As the Director of Nonprofit Talent Advisory Services for inTulsa, Janessa leverages her interest in people and her business knowledge to help nonprofits develop and implement strategic plans and build valuable partnerships with the Tulsa ecosystem.
Where did you start your career?
I majored in business and worked in banking for JP Morgan Chase for 8 years in the commercial division, doing mergers and acquisitions (M&A). In 2008, after that recession, we had a lot of M&As. Someone mentioned to me that I do really well at telling people what’s happening when they’re being transitioned. They suggested I think about getting into HR and working with employee relations and experience. And after I left that job, I was curious to enter a career in HR.
So, I then worked with tech adjacent companies, folks who are trying to figure out how to make their workplace different than the traditional, hierarchical workplace, and who are making work feel like a place you want to go and give it your all.
How did you land in Tulsa?
I’m a native New Yorker and lived in New York City, but I traveled to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles, working with several different companies, consulting on both coasts. In 2020, during Covid, I was living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, during one of the hottest summers in New York, and I wanted to go someplace else. I wanted more space. I wanted a dog-friendly city. Someone mentioned to me, “Ever think about Tulsa?”
When I researched it, I found Tulsa looked like a walkable, dog-friendly city, and I decided to come here.
What drew you to becoming a talent partner?
When I moved to Tulsa, I continued to consult with companies on the coasts, talking about employee experience, putting DEI into the lens of how we do business, talent acquisitions, and employee relations. I was happy with being a consultant, but traveling during Covid was incredibly difficult, and now it’s even harder and more costly. I wanted to be more “home-bound.”
I jumped onto LinkedIn to see what else was out there, and Cassy at inTulsa reached out immediately and said, “Hey, I’ve been looking for you,” and she told me about the role I hold now. I’ve been here since 2022.
What does your role entail? What’s your day-to-day like?
I lead a division that services George Kaiser Family Foundation and Tulsa Community Foundation as my primary clients. I am a thought partner, liaison and advisor about how to gather highly qualified, diverse candidates into our ecosystem so we can continue bringing Tulsans into it and match economic growth with how we expand and scale our teams. Every program and initiative that’s within the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Tulsa Community Foundation is my client. So, I have about 30 organizations I have these conversations with.
What I am doing is looking at strategy and having those difficult conversations, such as, “What are your plans for next year? How do you plan on involving the community, especially native Tulsans, in what you do?” It’s about knowing who’s coming into the organizations from Tulsa, who’s coming from outside of Tulsa, and making sure that it’s equitable. So, we look at community impact and recruiting through a DEI lens.
We also have candidate readiness programs, so that if there’s a new company coming in, we want to know: Do we have local candidates who qualify? How do we navigate them through our ecosystem to get them on-brand? Do they know how to create a resume and Linked profile for today’s competitive market? How do we prep someone for several-stage interviews? It’s a little different every day.
What gets you excited to go to work in the morning?
On a personal note, it’s about marrying things that have been personal to me about being the “one and only” in the room. I’ve been the only BIPOC woman in the room. People will say that’s an anomaly, you’re a unicorn. But there are so many of us! The best thing about this role personally is being to showcase that there are no unicorns—it just depends on where you’re looking, how you’re looking, the lens you’re using.
If you’re looking through a lens that someone must have graduated from a certain college, you’re excluding people who could be incredibly qualified to take your company to the next level. Your ideology does not translate to outcomes.
So, changing the minds of people, both on the company side as a hiring manager and also on the candidate side, is the best thing I get to do. We need to bridge this gap on the company side and the candidate side so they can become more inclusive organizations.
What can a candidate or organization expect from working with inTulsa?
Even though people consider us to be a recruiting agency, we are really just folks who are matchmaking the best we possibly can. We are guides and advisors. We supplement whatever a candidate or organization is already doing. Who doesn’t want a little support? So we’re able to be a support system, asking what worked and what didn’t work. It’s really about what we can do to support your growth.
What advice do you have for people early in their careers, or who are making a career switch?
In our nonprofit division, roles can be in tech, public services and the social sector. We’ll work in early childhood, community support, equal opportunity and justice for second-chance folks, or even parks and recreation. So we have a wide gamut of industries we work with.
Early in your career, the advice I would give is that there is value in every job you will work at. Even though it may not be what or where you envision yourself to be, there’s always someone that can mentor or sponsor you. So, take full advantage of the opportunity that you’re in. Sometimes, people take on jobs early in their career because they need something on their resume. Think of it as a stepping-stone to your next thing, even if you don’t know what the next thing might be. You’ll discover that as you continue to give your all at your work.
And always seek support systems. That has been tremendously important. Today, I have references that are twenty-two years old. That has been incredibly important for me to be able to be where I am today.
For those who are late-stage career, it’s realigning your personal values and the things that are important to you to the work you’re going to be doing. Think about what you are willing to give up for the time that you’re giving. If you align your personal values to the work that you do, it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re giving up or compromising yourself. You’re giving yourself for compensation and benefits, but you’re also putting good back in the world because these are your strengths, and this is what you’re really passionate about.
What do you love about Tulsa?
It’s incredibly eclectic and underrated. You can get a little bit of everything here. People talk about New York as a melting pot. Well, it’s still a melting pot out here in Tulsa, but it’s not with the rat race, hustle culture of the coasts. You can come in and be yourself, whatever that looks like, and find your own community here. That’s really special.
What would you recommend to people who are thinking of moving to Tulsa?
This goes back to that idea of alignment. What I loved about New York was the ability to go do anything at any time, such as arts and creativity—but I didn’t have the time or money to do that. The ability to do all those things—the arts, the music scene, the creativity, the outdoors_is actually incredibly affordable to do here. I recommend getting a membership at Tulsa Performing Arts Center and going to see plays. Take dance classes at Tulsa Dance Center. Check out the Gathering Place to be one with nature for a moment. Build a community of like-minded people, regardless of what they may look like. And you can do all those things literally in one day here and have a very fulfilling day, weekend, or week.
What books, music, podcasts or other resources are you enjoying right now that you’d recommend?
I’m reading a book right now by bell hooks, All about Love. It’s something I started reading over the holiday break. I wanted to deep dive into this conversation of what love really means in alignment with yourself, your intentions for a new year, and what you really love. So, I’m reading bell hooks and it’s giving me a new perspective. In my work I deal with a lot of big words that are lofty and vague and subjective—love, culture, DEI—a lot of these things are nice concepts, but is my chicken soup the same as your chicken soup? So, I’m thinking about how to define these ideas with more tangible words about what matters to me.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
This work is about being on a journey. And it doesn’t necessarily need to look like anyone else’s journey. Whether you’re a company or a candidate, you have permission to say, I’m looking for something very unique to me. You need to think critically and deeply about what you’re putting forth, because the longevity of looking for a candidate to come into an organization, or being a candidate coming into that organization, is incredibly important to the health of that organization. So do the work early, and continue doing the work through the journey.