? But at the same time, like, it was so disruptive, right? Like, it was, like, so–I remember when Jopwell came around, and I just remember, like, literally–three years ago even–I was just looking around and I was like, “What is this?” And I signed up. I’m in the Well, you know what I’m saying? Like, I’m engaged, right? But you’re right, the platform itself doesn’t come across–and I think it’s interesting balance, right? Because y’all are providing, like, a profit service, but it doesn’t come across like y’all are–what’s the word? Like, bartering in people, right? Like, you’re actually building community while connecting these folks to, like, opportunities. Like, that’s really cool to me.
Porter: So the foundational thing of what we do is that we build community, and we can only build community if we are very authentic and understanding of the community, which we are given I’m from the community.
Porter: And that is a hard thing to do, and if you can build the trust of a community, then you can represent brands behind it. And so Jopwell has been able to carve out this area where brands recognize they need to rely on us to authentically connect and engage with this audience that we are a part of, and in doing so we want to deliver the most incredible experience and opportunities for the community. So as long as we keep the community at the center of what we do, we’ll be fine as a business, but we’re not transactional. We don’t think of the community in that way. Like, again, we are from and a part of the community, so we know the pain points, and so we’ve just–we took a different approach, you know? I think that’s the simplest way to describe it. We took a different approach. We took a step back. I’m not from a recruiting background, and I think that helped me, because we looked at this problem in a way in which others didn’t look at it before.
Zach: Man. You know what? It’s 100%, ’cause it’s interesting because I don’t think–it’s easy to, like, understate that when you come up in, like, these corporatized recruiting platforms, it just–it naturally skews your perspective and creates blind spots for you. It doesn’t matter what your particular–I mean, your ethnicity and gender plays a part in that, but I’m just talking about the culture of recruiting is often times so regimented that it creates a variety of blind points that you’re not necessarily even thinking about–like, recruitment experience–as much. Like, you’re thinking about it from a “check the box” perspective, but there’s that personal touch that rarely is really considered. And so 100%. I definitely agree that you not having that formal recruiting background gives you a bit more insight. Porter, it also reminds me that, like, the people who are often best suited to solve for inclusion efforts for black and brown people are often black and brown people, right? Like, you had–you were a hooper at Yale. You then were a Goldman Sachs employee and a Rising Star, and then you still, because of your experiences and your insights and your passions, were able to shape that into having really unique insights, enough that you were able to create a whole platform from that. Do you know what I mean?
Porter: Yeah. Well, I think that everyone has a unique story, and everybody has unique contexts in which they come to the table with, and it’s a responsibility of diverse individuals to expose others to the different contexts. Now, for me, that allowed myself to build the business, but that doesn’t have to manifest itself in a business. Like, leveraging your diversity as an asset, you could just expose people to a different way of thinking, which helps any organization, which is the power of diversity of course. So leveraging your diversity doesn’t have to lead to a business, but leveraging your diversity can lead to disruption and change, and that is a responsibility that diverse individuals have, and for me I felt that responsibility to build this platform.
Zach: So, you know, you talked about this, and it’s a really good segue–you know, Porter, it’s almost like you’re media-trained. It’s almost like you do this often, you know? But you talked about leveraging your diversity. That reminds me really of your latest book, “Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work.” It was just published. And this book carries a theme of personal responsibility, and of course that’s critical, right? So, like, talking about how you leverage your diversity to create, to your point, disruption, change, within whatever context that you’re in, but with that in mind, can we also talk about the work that you’ve done personally, and the work Jopwell is doing, to encourage inclusive cultures within these institutions that black and brown folks are trying to enter?
Porter: Yeah. So writing a book is a really interesting process. [laughs] I’ll start by that, saying that. So when I wrote the book, I decided that I wanted to write a book to professionals of color, because that’s, again, what I’m–that’s what I know. That’s the group I’m a part of. And when you write a book, what’s really difficult is that you have to pick one audience [to?] talk to one reader, and you have to make sure that you are speaking in a way that the reader can follow you. So when I chose to write this book, I chose my audience to be the Jopwell member. I chose to write to a professional of color, and in that conversation I am basically mentoring and saying, “As a person of color, regardless of your environment, this is how you leverage your diversity as an asset, and you have a unique opportunity to do so.” What I wasn’t able to do in the book was talk about what companies can do to create environments where people can actually leverage their diversity as an asset, because if you try to [?] in one it becomes very complicated. You can’t–the reader can’t follow along. So the book is about what we as professionals of color can do, but now there needs to be a conversation about what can companies do to create environments where this can actually happen? And so a lot of what we do from a Jopwell perspective to companies is that we discuss with them different strategies and ways to think about building diverse, inclusive, and equitable environments, and it really starts [at] the top down, meaning that, like, the senior most people, the CEO, the board level, they have to be committed and bought in. Companies have to clearly define and articulate what diversity even means in the context of their organization. Are you talking about ethnicity? Are you talking about gender? Sexual orientation? Socioeconomic background? What are you talking about? Because to build a culture that is inclusive–well, inclusive of whom? You know? And I think that’s a really important concept. And then how do you measure if it’s working? And so there are a lot of steps that companies have to take. Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t feel comfortable having uncomfortable conversations and they want to jump to solutions without really thinking through “What does success look like?” So at Jopwell, when we work with a company, we take them through those stages. We work with them to define what success looks like. And diversity and inclusion is not, like, a 1-year initiative. It’s gonna be ingrained in your culture moving forward. So it’s a long-term play, and so there’s a lot of work that we do with companies that’s less tech-focused–it’s a lot of human capital–but because we’re doing that at work, we can help the community find opportunities that they should be able to thrive in.
Zach: And so let’s talk about that. I want to press a little bit more on what you said about, like, you know, you stated that a lot of times–that part of the inclusive culture for folks to actually leverage their diversity well is in organizations being comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, and I’ve noticed that too, that, like, a lot of times if you mention the word race, or you mention the word gender, or you mention any of these words that indicate other, you’re right, organizations will often kind of go to, “Well, we’re just gonna do this, this, this, this, and this.” It almost becomes, like, a–like they’re putting out a fire, right? It’s more reactionary and it’s not solution-oriented, and you talked about people being comfortable with those uncomfortable dialogues. What does it look like for Jopwell to help organizations work through some of that discomfort?
Porter: Yeah. So what we tell companies is that if there’s something that’s happening in the world or in the country that disproportionately affects a certain community and you have that community as employees within your organization, how do you express that in a way that’s, like, non-polarizing or non-political? Because you should treat your colleagues and your peers as you would want to be treated. So if you’re from a community and something’s happening within that community that’s, like, on national news and you don’t address it as an organization, like, of course that employee won’t bring their whole self and their authentic self to work, and if they don’t bring their authentic self and their whole self to work you’re not gonna get the most out of them. So how do you create [environments] where these potentially uncomfortable conversations can occur in a way that it’s respectful and that employees understand that the workforce that you work in is very inclusive and these conversations are just a part of the fabric of what makes the organization’s culture special? So, like, let’s start small, right? And so thinking about topics and news conversations that are happening, how do you start to address those things? Now, we’ve seen many companies do really interesting things on the back of our recommendations when these things occur. Some companies have hosted town halls where they bring all hands, and, you know, it’s a conversation of what’s going on and what’s the position of a company around certain topics that they cannot ignore. And the feedback has been incredible, naturally so, from the attendees, because they felt like they were seen for the first time. And then again, like, if companies aren’t used to doing those things, it can be potentially uncomfortable. So that’s an important concept.
Zach: And kind of going into that, right? And I shared this a little bit earlier. What excites me about Jopwell is that it’s not a job board – it’s actually a community, and I talked about this earlier, but it’s a community built by and built for underrepresented folks, and, like, that comes with a lot. So I think about Living Corporate–and Living Corporate and Jopwell are not the same, right? Like, the missions are different, but there’s some similarity in that we exist as a resource for underrepresented voices, and I think that comes with a lot. I think for Living Corporate it’s unique because we’re really just here on, like, the employee side. Like, we’re just here to amplify voices, but we’re not–we don’t necessarily have, like, the same connected, like, broad community that you have, and we’re also of course not managing, like, tons of corporate relationships, and so I’m really curious about, like, what does it look like for you and your team Porter, to manage the emotional labor of, like, carrying and advocating for and building this platform to amplify and support black and brown folks while at the same time managing, like, the business relationships that come with that?
Porter: Yeah. So it can get very complicated, but we always–because [we work?] for the community, the community knows what to expect from Jopwell and companies know what to expect from Jopwell. So we don’t speak to the community any differently than we talk to companies, and we don’t talk to companies any differently than we talk to the community. Like, we are very consistent in who we are. For us, we always do what we believe is the best for the community, and Jopwell takes stands on things that we feel passionately about that affect the community, regardless of what companies think. So a perfect example is during the last election, when Trump won, we knew, positive or negative, there was gonna be a very strong reaction from them. So even though we’re a tech company, we knew we had to host a town hall, or create a forum, where people can share their perspectives and how they feel. So we hosted a town hall in New York City. We had, you know, several hundred people show up. No real agenda other than hearing the perspective of the community, and people shared how they felt, and just providing that forum, I think, was beneficial, and we felt that we had a responsibility to the community. So we know if we’re thinking these things, others are thinking these things at work, so there needs to be an outlet where they can have these conversations about all of the stuff that’s going on. And so, again, we have to be very committed and very–and always bring it back to we are a community-first class [?]. The two things that we believe are best for the community–again, as long as we’re consistent and then companies know that, the community knows that, and Jopwell will always do what’s best for the community.
Zach: Man, I love that, man, you know? I just–and I appreciate it, and it feels–like, to your point around consistency, like, it’s really cool–’cause I’ve seen other… I don’t know. It’s just interesting, right? And, like, I’ve talked about this to other, like, diversity and inclusion leaders. I think that we’re seeing this pattern of some of these spaces becoming a bit more authentic in their language and in their presentation, and I really do believe that Jopwell is leading the cause in that, right? Because a lot of times when you have, like, these spaces that are, like, led by predominant majority folks, they can sometimes come across lukewarm or silent on certain spaces, and then it–like, it creates an inconsistent brand, because it’s like, “Okay, well, if you’re for diversity and inclusion, you should have a voice on this topic because it’s impacting the people that you claim to advocate for.” And I do recall content coming out around the election, and I do remember just being, like–feeling really affirmed by that. So question for you – you talked a little bit about forums. You recently hosted Jopwell’s first ever summit, Jopwell Talks. It looked like an awesome event. Can you tell us a little bit more about the day and what you hope attendees took away from the summit?
Porter: Yeah, absolutely. So we were so thrilled to host that event. Basically, Ryan and I, my co-founder and I, we’ve gone to diversity and inclusion conferences time after time after time over the last, you know, 4.5 years or so of building Jopwell. It was frustrating to me that I didn’t leave feeling inspired [for, like, what] tomorrow brings me, and we are incredibly fortunate that throughout the Jopwell journey there have been many mentors and celebrities that have joined the movement with us, and we felt that we could provide these trailblazers [?] a stage to share stories of how they got to where they are and the things they’ve learned along the way that the audience can recognize that there’s no linear path to success and that these individuals that we can highlight, we felt that it’s not often that you get access to these folks. So we wanted to create an incredible environment, so we rented out the Brooklyn Museum. We wanted to have the most outstanding speakers, so we went after [sticks?] – Gayle King, Dr. Michael Lomax, Antonio Lucio, the CMO of Facebook, Edith Cooper, [?]. I mean, just incredible folks. [?] loved hosting it. And from these individuals, we were able to share their story and highlight them in such a way that the audience could follow along and let the conversations breathe. So we didn’t have panels. There were no breakout sessions. It was amazing content from amazing individuals, and we crowd-sourced some of the questions. You were involved in this incredible environment listening to these folks, and what I’ve received as feedback from people, they left feeling motivated and excited to [see] tomorrow, and they saw these folks, and that was the goal of the day, and so we’re very thankful that people were excited to attend and that they wanted [to be a] part of it, and, you know, we plan on doing a lot more moving forward.
Zach: Man, that’s incredible. And look, Porter, you know that we appreciate you. Super thankful that you were able to join on the platform. In fact, you know, it’s pretty customary. We got to. You know, we typically drop air horns. We drop ’em at the beginning, but I got too excited and nervous ’cause you’re on our show and so I didn’t drop ’em. So I’ma go ahead and drop the air horns right here–[air horns sfx]–and I’ma go ahead and give you a Flex bomb–[Flex bomb sfx]–and I’ma give you some coins, ’cause you been dropping dimes. [coin sfx] And I just want to thank you, man. I appreciate you. Thank you so much. Before we let you go though, any parting words or shout-outs?
Porter: No, [but] I appreciate the work that you all [do]. You know, the more that we lift each other up, the more opportunity exists for everybody, and this is not a zero-sum game, and I get very frustrated when I’m the only person of color in a room, and–again, the conversations need to keep happening, and that’s the only way we’re gonna start changing things. So thank you for building this and for allowing individuals to hear stories at scale. It’s what I need and needed when I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, and it’s not often where you can get access to folks and really hear their authentic stories. And so it’s an incredible platform that you’re building and, you know, thank you for doing that.
Zach: Oh, my gosh. Man, I’m about to blush over here. Yo. [laughs] Listen, y’all, it’s been Zach. You’ve been listening to Living Corporate. We are real talk in a corporate world. You make sure you check us out on Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, Instagram at @LivingCorporate. Make sure you just check us out anywhere. You know, just Google us, you know what I mean? We’re not Jopwell level, but we’re out here. You just Google “Living Corporate.” You want to check out our website? Check out livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.net, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.tv, living-corporate–please say the dash–Porter, do you know we have all the livingcorporates except livingcorporate.com, man? We’ve got all them domains. I’m trying to get it, man. Australia has livingcorporate.com, but we’re gonna get there one day, man. Let’s see here. I think that does it for us. This has been Zach again, and you’ve been listening to Porter Braswell – general beast, but specifically for this podcast, CEO and co-founder of Jopwell. ‘Til next time, y’all. Peace.