Upcoming D&I Trends in People Operations Technology

Last week, Cultivate had the opportunity to participate in Kapor Capital’s 2017 People Operations Tech (POT) pitch competition alongside 9 other pre- and post-seed companies. Companies selected to participate offer innovative solutions in the people operations space while promoting more inclusive and equitable workplaces with their businesses.

The competition provided an interesting opportunity to visualize upcoming trends in HR technology, geared towards one of the most highly talked about issues in the people operations space at this time: diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The companies that presented are tackling people operations (and D&I) issues from all stages of the employee lifecycle — from candidate sourcing, to employee engagement and retention, and everything in between.

From that pool of companies, alongside active conversations in the diversity and inclusion space, we see two emerging trends:

  1. Innovative and inclusive solutions to candidate sourcing
  2. Automation for productivity and inclusion

Innovative Candidate Sourcing

With the job market the strongest it’s been since the year 2000, it is not surprising that employee recruitment is a top priority for HR departments going into 2018. Bloomberg’s analysis of HR departments in 2017 showed that 84 percent of the surveyed departments identified recruitment and retention of qualified employees as an important priority.

A competitive recruiting market has implications for diversity and inclusion as well. To maintain and promote a diverse and inclusive workplace culture at a time of high competition for employees, employers must actively seek to include diverse candidates in their hiring process.

Proponents of diversity and inclusion in the workplace have long run up against the so-called pipeline myth — a claim that hiring diverse talent isn’t possible because there isn’t the necessary talent coming up the ranks. This myth is even more pervasive in a time of high competition for employees.

Yet there are a record 6 million unfilled jobs in the United States as of 2017, and employers are struggling to connect with qualified candidates. Experts cite several reasons for this disconnect, including poor employer hiring policies such as unnecessarily limiting the candidate pool to those with 4 year degrees, and a hesitation to train entry-level employees.

Working to improve these shortcomings might well align with improving diversity and inclusion in companies’ hiring practices. A recent Forbes article, for example, recommends eliminating educational requirements that might create bias and seeking talent via unconventional channels as ways to attract diverse candidates.

Several candidate sourcing solutions have entered the HR tech market in the past several years, and there were companies in Kapor’s POT pitch competition tackling the same problem with a D&I angle.

The team at Harmoni, for example, is seeking to provide refugees access to IT employment (and employer access to qualified refugees) via their microwork platform. Using the Harmoni app, refugees can get paid for completing microwork technology tasks, like Image Tagging. In addition, the most qualified refugees can be vetted for acceptance into a coding bootcamp that will help them find a full-time role as a software engineer.

The team at include.io is tackling candidate sourcing from another employee touchpoint: direct referrals. By providing underrepresented technologists access to mini-mentoring session with industry professionals, the platform allows new candidates to grow and learn through mentorship. In addition, underrepresented candidates can receive referrals from these brief mentoring sessions, a recruiting tactic heavily relied upon by companies but also one of the main sources of bias in candidate hiring.

In each case, these platforms are tapping the job market for groups typically invisible to companies due to their lack of connection to the current workforce or non-traditional educational background. An interesting bonus is their offloading some of the educational burden on companies who would hire such employees: Harmoni by giving access to coding bootcamps, and include.io by giving candidates access to mentorship by industry professionals they would not otherwise have access to.

Thus, they propose a two-fold solution for companies experiencing a candidate pipeline problem: surfacing qualified candidates while helping companies to adjust their non-inclusive hiring practices.

Automation for Productivity and Inclusion on Diverse Teams

In his analysis of HR technology disruptions to-come in 2018, HR thought-leader Josh Bersin predicts “a massive shift from automation to productivity.” He means that automation, as it relates to payroll, record-keeping, assessment, interview and hiring, etc. is now commonplace in HR departments (though the market for these products continues to grow). The next challenge will be to build software that targets employee engagement, improves productivity, and helps teams work better together.

From a workplace diversity and inclusion perspective, Bersin’s prediction of a trend towards software targeting team dynamics actually somewhat aligns with what D&I practitioners have been emphasizing in recent years. Namely, the idea that inclusion is a concept distinct from, and crucial to diversity.

Though often conflated in the past, diversity and inclusion mean different things, and fostering each can target different parts of an employee lifecycle.

Diversity = employees of different backgrounds and identities are represented in a workplace

Inclusion = employees have a sense of belonging, and feel respected and valued for who they are as an individual or group

While diversity can certainly be fostered via candidate sourcing and vetting (using the solutions described above, for example), inclusion is something that must be embedded in company culture before, during, and after the hiring process is complete in order to be executed effectively.

It is easy to track movement on diversity initiatives — to know if I’m moving the needle on gender diversity I would merely need to track my number of female, male, and gender-not-identifying employees quarter over quarter. However, as noted by talent innovation experts Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid, quantifying feelings of inclusion can be dicey. Here is where upcoming automation solutions can help.

Harnessing automation for shift-scheduling, POT pitch competition second place winner Aday Technologies is positioning themselves as a position-based labor market for brick and mortar stores. Using the app, employees can pick shifts at brick and mortar businesses according to their schedule, freeing them from the scheduling limitations of shift-work that will negatively affect individuals such as mothers and those working multiple jobs.

Here at Cultivate, we are building an AI-assistant that provides managers with real time awareness on their own communication bias and their team’s engagement. By connecting with your workplace written communication platforms like Gmail and Slack, we can provide managers with analytics about how they are communicating with their direct reports, as well as actionable insights for how to improve their relationships to foster an inclusive workplace.

The team at We Love Work is tackling inclusion by quantifying the sticky subject of company culture. By having candidates take a company culture assessment before joining a team, the platform helps companies to avoid the high cost of a bad hire and address the concept of “culture fit” with metrics rather than within the bias-prone interview context.

Harnessing automation, each of the companies above solves a demonstrated desire to use HR technology to improve team dynamics and efficiency, while fostering diversity and inclusion goals at the same time. Companies like Cultivate and We Love Work are moving towards quantifying company culture and inclusion for the first time. Aday Technologies demonstrates how automation can be used to make an entrenched industry practice, like shift scheduling, more efficient while alleviating the lifestyle demands of that practice for individuals who need it.

Employees and companies win when teams invest in inclusion-automation.

Looking Forward

The advancement of diversity and inclusion minded offerings in the HR technology space is exciting both for HR teams looking to improve their candidate and employee experience, and diversity and inclusion practitioners looking to move the needle on diverse and inclusive workspaces. Even more exciting is the idea that one may invest in a single technology to solve both an existing HR need and foster D&I at the same time.

Although the business value of diversity and inclusion has become clear, having impact on brand, corporate purpose, employee performance, and recruiting, budgets allocated to diversity and inclusion programs are still significantly lower than those going towards other HR initiatives such as recruiting. Simply put, in order to ensure that D&I initiatives receive a fair share of time and resources, HR departments and recruiting teams must do more with less.

Fortunately, teams like those listed above, and others who participated in Kapor Capital’s 2017 People Operations Tech pitch competition, are building innovative solutions to help companies do just that.

About Cultivate

Cultivate’s AI-powered platform enables engagement and inclusion by helping you understand and improve your workplace communications.

For more information on what we are doing at Cultivate, check out our interview at TechCrunch Disrupt!