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Diversity and Inclusion Technology: The future is now

Posted on 23 February 2021

In this session we explored how can businesses harness new innovations in technology to build strong and diverse teams faster, set D&I goals and measure success.

During the event, moderated by Employment Partner Jennifer Millins and Head of MDR Lab Dan Sinclair, we heard from the driving forces of the industry that are shaping the future of diversity with innovative technology solutions:

This live session was held on 16 February 2021. All information was correct at time of recording.

There were numerous questions from the audience, as well as questions that we really wanted to ask, that we didn't have time to ask during the event. We put these questions to one of our panellists, Khyati Sundaram, the CEO of Applied, to find out more about her views on how technology can help improve diversity and inclusion, particularly in respect of the hiring process. You can read the interview with Khyati here.

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

Jennifer Millins

Good afternoon everyone, welcome to Mishcon de Reya.  My name’s Jennifer Millins and I’m a Partner in Mishcon’s Employment Team.  Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.  At Mishcon, we work alongside our employer clients dealing with all of the challenges that improving diversity can bring and we know that diversity and inclusion is one of the key challenges facing employers. Today’s event aims to shed some light on this challenge and how technology can help employers to build strong and diverse teams. I’m delighted to welcome Stacia Sherman Garr.  Stacia is Co-founder and Principal Analyst at RedThread Research, which is a research and insights company focusing on people practices, learning and D&I and the technologies that support them.  I wanted to start by asking you about the evolution of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and very briefly to set the scene because we’re referring in this as a sort of shorthand to D&I tech or D&I technology just as a kind of easy way of signalling what we’re talking about but it’s probably worth us just breaking that down a little bit. 

Stacia Sherman Garr

To set a little bit of context, we’ve been… I’ve been doing research on this space, whether we call it D&I or DEIB as we’ve started calling it, since 2013 and I think that the changes that we’ve seen in that time have been pretty foundational.  Now, I’ve felt that and from the research that we did, that there was a big energy behind it in 2017/2018 and part of 2019 and that’s when we started to see the tech market really take off.  But to be honest, it was starting to die back a little bit.  A little bit of, “Okay, we’ve had this push on me too, what now?” and then, you know, “What now?” was the pandemic.  I remember at the time thinking, “Where is the conversation around D&I here?  Like, we’re just not having it,” and if anybody you know, a crisis, almost always disproportionately negatively impacts diverse individuals and so that was kind of my thinking in March and April and then here, in the United States, we had the Social Justice Movements in June and all of a sudden, D&I really took off. 

Jennifer Millins

And I know a lot of our audience will know only too well, improving diversity within an organisation will require a combination of changes to systems, practices, behaviours, analysis of data, increased insight in what people are thinking and feeling.  I mean, that involves an awful lot of work over a sustained period of time.  Is technology then the missing link in all of this?

Stacia Sherman Garr

It is a critical missing link.  The reason for that is that technology enables us to do some really important things.  It enables us to track data in a way that is much more sustainable, holistic etcetera and it critically can pull that information up at moments of decision-making and that is one of the big things.  Having an awareness that, “Hey, there might be… I might have some unconscious bias here and wait here’s some data that shows it,” or, “Hey, there might be some other factors I should be considering that were not kind of in my historical purview,” the technology can do that.  If done well, and we can certainly talk about AI and bias but if done well, it can show us our own biases in a non-aggressive fashion.  So, the data simply says that I tend to write emails like this to this type of person and I tend to write email like this to that type of person and that’s consistent across, you know, three years of email.  So, maybe actually I do have… I am making some decisions that I’m not aware of. 

Jennifer Millins

So you talked about some of the benefits and risks of using this sort of technology?  What… I mean, and AI is an interesting one.  Is that where the risk kind of starts and ends or do you think there are wider risks of using this kind of technology, if it’s not done properly?

Stacia Sherman Garr

Yeah well, I think one thing that’s really been heartening is that when we started this work in 2019 the… 2018, the understanding of the risks with regard to AI was relatively low and now it is much higher.  But in terms of your question about overall risks, there certainly are the usual risks with technology of implementation you know, it doesn’t get implemented right; it doesn’t get used right; people don’t understand how to use it; they don’t use it, etcetera.  I think also there is, and I think there’s an important discussion for this audience, there is the fact that by understanding particularly the data, there is potentially some legal risk that could be incurred, some reputational risk and so the risk is going to be, “If you did not do that look now and if you did not work towards it in three to five years, where are you going to be?” that’s where I think the real kind of risk lies.  The third one that is worth talking about though and this is important across any of the data analytics  and technology we talk about is that of trust and ethics.  If you know, I gave an example of, you know, technology potentially giving me feedback on my email and how I’m communicating.  Well, that starts to sound very Big Brother very quickly if that information is used in the wrong way, it’s not used to benefit me. 

Jennifer Millins

So, some of it is about having a long-term plan or vision about what you’re going to do with the results of your analysis, particularly when you’re talking about data analytics and the plan needs to be, I think, a lot more long-term than just, “Let’s get some technology that can help us with this.”

Stacia Sherman Garr

And I think that’s an important point that, that long-term thinking.  I think it’s very easy for us to say, “Oh, well we’ll just hire more diverse people,” or, “We’ll just put in this programme and that’ll fix it,” and we’ve been doing that for 30, 40, 50 years, right, and I think that we need to have in place that strategy and to understand, you know, a lot of this is fundamentally about organisational culture and that takes time to change and that takes time to adjust behaviours and to adjust processes and systems and the like and that can be a bit of a hard message but I think - I hope - that with what’s happened this last summer we’ve seen one, it’s worth it but two, that you know, the incrementalistic approach that we’ve taken to date hasn’t, hasn’t done it.  So, we need to be making these investments with that long-term vision and then continually working towards them and holding ourselves accountable for reaching the interim goals. 

Jennifer Millins

We’ve seen that the majority of our audience are new to, to diversity and inclusion technology.  Where do they start?

Stacia Sherman Garr

I think analytics, because you want to have a baseline.  Back to your point about ROI, you want to have a baseline of where you are today and you need to be able to create accountability in the future and then to prove that you’ve done something.  Then I would be looking at both our diversity and inclusion strategy as well as our HR and broader business strategy, to understand what are the most critical populations for our business, who do we need to be focusing on generally and what is the biggest need and then, and then you know, extrapolate that to the D&I use case.  So, if you are having challenges bringing… or if you need to bring in certain types of populations, through your talent acquisition process, focus on those from a diversity perspective.  If you’re having a hard time retaining certain populations, focus on them from an inclusion perspective and take kind of the DEIB lens there.  But it absolutely has to map back to whatever your HR strategy is and your diversity and inclusion strategy is. 

Jennifer Millins

We’ve brought together, and we’re very lucky to have, some of the leading lights in diversity and inclusion technology.  So, we have got with us today: We’ve got Kate Pljaskovova, who is Founder and CEO at FairHQ.  FairHQ provides a self-service platform that helps companies understand their diversity and inclusion practices and embed their D&I in their businesses.  We’ve got with us Khyati Sundaram, who is CEO at Be Applied, a recruitment platform that helps businesses find the best person for the job regardless of background and we’ve got Dr Zara Nanu with us and Zara is CEO and Co-founder of Gapsquare.  Gapsquare has developed software which allows businesses to analyse and track pay disparity statistics and produce reports on equality and diversity gender, such as for gender pay gap reporting in the UK and last but not least, we have my fabulous colleague, Dan Sinclair and Dan will be my Co-chair on this panel.  I’m going to start our questions for today with a bit of an open one, to you Khyati.  So, we talked in, in just that discussion with Stacia just now that diversity positively impacts the bottom line but there’s often a frustration that the progress on diversity and inclusion within the workplace is too slow.  What do you think are the main reasons for that lack of success?

Khyati Sundaram

I think it’s important to talk about unconscious bias and why that creeps in and how that creeps in.  There are decades of evidence that says as a society we are very, very far away from achieving neutrality in explicit bias and even, like, centuries away from achieving neutrality in implicit bias. 

Jennifer Millins

And do you think then that, you know, technology like the, the sort of technology that Be Applied is offering will help accelerate that change?

Khyati Sundaram

So, we are at the cusp of tech, behavioural science and diversity and equality and we’ve seen that through our applications.  We’ve now had about 300,000 through Be Applied.  What we do essentially is remove anything that is non-predictive and we test for what matters on the job.  So, every piece of information that sits on a CV or a resume or a LinkedIn profile is firstly not predictive; so it’s noise.  It’s not giving me any signal of, “Oh, you’re called Jennifer so you would be great at doing your job at MDR.”  It doesn’t tell me anything.  So, it’s noise.  And the second thing it does is, it prevents people who don’t look the part from applying and so what we find is, one by having sought for creating a de-biased system throughout the hiring funnel, we’ve created a new architecture which can systematise a lot of these biases out of the hiring process. 

Dan Sinclair

We’re trying to understand the minds of the leaders of you know, of businesses and I’m just trying to understand whether this is an issue across the market, across the economy and Kate, I just wanted to bring you in on this point.  Since launching you’re working primarily at the moment with start-ups, SMEs, scaling tech businesses who are growing really quickly and I’m just so curious to learn whether you’ve had any observations about how those leaders think about businesses.  Are you seeing that they are being more intentional about how diversity is caught at the beginning?

Kate Pljaskovova

So, we went the other way round and start focusing exactly as you said like on the smaller businesses where they are not steering this massive ship from the direction where they like actually building up and they actually have the, the moments in their business where they are building, hiring more people, growing, they can make a lot of changes and build that organisation from the ground up.  As more diverse and inclusive through working with LA doctors, which are all the people that are like loving the enact diversity and inclusion.  They are – been done lots of initiatives internally – but where we are helping them is to systemise it and to actually help them to prioritise. 

Dan Sinclair

Following that, Zara, I wanted to ask you I guess about the teeny tiny matter that is the future of work.  I’m curious to learn your thoughts around whether the economy will change going forward.  Are those the right ingredients to lead to better D&I outcomes?

Zara Nanu

Yeah, so originally we set up Gapsquare, which is the company that I Co-founded and I run, about five years ago specifically to address kind of a big elephant in the room of diversity and inclusion.  That was a World Economic Forum report that was saying you will be 217 years before the gender pay gap is closed.  At the same time, they were releasing reports talking about how we will be on our way to Mars by 2030; we will all be in sun-driven cars by 2030.  So, the thought was, “How come technology and data is helping us accelerate all of that and yet we still will be 200 years away from achieving pay parity?”  We started by looking at kind of companies HR and payroll data, bringing it together so that they can understand where the gaps are; why they have gaps and how they can take more data-driven decisions to eliminate those gaps.  So, I think Covid has really exposed a lot of those for us, with women being significantly affected by the pandemic.  We need a new kind of world, we need a new kind of economy that values other metrics, that doesn’t value just shareholders returns but actually takes into account all stakeholders and in that kind of economy, the kind of the stakeholder capitalism, if you will, we need to review how we do work, we need to review how we view certain occupations, why we view certain occupations as being less productive than others.  Because productivity is currently measured, is very much linked to the GDP and the GDP is something again, we’ve inherited from post-world war and is not at all looking at digital tech to begin with but also a lot of the output that women do in the economy is valued at significantly less.  If we do nothing and continue to walk into this, we will have no-one else to blame but ourselves for being in a very male-dominated economy by 2025. 

Dan Sinclair

You know, when you look at the landscape of men that take companies public, they do it in their 20s and in some cases their early 20s.  I just… I want to hear your experiences of raising capital and you know, what’s broken about that? What needs to change going forward?

Zara Nanu

Studies have shown that bias exist.  I had a Co-founder, my previous start-up, who was male and when we would go together for pitches, I would really experience a different kind of sentiment and questions from investors.  So, 90% of the time, I would be told, “Come back to us when you are demonstrating five years of traction or experience,” for example.  Whereas, when my Co-founder went by himself to the pitches, he was asked completely different questions about community building or, “How is your brand?” and a lot of the times, what that does is inadvertently sets up the minority group for failure. 

Jennifer Millins

Do you think that shareholders now have an obligation to drive forward the D&I agenda?

Kate Pljaskovova

I think absolutely, and I think we really need to change thinking away from shareholders into overall stakeholders.  And that is already happening on a global level by more companies choosing to register as B-corps and therefore changing their articles of association completely so that they’re not just liable to shareholders because that restricts them in the action and the metrics that they might want to look at but opens them up to be more inclusive of all the stakeholders on, on, be they shareholders, be they partners, consumers, anyone who buys the products or services and that’s really the right way to do it. 

Jennifer Millins

I’d like to thank you all for joining us this afternoon and wish you a very lovely evening.  Thank you very much. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit mishcon.com. 

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