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Closing the Opportunity Gap Requires Addressing the Social Capital Gap

By Ebony Beckwith January 9, 2020


Young adults from workforce development organizations like Year Up and COOP meet Salesforce employees during a networking event held at the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.

At Salesforce, we know that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. That’s why our Future Ready grant strategy is focused on supporting education and workforce development initiatives that are addressing the opportunity gap in the cities where we live in work. We envision a future where all young people have the education, skills, and tools they need to thrive in the 21st century. Our grantees are doing incredible work toward that goal – increasing access, expanding opportunity, and addressing the social capital gap.

Between 70 and 85 percent of jobs are found through networking. That may come naturally for people who are from a family of professionals or who went to prestigious colleges. By the time they enter the workforce, some young adults already have large networks and lots of social capital that can help them find jobs, even with limited work experience.

But young adults from underserved communities and underrepresented backgrounds often face a social capital gap. Without access to the same networks and connections, it can be much harder to find a full-time job, even with the necessary education and skills. As a result, many young adults end up underemployed, working in jobs they are overqualified for and/or working fewer hours a week than they need to. And research shows that being underemployed can have lasting effects.

There are powerful and creative ways to address this challenge.

One example is an organization called COOP. COOP combines a cohort model with near-peer mentoring and formal business partnerships to help motivated, diverse, first generation, underemployed college graduates build their social capital and find full-time jobs. Some participants find jobs through formal connections facilitated by COOP, while others find roles through their new, expanded network of COOP alumni – demonstrating social capital in action! The program has seen remarkable results and COOP is working to scale the number of people it can reach.

Year Up’s one-year, intensive training program is another example. After spending six months learning technical and professional skills, participants spend the second half of the year in paid internships at companies like Salesforce. Additionally, Year Up matches participants with mentors who meet with them regularly to offer support and make professional connections. At Salesforce, we also match all of our Year Up interns with Salesforce mentors who work on teams beyond those on which the interns are working, helping to build connections throughout the company more broadly.

Future Executive Summit

During Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce hosted the second Future Executive Summit. It was an opportunity for hundreds of young adults from Bay Area schools and workforce development organizations to build social capital through formal and informal networking with Salesforce employees, customers, and one another. In this photo, a group of participants meet with CEO Rob Acker.

And during Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce hosted the second Future Executive Summit, attended by hundreds of young adults from Bay Area schools and workforce development organizations. It was an opportunity to learn about possible career paths, hear from inspiring speakers, and build social capital through formal and informal networking with Salesforce employees, customers, and one another.

It’s easy for individuals to get involved in addressing the social capital gap, too. Here are three actions you can take:

First, become a mentor. Specifically, become a mentor to a student or young person who comes from an underrepresented background or underserved community. Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Year Up can help you get connected to a mentee. January is National Mentoring Month, so there’s no better time to sign up.

Daniella Zalcman - Big Brothers Big Sisters

Jasmin French volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Indiana, spending time with her Little Sister, Mishelle. Photo Credit: Daniella Zalcman.

Second, look at your professional network with a critical eye. Is it diverse? If not, think about why and what steps you can take to thoughtfully expand it to be more inclusive. One way can be through volunteering activities that take you outside your own community and help you connect with new people. Another option is to make a commitment to connect with people who have less social capital. Every time somebody reaches out to you for a networking conversation, take that as a nudge to proactively reach out to another person who could benefit from being added to your network. Offer to be a resource or help them make connections.

Third, see if your company or office can partner with workforce development organizations like COOP, Year Up, and others to host interns, hire diverse talent, or organize networking and volunteer events.

By taking concrete steps to address the social capital gap, we will also make real progress toward closing the opportunity gap. The result will be a stronger, more diverse, and more inclusive workforce that gives passionate, driven young adults more pathways to success.

About the Author

Ebony Beckwith

Ebony Frelix Beckwith
Ebony Frelix Beckwith is the Chief Philanthropy Officer and Executive Vice President, Marketing at Salesforce. As a leader within Salesforce’s dedicated social impact team,, Ebony directs programs and strategic grants focused on education and workforce development. Ebony is responsible for engaging 45,000 employees in community service opportunities, administering millions of dollars in grants to improve communities around the world, and leading marketing for