All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Building an EPIC recruitment agency with Sacha Martina
Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned to the weekly episodes. My name is Lydia, and joining us today is Sacha Martina, CEO of Your Talent Agency, based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Hello, Sacha. Thank you for joining us on this podcast.
Sacha: Hello, Lydia. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's an absolute pleasure to be here today.
Lydia: Let's dive right in. You have been in the recruitment space for several years. And now you run your own talent agency in Amsterdam. So, tell us about your journey in the talent space, Sacha. What might be some key learnings that have shaped your business as you run it today?
Sacha: So, I've been in the recruitment business for 12 years already. I started out as a baby recruiter, working for an agency in Amsterdam, and I fell in love with the industry. I fell in love with making clients happy, making candidates happy, and making meaningful connections.
I find out pretty early that this is my purpose, making people happy. I also saw already pretty early on in my career, that there's also room for growth and opportunities in the market. I learned that if you want to have change or you see changes needed that you have to do it yourself.
So, I started on that as an agency recruiter and worked my way to corporate, found out that that was not the good formula for me, and I went back to startups and scaleups and found my sweet spot there. First, I worked for a few years as a contractor, and about four years ago, I started ‘Your Talent agency.’
Lydia: You are a CEO, but your CEO title doesn't exactly stand for Chief Executive Officer, does it?
Sacha: Yes, exactly. Of course, every company needs to have a CEO. Although my title is CEO, I use the letter E for a different word. For me, CEO stands for Chief Epic Officer, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is I'm not American. We don't have an executive agency. So, the term executive officer also doesn't really fit, and when we were creating our company, our values, and our brand, we also found out that we have a very special type of language and wording that we use to define our culture. One of the words that we use a lot is ‘epic.’ For example, in our signature, when we say goodbye to people in an email, we don't say kind regards. We say stay epic.
"We also say to clients that are working with us, ‘you must be epic.’ Because you chose us to work with, and we are not your traditional kind of agency, we all have to think a little bit differently. I think that people who like that and companies that like that also see the added value in having a slightly different type of wording.”
So, that's where my title as Chief Epic Officer comes from.
Lydia: So, what is epic, Sasha? How would you define that?
Sacha: I would define epic as special, extraordinary, exceptional, and different in a good way. But also a bit rebellious. I think the outlaws are in a positive sense and not the ones that really do bad, but the ones that want to do better in the industry, and are bold and brave enough to also do it. So, not just see it and talk about it but also take actionable points.
DE&I: raising awareness and approaching it the right way
Lydia: You're also a consultant for Diversity and Inclusion today, and this space is obviously very critical. How have you approached DE&I, particularly in terms of raising awareness of its importance for organizations?
Sacha: Well, that's a great question, Lydia. Thanks. So, DE&I is growing in its importance and its awareness, which makes me very happy. But also, there is a lot of ground to win for a lot of companies that still are struggling with the terminology around DE&I and apparently also still don't know what the added value is of building diverse teams. So, there's a lot of research around why diverse teams are outperforming non-diverse teams.
“Not only does it improves your retention rates, but it will also even outperform your competitors by up to 30% if you have a diverse and inclusive work culture.”
I think it's a no-brainer to not invest in it. But the challenge is also that a lot of companies don't know where to start, and that is something I also help them with.
Lydia: These are great points because there are some companies, as you said, who face issues with it. There's a will to implement these strategies within the organization. But studies have shown diversity is a business priority now and not just nice to have.
What are some challenges that you've seen that companies face in terms of implementing policies or strategies that support diversity?
Sacha: I think one of the biggest challenges that companies are facing, especially if it's a company that has existed in the markets, and I'm talking primarily about the Dutch market, which I know most about, is that company owners and company leadership teams are still primarily dominated by men, by white men.
So, they are also sort of the problem that keeps existing because they keep on hiring the same type of profile for the leadership roles. We see that diversity is being more adapted in the lower layers of the companies. But the big problem is in promoting more diverse leadership teams and management teams.
That is a cycle that needs to be broken. The challenge is that either the leadership team doesn't even see it, and the people below them do see it, or the leadership sees it, but they don't know how to get started. Just hiring one woman or one person of color is not going to make your team diverse.
So that is, I think, a type of education that is needed, and a need to learn more about its importance. I personally also really think we need more role models being pushed forward to pave the way and show them how the next generation of companies is being built.
Building a diverse team and structuring inclusivity
Lydia: One key aspect in ensuring diverse hires is also making sure that recruitment teams are diverse themselves. So, what might be some factors that agency leaders or heads of recruitment teams should think about when they structure a diverse team of recruiters?
Sacha: It's very important that when a recruitment team is being built or established, the leaders of the recruitment team must constantly keep this notion in the back of their mind that diverse hires only come from a diverse recruitment team.
If candidates are applying for a role, and the whole recruitment team basically looks nothing like the candidate, the chances of the candidate actually applying will go down.
“A recruitment leader should not just hire people because they are a diverse hire, make sure you create a culture that is inclusive, that makes people want to work there because they see that they can be their true selves, being celebrated for being their true selves and bringing their whole self to work. Then automatically, your team will become more diverse.”
Talking about this, sharing your desires to build a diverse team, for example, sharing that as well on your social media such as LinkedIn. Being vulnerable and curious will lead the way forward for the recruitment leaders of the markets.
Lydia: That goes into building a culture that's based on diversity and inclusion. So, what might be some examples that you've seen in your work as a consultant, even your work through your agency today?
Sacha: I have so many examples. Let me give you my best two. One of our clients has seen at one point that there is really a need and a demand for steer groups without making it too heavy because it's their boost, and it doesn't always need to be a very heavy topic.
Basically, they said that if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you want to have a safe space in our company where you can speak with like-minded people, educate and celebrate and talk about all the initiatives that you guys can take to get our company on the card and on the map as a diverse company, and we want to give you that time and space to be with like-minded people.
So, they have a steering group. They get together once a month for a couple of hours, which is all on company time and company pay. They have budgets to initiate things to celebrate everything that comes with their community. They don't only have that for the LGBTQ community, but they also have that for people from Black Heritage backgrounds, people with a migration background, as well as people from different religious groups.
It’s not an obligation. It's open if you are enthusiastic and passionate about it. But it's also for all the other people that don't really feel like they are part of one of these communities, but they are an ally, and they do want to learn more about this, to join and educate and build more on the inclusive culture together. That is an example I always love to share.
Secondly, something that we do internally, which I always love, and I also give workshops in this field, is by breaking it down into smaller sections. Not making a big heavy topic, but try to make it fun. A lot of times, we do breakfast sessions together with my team, and I also host breakfast workshops for clients where we teach them small things about the DE&I spectrum.
So, it could be a working session around the LGBTQ community where we teach them all the letters of the rainbow spectrum. It could be about neurodiversity, where we invite people from diverse neuro backgrounds, explain all the benefits that come with hiring neurodiverse people in your team, but also explain to them that you have to also take into account that sometimes people need a little bit of a different kind of attention. But mainly focus on all the pros and not on the cons.
Intersectionality: what does this mean?
Lydia: Intersectionality is something we see a lot about. It’s a big topic. I’d like to know your perspective session and how you would describe or define intersectionality.
Sacha: Yes, that's a good one. Intersectionality is a new word for a lot of people in the DE&I spectrum.
It's important that people know that diversity, inclusion, and equity basically consists of 12 different diversity factors, and there are things that we know. We see people of color having different physiques, we see people who are in a wheelchair, and that is automatic that you cross one of the diversity boxes. But there's also a lot of things we don't know, or we don't see if you don't know each other.
Like where have you been raised? Where are your parents from? What is your health situation? If you're not in a wheelchair, maybe you are struggling with a serious disease in your life, or maybe you are neurodiverse. It's something that people don't see and therefore don't take into account. But it can play a big role in building a diverse and inclusive culture. That's so important.
“With intersectionality, training people and educating people on basically we are all different, because out of those 12 topics, you definitely will have one or two boxes that you will also cross, and you see and learn about that from your team. As well as from, for example, your clients, your partners, and your peers that you work with, then people a lot of times will see that they are all basically different. Therefore, building that diverse cultural mix is going to be a bit easier if you are curious and open about these topics.”
Lydia: It has been suggested that the use of pronouns creates a more inclusive workplace. What are your thoughts on this, Sacha?
Sacha: I'm a big fan of pronouns, and I also had to get used to it in the beginning because explaining I'm she/her sounds like an open door because you can see I'm a girl, but that doesn't always necessarily define that you also present yourself as a girl.
By making it easier for people that don't fit the basic spectrum, having to explain themselves over and over and over again is like a little microaggression on its own. You can share it on your LinkedIn, you can share it in your signature, and then you know you will be right. So, you can't make somebody else feel bad. That's never the intention. But it is a microaggression if a nonbinary person gets called he or she when they don't define themselves like that.
I think nowadays, the world is changing, and we are much more open about our beliefs, our sexuality, or gender, and how we want to live our lives. I think this is a very logical development. As a business owner and as a leader in the diversity spectrum, I believe it's a very small step to take for people to make a huge impact.
Optimizing and utilizing technology to enhance diversity hiring
Lydia: Let's move on to the use of technology or HR technologies specifically to support diversity. There has been a study that has shown 58%, just over half of the companies that they've surveyed, use HR technology to find, attract and retain top talent. Now, how might technology help in ensuring diversity in hiring practices?
Sacha: I am a big fan of these kinds of initiatives because, in general, most people still recruit and hire in a pretty traditional way. So, if you see a nice job, you send your CV, you send a motivation letter, and then you need to sort of cross your fingers and hope that the person on the other side of the line, or the receiving side is happy with receiving that.
Your chances increase if the hiring manager or recruiter is a like-minded person. They look like you. If they've been to the same school or studied the same place as you, if they come from the same country, your chances are going up. But if it's the other way around, and that person looks nothing like you, or maybe even worse, has a bad experience with somebody that comes from the same country or comes from the same neighborhood or the same college as you, your chances are going down rapidly, which has nothing to do with your skills or competencies.
“I think technology can play a big role in building more diverse teams because people need to start looking at each other for competencies of skills, and not color, race background, and educational levels and create their bias around that. So technology can be a huge differentiator in killing that unconscious bias.”
I think that especially a lot of leadership teams and C-level teams need this to confront their own bias and start hiring for the right skill set and lots for the right person.
Lydia: How should recruiters and HR leaders, in this respect, prepare themselves to adopt a direction toward diversity in hiring?
Sacha: Now, I think an easy step to take to prepare is to start talking about it. Putting it on the agenda of your management meetings and of your board meetings. Are we actually being conscious of our hiring process? Are we really thriving? Is that something that fits our values? If it is, are we really thriving to build that culture? What initiatives are we taking? What can we do more? Are we testing it with our people or sending out a survey?
People send out employee surveys all the time. Are the questions in the employee survey also focused on DE&I, or is it just about how are people feeling and looking at us as a leadership team? But are they also allow you to bring your whole self to work?
So, be critical of the things that you are already doing and maybe upgrade them. But also having that discussion internally, with your peers, with your managers on where do we see the future going? And how are we going to play a role in that? And can we do that ourselves? Or do we need external expertise to do that better?
Executing a great recruitment strategy with the assistance of technology
Lydia: We’ve spoken a little bit about HR technology earlier. So, in terms of automation, what kind of technology would HR leaders and recruiters need for them to execute a great recruitment strategy?
Sacha: That is such a good question. HR leaders and recruiters need to; step one, build a good recruitment strategy because a lot of times when we enter a company, there is not even a real strategy, and they are still recruiting based on traditional measures and doing everything manually, and not letting technology work for them.
So they use it as a means to an end and not use it to its full advantage. Therefore, what we see is that a lot of HR leaders are just adding more recruiters and HR people to the team instead of looking at smart ways to automate a big chunk of that process, which is not only more cost-efficient, but it's also will lead to fewer mistakes, because all manual labor leads to more to a higher number of manual mistakes, of course.
“It's not always investing in more people. it's also investing in the right technology.”
I think finding a good balance and finding good partners for that will be a big game changer. But it's also, again, a little bit of what we initially started with. You need to have a little bit of the rebel HR leaders that see, ‘okay, the future is going a different way, we need to also make more, and we can automate a big chunk of our process more without getting rid of our personal touch as HR leaders and recruiters.’ So, doing the research and seeing how it can benefit your business can be a huge differentiator.
The role of employer branding: an efficient strategy for attracting candidates?
Lydia: All that time spent on manual tasks and after automating that, it obviously frees up lots of time that you can then use for more strategic purposes, such as engaging with candidates, or in this case, in my next question, building a great employer brand, for instance, or representing the brand in a more thoughtful and meaningful way.
What, in your opinion, might be the role of employer branding in attracting and keeping diverse candidates today?
Sacha: I'm a big fan of employer branding. I think if employer branding is done properly, it will do the work for you. But companies need to be careful that they do it in the right way with respect. Don't window dress.
An example of window dressing is coloring your whole company in their pride logos and pride colors in order to say we celebrate Pride, but if you ask them how many people of the LGBTQ+ community are working for you, they’ll have no idea. They really have no idea. So, they use it to attract people, but they don't even internally focus on it. That's window dressing, and that will never be applauded. That will be punished because people will see it and will not choose you as an employer.
The same goes for asking the token people in your team to be the people, the person on the website again and again and again and again. So, companies can use it very well if they're being honest, if they have strong values, if they talk about their values, and even if they noticed that, ‘okay, we're not there yet.
We're not at that diverse and inclusive culture that we want to build, but we are really doing our best, and we are inviting people to help us get to that stage.’ Sharing that message is a bit vulnerable. But I think vulnerability is such a powerful thing that should be celebrated more instead of being frowned upon.
“If companies are doing employer branding justice, it can be such a game changer for them, and it's such so much fun to work on and work with yeour team.”
Lydia: Employer Branding is meant to be an enduring effort because it's not just a one-off obviously, as you said, window dressing. If there are all these manufactured or created instances where you're trying to project something that isn't authentically available inside your organization, then it's easy to see through that.
So, all the points that we talked about earlier in terms of an inclusive culture and building that authentically, with everyone then also cascades into the employer brand naturally because people want to showcase those things. Excellent.
Stay in touch with Sacha Martina
Lydia: Thank you so much, Sasha, for your time and your wonderful insights today. So, where can our audience connect with you?
Sacha: I would love to connect with people if people are inspired by my purpose around diversity and inclusion, excited about our journey in the recruitment industry, or just curious about me. Please find me. I'm most active on LinkedIn. So just search my full first name and last name, Sasha Martina.
We're also very active on our LinkedIn company page, ‘Your Talent Agency,’ and we recently also jumped on TikTok and rails to share more of our insights behind the scenes of the agency. So if people are curious, I invite you to follow us on all platforms, and I love to interact with like-minded people.
Lydia: I’m quite curious, by the way, Sacha, the background that you have says, first they laughed, and then they copied. Where did that come from?
Sacha: Yeah, that is one of the quotes. I didn't think of it, unfortunately. But I think it's a very powerful one. Because as a rebel, I think, a more rebellious kind of person and also rebellious kinds of agency, in the beginning, we struggled as well because we were trying to create something that wasn't really there, pushing on things like diversity and inclusion.
Also, one of our missions is bringing more international talent to the Netherlands, which is automatically already a differentiator, of course, in terms of diversity. We have had a problem in the Netherlands that we have a huge shortage of high-level staff, and we saw that solution already years ago, but a lot of people are hesitant about change and transformation.
So, we started it, and we were the first agency in the Netherlands that recruited internationally but also facilitated clients in getting those people onboard through immigration and relocation. Then we saw a couple of years later that more companies started to do that.
This is also a little bit of where the quote comes from. First, they laughed, and then they copied. First, a lot of people and companies said, ‘this is not gonna work,’ right? People aren't ready for this, or this is not the market for it, and apparently, it is. So, we put this quote on our wall to remind ourselves that being rebellious is always a good thing.
"So, find your inner rebel, and if people say it can't be done, prove them wrong, prove them differently.”
Lydia: Thank you, Sasha. We have been in conversation with Sasha Martina, CEO, or chief EPIC Officer of Your Talent Agency based in the Netherlands. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels and stay tuned for more weekly episodes from Al-In Recruitment.