Meet Shannon Morales, a single mom of three and founder and CEO of Tribaja, a tech talent marketplace based in Philadelphia that pairs Black and Latinx employees with companies committed to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
• Empowering up: “I came from a situation where it was very belittling, now I’m in a situation where I’m empowered. I got a seat at the table and now I’m advocating for professionals like myself so they’re not put in a toxic situation.”
• On the ball: “I love sports. I think it’s a way to constantly reassure yourself that you’re a bada—.”
Growing up in a household of all women just outside of New York City, Shannon Morales “felt unstoppable.”
“I never had a vision that I couldn’t do something,” she said. “It wasn’t until I went into corporate America that I saw that the outside world had a different view of what women’s abilities are.”
Morales’ experiences with bias in the white, male-dominated industry of finance led her to transition into the tech world, where she felt more free to express herself and share ideas. But when it came time to advance, she was met with barriers there, too.
“I received very similar feelings with bosses, where they would allow me to progress, but just so far,” she said. “I realized that some people will never truly be comfortable in a situation where someone could surpass them, so I wanted my own business to build my career and allow people to do the same.”
Now, through her company, Tribaja, Morales, 34, provides Black and Latinx employees interested in the tech field with education and training and pairs them with tech companies she’s vetted as being truly committed to inclusion and diversity.
“It is empowering. I have said no to some organizations, whether it was bad press or I saw they hadn’t done the work yet or they may have just started the work after George Floyd,” she said. “For us, we want to see that work already done.”
Morales, who identifies as African American and Colombian, grew up with her mom, grandma, and a female cousin in Clifton, N.J. She attended William Patterson University and after graduating with a degree in accounting and finance in 2014, she joined the world of pharmaceutical finance.
For three years, she worked at a place where her supervisor didn’t spend time with her on professional development, so she tried to find projects within the company to show she was taking initiative. But when it came time for her performance review, Morales said her supervisor accused her of falsifying those projects.
She was not only denied a raise, but also tuition reimbursement she’d been counting on to get her MBA.
“When he denied me under false pretenses I was infuriated. I wasted my time and I wasted my energy I could’ve spent somewhere else,” Morales said. “But I wasn’t going to let him ruin my career.”
To keep her mind off work, Morales started “a side hustle” called Echo Me Forward, pairing her friends with executives at other companies who were struggling to find good talent. She hit it big at first, but when she quit her job and went full-time without training or experience, she ran out of money.
“I failed the first time,” she said.
Morales decided to get another job and go back to school for her MBA. After a three-month internship in Silicon Valley, she was drawn to tech.
“People think to be in tech you have to sit at a computer for 10 hours a day and have to program really hard software,” she said. “I’m a nontechnical professional in tech: I don’t code and I don’t know how to program but I do know the industry enough to understand how to navigate it.”
Morales worked locally as an innovation manager, but left her job in December 2019 when she was the only one on her team not granted the ability to work remotely.
“What they told me is I had to earn it,” she said. “I laughed because I had three other workers that came at the same time as me, but they weren’t people of color and they weren’t me and they gave them a flexible schedule.”
Morales used a three-month severance package and money from unemployment to become a full-time entrepreneur in January 2020. She joined the Philly Startup Leaders accelerator program to help grow her diverse and inclusive tech-talent marketplace.
She planned to launch her business in July. Then COVID hit.
“My whole business model was obsolete,” she said. “Nobody was hiring, it didn’t matter how well I was connecting talent to managers.”
Morales pivoted and started developing an app, until the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed pulled her back.
“That reignited what Tribaja was about — inclusive workplaces where people felt like they belonged and could be themselves,” she said. “Now I didn’t have to sell anyone on this idea. Companies knew they had a social responsibility to act.”
Employees are offered free training through Tribaja’s training partners and once they graduate, Tribaja helps match them with companies — including Lyft, DoorDash, and Greenhouse — that have been vetted for commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Questions Morales asks prospective employers include: Will this be your first diversity hire? (”Because it wouldn’t be the best environment for our candidates”); Do you have long-term diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies in place? (”So we determine they’ve already done the foundational work”); and if they have Employee Resources Groups, career development, and support systems in place (”to know there is psychological safety built internally.”)
Morales now has six part-time contractors and is hiring her first full-time employee this month. She recently opened a branch in Richmond, Va., and from March 16-18 Tribaja’s second Diversitech Summit will take place virtually, with a closing reception at the W Hotel in Philadelphia on March 18.
“This year’s content is really centered around transitions and career changers,” she said. “It’s a space to listen, to hear success stories, to hear stories about pivots, and combating unconscious bias, and toxic work environments, and being different in the workplace and how to leverage those differences to get you ahead.”
Morales is also the chapter director of the Philly branch of Techqueira, the largest global community of Latinx professionals in tech. She was named Culture Builder of the Year at the 2020 Technical.ly Philly Awards; Emerging Leader in the 2022 AL DÍA Women of Merit awards; and she was named to Forbes Next 1000 list last year.
Outside of work, Morales, who lives in Lawrenceville, N.J., loves spending time with her daughters, ages 9, 10, and 11, and coaching their basketball team. Her entrepreneurial spirit has even spread to her daughter, Jordin, whose started an online bakery, Jordin’s Sweets.
“My biggest accomplishment is being able to live life on my own terms, being an entrepreneur and a single mom,” Morales said.
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