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Artist-Activists Call on Business Leaders to Be Bolder Than Ever About Hiring From Underserved Groups

Yance Ford, Emma Grace Wright and Maimouna “Mumu Fresh” Youssef urge companies to fill roles with the overlooked and marginalized

Salesforce Make Change The Other
Courtesy of Salesforce

Risk-taking and outside-the-box thinking may be celebrated corporate cliches, but when it comes to hiring practices, businesses have been timid about embracing change.  

Activist Yance Ford encourages private sector leaders to be as bold as their words and change the way they think about hiring, especially hiring people from underserved groups.

“The responsibility of American businesses is to be forward-thinking,” the Academy Award-nominated documentarian says. “So, American companies: The first one to take that jump will be the one who gets the credit for changing what it means to work and live in the United States. Don’t you want to be that company?”

Ford says American executives can be successful recruiting prospective employees who are just as capable, but have a background or life experience different from their own. “For leaders looking to increase their impact I would simply say, look outside your usual circles,” he says. “If you are in a position of power and you have hiring capability, just go a little farther afield. It’s easy to discover an incredibly talented pool of people who would love to work for you.”

Ford and fellow activist-artists, filmmaker Emma Grace Wright and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Maimouna Youssef, all participated in Salesforce’s “Make Change” video series. Drawing from their diverse personal experiences, they urge business leaders to expand their gaze when searching for talent. 

Wright says that it is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business. Her family started Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, a Wilmington, N.C.-based chain of coffee shops that employs 120 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After starting with a single store, they have expanded to several locations, all with the same mission. 

“There’s always a place for someone with a disability and they bring so much to a business,” she says. “The interactions people have had with our employees are unique and they’re very special and they’re remembered by every single customer that comes in.”

Wright’s older sister has autism while her two younger siblings have Down syndrome. That inspired her activism as well as the 2016 launch of her family’s chain of coffee shops. “We’re trying to show the world that people with disabilities deserve a place in society and deserve a place in the workforce because they can really elevate a business,” she says. 

Wright, a New York University student, yearns to tell stories about marginalized communities. She wrote and directed a 2019 short film, “The Deep End,” starring her brother Beau. She sees this type of storytelling as helping to create a societal norm. “I know what people with disabilities are capable of and I wish that the rest of the world could see that,” she says.

Ford and Youssef talk about facing fear and discrimination with empathy.

Ford says: “I’m a transgender, Black New Yorker. I navigate some element of fear. More often than not when I go out in public where there isn’t some element of fear. I’ve decided that I’m going to move through the world with courage and if I encounter someone’s fear, I try to respond to that fear with empathy.”

Youssef gives back to her community by volunteering with youth organizations. She has also traveled throughout Central America working with underserved young women who are survivors of domestic violence or gender-based violence. She says that those who want to help but wonder what path to take should “magnify” their own empathy. 

“As soon as you do that,” she says, “you don’t have to ask what you should do. You’re going to see it, you’re going to feel it, and you’re going to feel the conviction to move.” 

“Put yourself in their shoes,” Youssef urges, “and be able to fight for their cause because you see that their cause is your cause.”

Ford, producer and director of 2017’s “Strong Island,” made history as the first openly transgender director to be nominated for an Academy Award. “It was an incredible honor, but I was most interested in that moment as what that moment would allow me to do for others.” He calls on individuals from marginalized groups who have gone on to find success to pay it forward to those on the way up. 

“If you are from a quote, unquote, in an ‘other category,’ or an underrepresented category, use whatever power and access you have to drop the ladder down,” he says. “Someone left that ladder down for me to climb up and it’s my job and it’s your job, if you’re in a position of power, to leave that ladder in place and to make it longer so that more people can follow us.”

To see more of the Salesforce ‘Make Change’ series, go to www.salesforce.com/make-change-equality/.