“I wanted to make sure that people who looked like my mother were not overlooked,” said Niani Tolbert, the 27-year-old founder of HireBlack, an employment agency and recruiting service dedicated to ensuring that Black women not only receive jobs, but also feel valued at work.

When the pandemic arrived in 2020, Tolbert, who had been laid off from her previous job as a technical recruiter at Equinox, was looking for work and had a lot of free time, so she decided to post a message on her Linked-in page on Juneteenth wanting help with resume evaluations for 19 Black women.

“It is the fact that we already face systemic obstacles when it comes to our name, our hair, our background or the school we go to. I wanted to make sure that I can even the playing field as much as possible because Black women are always facing so much, and also lifting so much of the community,” she expressed.

She had an overwhelming reaction after reaching out, with 300 recruiters contacting her and 500 Black women submitting their resumes for her to match. Tolbert opted not to return to her full-time work, and instead founded HireBlack, an organization that includes herself, her coordinator, and three interns.

HireBlack was founded as an organization devoted to assisting Black women in gaining employment in corporate positions such as marketing, advertising, technology, and communications. Tolbert devoted her entire summer of 2020 to giving Black women employment guidance and assisting them in receiving job offers.

Born and raised in Miami by a single mother, Tolbert recalls her mother struggling to find a job even with her outstanding experience that she had in corporate. After graduating from Mount Holyoke in 2014, Tolbert moved to New York where she worked in advertising before going into technical recruiting.

“When I went into the corporate world, especially as a recruiter, I have always seen myself as an advocate for Black women. When the pandemic hit I thought of all the Black women, all the single mothers because Black women are the bone of the Black family,” said Tolbert.

Tolbert previously stated that Black women suffer barriers in the workplace, which her group HireBlack works to overcome. She mentioned that a recruiter often employs references, which is an efficient means of locating someone within the organization who knows someone else they can refer to work with, based on her experience as a corporate recruiter. Because many of the businesses are largely white, the majority of referrals are frequently white. With HireBlack she wants to be able to connect Black women to the network.

The second issue is information access. HireBlack wants to make accessible connections and a network but also information and knowledge. From a recruiting aspect, Tolbert attempts to make as much information as transparent as possible. She educates Black women about how to assess their market compensation, how to decide how much they should be paid based on experience, job title, and how to negotiate salary.

Receiving feedback on someone’s mentality shifting is the most fulfilling part of her profession, she said. “I think that’s most important because many of our community members have been able to get a new job or get more money from understanding their worth and having more boundaries,” she said. Tolbert stated that her community members had boosted salaries by approximately $825,000 in the last year from the results of surveys. With the use of Black hired resources, some people have leapt up over $60,000 and one person has jumped up over $90,000.

The most difficult part for her starting her organization, she said, was figuring out what she wanted it to contribute. When she started out her goal was never to build a business; instead, she started with an intent of just wanting to help Black women, and as a result, more opportunities presented themselves.

“I realized that I needed a website, realized that I needed to try to make this sustainable, I realized that I needed to make money,” she explained.

To commemorate her one-year anniversary of founding her organization, she plans to conduct an event on Juneteenth in which she will partner with Chief, a private network of executive-level women, to provide over 500 career advisors for Black women. Resume reviews, salary negotiation advice, business strategy help, and general career guidance will be available to Black women.

In the future she expresses that she hopes to have more touch points for training such as career coaching and mindset coaching so that people can have an additional community to turn to and really hone in on their skills.

One of her organization’s core ideas is that when Black women are supported, the entire Black community benefits. Tolbert stated that her work benefits the Black community in a variety of ways.

“It is a step forward, it is not a saviour but it is a solution, one of the solutions to more transparency about opportunities, it is about mindset, it is about access. With those things people are able to change their lives, and because of the fact that they are able to change their lives they are able to change the people’s lives around them. Especially when you are helping Black women you are helping Black kids, and you are helping Black families,” she expressed.