Each year the People of Color Career Fair draws crowds of workers looking to engage with Minnesota companies committed to diversifying our local economy. Smith-Akinsanya founded the People of Color Career Fair in 2012 to address the economic disparities faced by communities of color; Minnesota’s racial wealth gap is one of the worst in the nation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, communities of color held just 15% of Minnesota’s total jobs in 2020, despite making up 23.7% of the population. Black people in Minnesota have a 70% labor force participation rate compared to 65% by their white counterparts, but face unemployment rates three times higher than the white unemployment rate. This implies that while more Black people are seeking work, far fewer are finding it. Founder Smith-Akinsanya says the POC Career Fair is built on the belief that these disparities are not due to a lack of ambition or expertise in communities of color.
“It's not about just who you know - it's about who knows you,” she said.
The career fair is now a major hiring event, thanks to support from large corporations, policymakers, and other entities. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stopped by the career fair. Frey says a diverse range of opinions is crucial to the success of businesses as the economy evolves.
“The number one demographic that is starting businesses right now is Black women, number one, more than any other demographic out there,” said Frey. “We've got some of the most talented people in the entire state right here in this room, and we want to make sure that every bit of talent and potential that's on the table and in this room is realized.”
This year, the career fair addressed the need for POC employees to show up as their authentic selves in the workplace and still be deemed professional. This marked the first career fair since the passage of the Crown Act in February, a law which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees based on how they style their hair. Both male and female models from different cultural backgrounds took to the stage for a fashion show demonstrating how a professional of color could present themselves in business while retaining their culture and authenticity. The fair also provided attendees with professional headshots and the opportunity to network with dozens of major Minnesota employers.
Authenticity is good for all of us,” said People of Color Career Fair Founder Sharon Smith-Akinsanya. “We know that it leads to more productivity, and we want corporations to make sure they don't block their blessings.”