From The Trenches: Interview with Rebecca Beam, CEO at Zavikon

From The Trenches: Interview with Rebecca Beam, CEO at Zavikon

Zavikon pioneers recruitment services that support employers to hire individuals with disabilities and those who are neurodivergent as part of their D&I initiatives.

Zavikon, founded by Milestones Visionary Employer Award winner Rebecca Beam, has launched placement and staffing services to match individuals with visible and invisible disabilities and those who are neurodivergent with employers who want to recruit extraordinary talent. Because Zavikon believes successful employment relationships begin with education, ongoing career coaching is provided for both employees and employers. The company’s unique offerings help employers promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace.

Zavikon is changing the unemployment and underemployment outcomes for individuals who are overlooked. Its mission is to build a bridge to disability inclusion in the workplace.

Meet Rebecca Beam, CEO at Zavikon, a Recruitment Firm for Disabled and Neurodivergent Job Candidates

We did a virtual sit-down with Rebecca Beam to talk about her journey in starting a startup during the pandemic.

LA Startups (LAS): What is Zavikon, and how did you come up with the idea?

Rebecca Beam (RB): After spending most of my career in the technology recruiting field, I became an advisor to MindSpark, a start-up that trained and employed individuals on the autism spectrum in software testing. My experience with MindSpark was life-changing. I was astounded by the talented people we had the pleasure to work with and became passionate about helping underserved people find the meaningful careers they deserve. 

I also discovered gaps in the marketplace when acting as President and CEO of auticon. First, many companies want to hire individuals with disabilities but hesitate due to a lack of knowledge. Further, many programs for individuals on the spectrum revolve around technology which still leaves those interested in digital arts, finance, marketing, and other industries underserved. I started Zavikon to address these needs and to help companies learn how to successfully integrate disability into their DE&I efforts.

It is important to me not to discriminate on the type of disability we work with. Zavikon works with both visible and invisible disabilities in any type of job anywhere in the US. I know it is a tall order, but we are up to the challenge.

LAS: What problem are you trying to solve?

(RB):  I want to help the estimated 85-90% of neurodivergent individuals and those with disabilities who are unemployed or underemployed find meaningful employment. Statistics suggest that if just 1% more individuals with disabilities enter the workforce, the GDP will experience a $25B increase. 

More importantly, these individuals are smart and capable with hopes and dreams just like everyone else, yet they are still underserved when it comes to employment. DE&I efforts need to include disability hiring as well as promoting and allowing people with a diverse way of thought to hold executive positions and be honest about their identity.

LAS: What were you doing before Zavikon?

(RB):  I was the President and CEO of auticon, a company focused on hiring technologists on the autism spectrum and consulting them out to companies, after they acquired MindSpark. MindSpark was one of the most fulfilling endeavors I participated in prior to Zavikon. It is also where I first had the privilege to work with individuals who are autistic. 

LAS: Tell us a good story about how you personally started – maybe one of your early struggles and how you overcame that challenge? A ‘From the Trenches’ type of story that you may not have thought you would survive.

(RB):  Oh my, there are so many. At one point in my career, I was a single mom raising two children. I did not know how I was going to juggle all my responsibilities and support my family while still growing my career. I needed flexibility, and I had to educate my boss on my situation. Through transparent, honest communication, we were able to arrange for the accommodations I needed. 

Everyone needs accommodations and hiring managers and employers will benefit if they reshape the way they feel about providing them to people with disabilities. Disabled does not mean less abled, and accommodations should not be viewed as frightening or complicated. 

LAS: Tell us why you are so passionate about Zavikon.

(RB):  While working at MindSpark and auticon, I discovered that I was able to relate to neurodivergent individuals in a way I hadn’t thought possible. My own ADHD and Autism diagnosis in 2020 shed light on why I felt such a deep connection to them. Through building Zavikon it also enabled me to be my authentic self both personally and professionally.

I have been lucky enough to find a meaningful career and I am passionate about helping my peers achieve the same fulfillment.

Also, many employers are unaware that businesses that employ people with disabilities outperform those that do not. They improve employee retention, they gain access to an untapped talent pool, they expand ideas and perspectives, and they are better able to relate to a diverse population of customers and consumers. Diversity hiring that includes disabilities and neurodiversity is a win-win for everyone at both a micro and macro level, and we are encouraging companies to open their hearts and minds and commit to investing in it.

From The Trenches: Interview with Rebecca Beam, CEO at Zavikon

LAS: How is this pandemic affecting the way your organization operates?

(RB):  I think the pandemic has helped in so far as employers are open to remote work. Some of our candidates do much better working in their own environments and remote work opportunities are more abundant now.

When the pandemic hit, I had a large staff of autistic employees. Their ability to continue to produce high-quality work is a testament to the pride people take in their jobs when given an opportunity to prove themselves.

LAS: What is your approach to making big-picture decisions?

(RB):  I approach big-picture decisions by considering how they will impact Zavikon five years from now. Are the approach and idea scalable? I also look at everything from a mission-driven perspective. Does it align with our mission? If not, the answer is simple.

LAS: What big problem kept you up last night? And what are you doing about it?

(RB):  There is not just one. Can I have two?

We do not want to say no to any candidate who needs our help in pursuit of employment; however, not all employers are prepared or have budgets to pay our fees. We are working on overcoming this challenge, so we will be launching a non-profit in 2022 called ZavikonDreamJobs.org. Now we just have to do some serious fundraising.

The other obstacle is dehumanization of the hiring process that has been brought about by online hiring and job searching. Many of the individuals who come to us for help are eliminated by company algorithms before they are even given a chance. At Zavikon, we aim to inject a human element back into the hiring process.

LAS: Tell us about a book or something else you’ve found inspiration in business?

(RB):  I have garnered a tremendous amount of inspiration from two organizations:  One Mind At Work (onemind.org) and The Compassion Project (thecompassionproject.com).  One Mind focuses on workplace mental health and The Compassion Project teaches what compassion is and how to practice it. 

Employers who are willing to take care of employee mental health and erase the stigma create happier, healthier organizations. If we all learn how to exercise our compassion muscles in the workplace, it will lead to the same result. Both are critical to Zavikon and the work that we do.

LAS: What Big Piece of Advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are looking to start a startup?

(RB):  Stay true to your mission. It is easy to get derailed by something shiny. Focus on your mission and core goals, achieve them, and then play with other ideas. It’s not easy to do because there are always other needs and problems out in the world. Solve one at a time and do it well.

Starting a company is not easy, but it is exciting. Some days can be very frustrating. Close each day acknowledging your wins, make a list of things to do that will solve your challenges, and get up the next day ready to face them head-on.

LAS: Any last words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

(RB):  It sounds cliché, but really, just go for it. You may have sleepless nights, question yourself often, but if you keep your head down and work towards your goals, you will not say to yourself one day “What if?”

Allow yourself to be creative and have crazy ideas. Great ideas come from those who seem a bit outlandish.

Lastly, embrace your authentic self. It is easier than not.

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