Saïd Hammouche is working to fight discrimination in France by promoting diversity and bringing talented leaders from marginalized social groups to the forefront of French society. By entitling these individuals to managerial jobs, he is effectively bridging the divide between the corporate world and the country’s most economically troubled neighborhoods.
The New Idea
In France, increasing numbers of youth from disadvantaged communities are graduating from high school and local universities, thanks to free access to education and policies promoting higher learning. Following their studies, however, these youth struggle to enter the job market and build professional careers because of widespread discrimination.
After struggling with these obstacles in his own life, Saïd saw how qualified people were falling between the cracks in the job market, not supported by a national employment service that only serves long-term, disqualified unemployed individuals, and ignored by more than 70 percent of recruiters that choose to avoid such areas altogether. Envisioning a solution, Saïd created Mozaïk RH to promote diversity within corporate culture and involve candidates from at-risk neighborhoods in the highest levels of corporate decision-making.
Through Mozaïk RH, Saïd offers services to human resource managers, demonstrating the competitive advantage of recruiting high potential from diverse backgrounds and of integrating them into corporations’ environments through diversity engineering efforts. Concurrently, he works to raise awareness about his work in at-risk neighborhoods, to better identify and coach potential leaders.
By encouraging such a social change within this market mechanism, Saïd bridges economically troubled communities with the rest of France. He believes that diversity at the executive and decision-making levels invariably shifts human resource practices, setting precedent and influencing corporate culture on the whole. The social ramifications of such actions in at-risk communities would be dramatic, resulting in more entry points into professional networks and higher employment rates that could lead to a shift in dependence on welfare to academic and professional achievement.
In the aftermath of World War II, several hundred low-income housing developments were built to absorb the urbanizing stream of rural and immigrant populations in France. Since the economic slowdown of the 1970s, however, these communities have ghettoized and begun fostering poverty, insecurity, and marginalization resulting from limited economic opportunity and extensive unemployment. Such conditions have bred resentment and hostilities among underprivileged communities in France, culminating in such dramatic events as the riots in 2005.
Behind the severity of this situation hides another reality: A growing number of resilient youth and adults from these communities have worked their way through secondary and higher education, only to fail to enter the job market. It takes an average of one and a half years more for a young graduate from these neighborhoods to find a job than other French citizens, and in the face of discrimination and constant bad publicity, many people from these upbringings have internalized lower expectations on the value of education and hard work.
Awareness of this reality has been growing over the past few years, pushing the government and corporations to take proactive measures to broaden access to employment. For instance, a National Diversity Charter was presented in 2004 by the Ministry for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities to encourage employers to adopt proactive strategies. Though 1,800 mid-sized and large companies have signed this charter, diversity is not yet an accepted aspect of French corporate culture. Additionally, 75 percent of job openings in France are filled through hidden recruiting, such as internal promotions and networking. In areas where four in ten people are employed and less than one in ten holds a management position, it is virtually impossible to have access to such employment networks. While local employment agencies work to facilitate access to jobs through placements and trainings, their services are not designed for people with university degrees, and thus the most educated are often the most overlooked.
The gap between the business world and this part of French society has led to a highly paradoxical socioeconomic situation in France. On the one hand, the physical separation between neighborhoods and corporations reinforces the role of the media in shaping perceptions of disadvantaged communities, promoting stereotypes and cultivating discrimination. On the other hand, discrimination in the job market reflects an apparent irrelevance of higher education and hard work to those seeking employment, thus encouraging delinquency and the reliance on welfare, which, in turn, strengthens the negative image associated with ghettos. Currently, 500,000 jobs remain unfilled every year, in spite of a 2 million unemployment figure, illustrating how this situation not only poses a social threat, but also presents a missed opportunity for corporations needing to adapt to an evolving market to fill their recruitment needs.
After experimenting with his idea in 2006, Saïd founded Mozaïk RH in 2007, the first executive recruitment agency specialized in promoting diversity and reversing employment discrimination patterns to transform the image of disadvantaged communities. Within 18 months, he developed a client portfolio of more than fifty corporations including Accor, SNCF, Accenture, and Barclay’s, and placed nearly 400 candidates in a wide range of positions.
Offering a unique combination of executive recruitment and public employment best practices, Mozaïk RH is structured around three main activities. The first involves identifying talented leaders in poor neighborhoods. Through mainstream media and word-of-mouth, Saïd has positioned his organization as an entry point to executive recruitment networks, allowing him to establish a database of 6,000 jobseekers with varying levels of experience. A network of more than 100 volunteers with corporate and HR backgrounds meet each candidate individually to assess their profiles and their preparedness for the executive employment market. Those who are not best positioned due to a lack of knowledge of the corporate world, low self-esteem, or insufficient skill-sets receive individualized coaching.
The second function of the organization is to promote diversity among recruiters. Mozaïk offers a unique service—including video CVs to enable jobseekers to market themselves, rather than using paper resumes that can be dismissed—in matching executive recruitment needs with talented, qualified leaders from diverse areas. Saïd’s business development team convinces corporations to consider individuals who have been previously evaluated and selected by Mozaïk by insisting they are as qualified as mainstream candidates and yet are more resilient, more loyal to their employer, and bring a new socioeconomic perspective to the organization. Mozaïk has more than fifty clients, and to better handle growing demands, Saïd is developing an online service.
Last, in order to sustain his clients’ efforts and to expand his impact more broadly, Saïd is developing diversity engineering activities. Central to this are Mozaïk’s services helping corporations assess their human resource models, develop new recruiting strategies, and train staff for diversity. He is working to establish a broad coalition of support starting with leading recruitment agencies such as Michael Page, with whom he is now sharing strategies and leading a joint national campaign promoting diversified recruitment.
Saïd is currently prioritizing Mozaïk’s development around three key growth areas. Internally, specializing in executive jobs, Mozaïk is progressively broadening its offer to cover the entire scope of client needs, including junior intern and traineeship recruitment. Geographically, Mozaïk is opening franchises around France, to meet local needs. Finally, to showcase the competitive advantages of diversity, Saïd has identified key sectors to publicize his work, including high-tech and strategy consulting, energy, and banking.
Raised in Bondy—a disadvantaged neighborhood in northeast Paris—Saïd hails from a Moroccan family and defined his own rules for success. Between school, international judo competitions, working as a youth animator in a day-care center, and organizing trips with his fellow high school students to the U.K., Saïd developed strong leadership and communications skills at a young age. In his family, he was the first to pursue secondary education, and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Sales and two Master’s degrees in Human Resources and Local Development.
Throughout Saïd’s life, he was repeatedly faced with discrimination, struggling more than his classmates to find internships, and even asked to change his first name by a potential employer. After graduating, he accepted a position below his qualifications with a youth unemployment office in the north suburbs of Paris. Within a year, he began to understand the structural failure of existing national unemployment agency solutions, while building a strong professional network that enabled him to take a job with the Ministry of Education.
After three years in this position, Saïd grew restless and began exploring opportunities in the citizen sector. His encounter with Karim Zeribi triggered his desire to start a concrete action to promote equal chances on the job market. Founder of Agir pour la Citoyenneté, Karim has built a platform for diverse groups to find concrete solutions to social problems and discrimination. With his help, Saïd tied the different pieces of his own experience together and brainstormed courses of action for diversified recruitment.
Realizing that communication was not enough to make a lasting impact on society, Saïd developed the concept for Mozaïk RH, and in February 2006, he took an unpaid leave from the government to devote more time to developing and expanding the organization. Now working in a donated office space in one of Paris’ most select neighborhoods, Saïd gives advice to and is regularly sought out by some of the largest corporate HR departments in France.