Navigating your career as a first, only or one of very few is a common reality for many women of color, especially those in executive seats. In fact, women of color today make up 18% of entry-level positions, but just 3% of the C-suite, according to Lean In and McKinsey & Company's 2020 Women in the Workplace report.
In an effort to increase this representation and offer more support for high achieving women of color, entrepreneurs and business leaders Rha Goddess and Deepa Purushothaman created nFormation, a first-of-its-kind membership based app to help women of color succeed at work.
The platform, which will officially launch in January 2021, opened its registration waitlist this October so that anyone who self-identifies as a woman of color can apply or nominate another woman of color to apply for membership on its website. According to Purushothaman and Goddess, applicants will be vetted based on career experience and information provided via an intake form or a LinkedIn profile before they can officially join the app. For now, Purushothaman and Goddess say nFormation is geared toward established women of color leaders and executives, though younger women, who they call "up and comers," can sign up to learn more about future rollout plans that will cater to their needs.
The idea for nFormation, Purushothaman tells CNBC Make It, is to "create a safe space, brave space and new space for high-performing women of color" to network and grow in their careers.
"Coming out of the gate," she adds, "our real focus is on creating a platform for women to come together and really talk about how we can really make change in the world and recreate structures and cultures [in the workplace], but also help these women get placed on both boards and in more senior positions in corporate and organizational spaces."
Their urge to create nFormation, Goddess and Purushothaman explain, was inspired by their own experiences in corporate America. When the two women met a little over five years ago at a women's summit, Purushothaman was a senior partner at Deloitte and Goddess had left her more than 20-year career in the chemical industry to focus on helping leaders find their passion, purpose and calling in life. Both women say their corporate careers consisted of them being the first, only or one of very few women of color in their position or on their team.
"[nFormation] isn't just about traditional networking," Goddess says. "I think the space that we're looking to create is about safety and really recognizing and understanding that women of color in corporations are grappling with the intersection of a series of tremendous issues that have everything to do with their identity [and] that have everything to do with corporate America's readiness for sharing power."
Outside of creating a space for high-achieving women of color to meet other like-minded women, Goddess and Purushothaman say that nFormation will also offer a variety of training sessions, curated events and leadership opportunities based on a person's membership level. General membership, which will cost $127 per month or $1,270 annually, comes with professional networking opportunities, leadership training and development, as well as access to curated events and resources. Premium membership, which will cost about $2,500 annually, comes with the same access general members receive as well as access to private virtual dinners and roundtable discussions, exclusive access to research and white papers related to women of color, access to unique advancement and placement opportunities within vetted companies and access to a two-year post-placement plan so that women of color continue to receive the support and resources they need even after landing a new position.
"One of the things that we're clear about is some women are looking for those placement opportunities, but other women are just looking for advancement support and the ability to professionally train and develop in environments where they feel this sense of connection and they feel this sense of camaraderie as they're developing and growing and strengthening their leadership chops," says Goddess. "And so, our intention is to be able to meet both of those opportunities."
With nFormation's placement program, Purushothaman clarifies that the goal is not to become a hiring platform for women of color. But rather, she says, their goal is to use their relationships with headhunting firms as well as internal executives at top companies to see if an organization's culture is a good fit for any of their members who are thinking about joining a board or taking a new leadership position.
"Our goal is to truly look at companies that want women of color and almost vet them in a way that checks if their culture is actually women of color friendly," she says, while adding that they will ensure that the women have the mentorship, sponsorship and growth opportunities that are needed for them to succeed at the company. Additionally, Purushothaman says that through nFormation's two-year post-placement plan, the women will also get a career coach to help strengthen their chances of long-term success.
Aside from using their own resources and connections to help women of color advance at work, Purushothaman and Goddess will also rely on their launch advisory board members to help build out nFormation's services. Some of their board members include Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder and CEO; Deborah Elam, former president of the GE Foundation who now serves as president and CEO of business consulting firm Corporate Playbook; and Josh Bersin, industry analyst, educator and thought leader in the HR space.
Right now, Purushothaman and Goddess say that nFormation is only open to women of color in the United States, but there is a possibility of expanding to other countries if the demand is there in the long run.
"I think there's something really special about bringing women of color together across industries and across areas because a lot of what we talk about when we gather with other women of color is this idea that we have wisdom," says Purushothaman. "We come from communities and cultures of wisdom, but we don't always get to share that or talk about that because the [work] culture doesn't sometimes allow for that."
With today's pandemic creating a greater need for people to stay connected and feel supported, Purushothaman adds that now more than ever a platform like nFormation is needed.
"There's so many things happening in our political world and in general society that this feels like a growing moment for women of color," she explains, while adding that now is the perfect time for women of color to have an app and platform where they feel seen and heard professionally.
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