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New technologies take aim at IT’s diversity problem

Terena Bell | Nov. 27, 2017
From the job description to the workplace, female entrepreneurs are designing new tools to mitigate bias in hiring, company culture and decision making.

“Applicant tracking systems ... have been around for a very long time,” says Josh Bersin, principal at HR research firm Bersin by Deloitte. “All they do is they look for word matches between the resume and the job description and as they see word matches, they score them high.” In other words, if you’re hiring a computer programmer, legacy HR tech ranks someone with this job title higher than someone who’s called a software engineer.

Relatively speaking, the two are the same. And while there’s no data regarding whether women have one title more than men, there is evidence that — in general — the genders don’t use language the same. Legacy tech can search resumes for both titles, but it takes deeper NLP to analyze duties performed, descriptions, skills sections and other writing on a resume.

Bersin explains, “If your resume for some reason was written in a way that it doesn’t look like it fits the job, you’re not gonna get a call — even though you might be the smartest guy on the planet.” Note he does not say “the smartest gal,” showing how even the most rote of expressions can seem exclusionary.

To men’s credit, female-driven startups don’t have a complete lockdown on bias-removal tech: Andres Blank is cofounder and CEO of Scout. Unlike Talent Sonar, which removes gender indicators from a resume, Scout intentionally looks for them. Blank explains, “We index tens of thousands of a female's first name. We get asked a lot for female engineers, for example.” This allows companies that deliberately seek women to pull their applications to the top.

Re-engineering the workplace

When pipeline actually is the problem, Scout offers a solid fix. But as Talent Sonar’s Mather says, the trick is “to actually get more diverse hires — not just get more diverse people applying.”

To move beyond application numbers, you have to become a place where women want to work — and show them this during recruiting. That’s what InHerSight does. Similar to Glassdoor, the company uses crowdsourcing to rate companies. Whereas Glassdoor ranks generic attributes like “comp & benefits,” InHerSight measures “maternity and adoption leave,” “family growth support,” and other female-focused categories such as “equal opportunities for women and men.” Those scores are then backed by data measuring “company responsiveness,” according to founder and CEO Ursula Mead: “How satisfied are you with how well a company responds when you escalate issues [such as not being able to take maternity?] ... For us, it’s important to understand how well a company responds when you have a problem.”

Companies such as Ericsson, HubSpot, and others advertise on InHerSight to drive job applications and then use platform responses to find areas where they could become more female-friendly. Mead says, “They’re looking at our data and they’re trying to understand what’s working and what isn’t for the women who work for them and what they need to do to be more attractive, not just to new candidates, but to also the women who are currently at their companies.” As sexual harassment and other policies are adopted, clients use InHerSight to measure their success: Did ratings go up after implementation?


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