Transcript: Women Who Code — Silicon Valley Full Interview with the co-founders of UInclude

Using Research to Increase Workplace Diversity

Rajasree Rajendran
Jan 23 · 17 min read

UInclude is currently looking for a Software Engineer to join the team. To learn more about the position, or to express your interest, please email: tosheayoariyo@uinclude.com.

Dianne Jardinez from WomenWhoCode, Sonal Patel, Danielle Ho, and Toshe Ayo-Ariyo from UInclude

Toshe Ayo-Ariyo: UInclude Co-Founder, Business Development & Strategy, Finance and Partnership Lead. Toshe is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a Finance & Strategy Analyst at The Walt Disney Company. She earned a certificate in data analytics from the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering. Through her role and her participation in USC’s data analytics program, her skills include corporate finance, corporate strategy, data science/analytics and full stack development. Toshe identifies with several marginalized groups (immigrants, POC, women, first-generation college students, people with disabilities), and knows firsthand how challenging it can be to navigate corporate spaces with all of those identities. As a result, she has an intimate understanding of what the career needs of those groups are, is passionate about fulfilling those needs, and increasing the representation of marginalized groups in the workplace.

Danielle Ho: UInclude Co-Founder, Front-End Web Development and Design Lead. Danielle moved to the United States from Macao SAR, China for college in 2014. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a major in Communications and a minor in Business. Upon graduation in 2018, she joined China Television Corporation as a social media coordinator. In her role at work and previous internships, Danielle focused on empowering and promoting cultures of underrepresented communities in the United States by producing TV shows and digital content. She came to understand their authentic lives, oppressions, and struggles. She is passionate about amplifying the voices of marginalized groups. Danielle’s skills include front end web development, visual content creation, video production, and digital marketing. Recently, she studied at the USC Viterbi Data Bootcamp where she earned a certificate in Data Analytics and obtained programming and analytics skills. At UInclude, she specializes in front-end web development.

Sonal Patel: Co-Founder, Software Development and Data Analytics Lead
Sonal is a Mom and an Entrepreneur who is progressively developing expertise in Data Analytics and Software Programming; applying the knowledge and skills she developed through participation in the Data Analytics Bootcamp from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to her role at UInclude. She is a proactive and self-motivated professional, working full time for UInclude and fulfilling her desire to develop a platform where profound analytical and systematic skills are applied to help the company fulfill its vision and mission. Sonal earned a B.S. in Information Technology from K.K.Wagh Institute of Technology in Pune, India. She is currently enrolled in Oxford University’s Digital Marketing Disruptive Strategy Programme where she is learning how to develop digital change and marketing strategies to capture customers.

Dianne Jardinez of Women Who Code had the pleasure of interviewing Toshe Ayo-Ariyo, Danielle Ho, and Sonal Patel to learn about how to use research and data-driven solutions to increase workplace diversity as well as their insight into the tech world. The main content of the interview is below. On behalf of Women Who Code — Silicon Valley, we thank Toshe Ayo-Ariyo, Danielle Ho, and Sonal Patel and appreciate their time being a part of our #ShoutoutSaturday series.

About UInclude

UInclude was originally a project from a Data Analytics Bootcamp that you graduated from USC Viterbi School of Engineering. You presented this project in a national contest, and it was amazing to see that you created a full platform from this project. Would you like to go into more detail about what UInclude is, and what led to the creation of it?

Sonal: At the Data Analytics Bootcamp, for our third project, we were all placed in a group and it so happened that we were all Women of Color and from different communities. So we decided to research a topic that was more female-focused. To start with, we conducted our own research on women in the workforce and we found out that globally women workforce participation positively impacts global GDP and it increases GDP growth. We also found that a significant amount of women’s productive potential remains untapped, and that women are still an underutilized labor source around the world. So after a lot of discussions, we realized that one way to increase female workforce participation would be by eliminating the use of gender-biased wordings in the job description. As we all know, this is one of the most leading barriers that prevents women from getting into the workforce. Our own research on gender-biased wordings validates the need for our tool — the Wonder Woman Editor, now known as the UInclude editor.

Toshe: To Sonal’s point, this was like a completely chance encounter. We were randomly placed in a group of all women, we wanted to explore something that is relevant to women, and we were really just expecting to complete our project. It turned into us being nominated for this National competition, winning the competition, and being encouraged by one of the judges to pursue this further. So we gave it a lot of thought, and one of the reasons that we decided to move forward with it was because we really wanted to bring the topic of intersectionality into the conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The reality is that so many people have intersecting identities. When we are talking about creating diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions, in my opinion, you really have to consider anything and everything that can marginalize an individual. That is gender, that is race, that is physical and cognitive ability, that is sexuality, and the list goes on. We found out that there are so many solutions that cater to the needs of specific minority groups. They cater to the needs of women or racial and ethnic minorities, or people with disabilities, and those solutions are pretty siloed. So we wanted to bring a holistic approach, and create a holistic solution. Take our bias mitigation tool as an example. We created a tool that scans recruitment materials and job descriptions of gender-biased language. If our tool removes all instances of gender-biased language in a job description but is still encoded with a language biased against a racial and ethnic minority, or people with disabilities, I as a candidate will read that job description and still find the role unappealing. That is because the job description still has language that is biased against all of my other identities. So now the employer has lost me as a top and extremely qualified candidate. So we wanted to take a holistic approach and we really wanted to serve multiple marginalized communities and create solutions for them because the reality is, again, so many people have intersecting identities. I think we also have to remember that for people who fit into multiple minority groups, the consequences of unconscious bias can quickly compound. So if we were going to take it any further, we had to consider all those different marginalized groups. That was that push to take the project to the next level.

“When we are talking about creating diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions, in my opinion, you really have to consider anything and everything that can marginalize an individual. That is gender, that is race, that is physical and cognitive ability, that is sexuality, and the list goes on.”

Danielle: To add to these points, we actually came out at a really good time. Everybody has been talking about diversity and inclusion over the past few years, and we know that most American enterprises say that they cannot find good diverse talent. So that is why we wanted to create a tool that will help to attract more underrepresented groups of people so that they don’t have the excuse to say that they ‘could not find people that are a good fit’.

Do you have any advice for the applicants to avoid this biased language, whether it is in a job description or while writing a resume?

Sonal: Yes, we would like to advise them to use our tool UInclude editor to write more inclusive job descriptions or resumes, because our analysis has proved that the male-dominated industry tends to use more masculine gender wordings in a job description, and female-dominated industries tend to use more feminine wordings. So additionally, masculine words are more prevalent across the globe. From a company’s performance standpoint, so many studies have shown that companies with a more diverse workforce perform better and produce more innovative outcomes. Also, the job listings with gender-neutral wordings get 42% more responses. So using our tool will not only minimize gender-biases and gender inequality in the workplace, but it is also a better way to draw a wider range of applicants.

Danielle: My advice would be to try to avoid using superlative words in job descriptions and resumes. Superlatives are a form of adjectives or adverbs that show a great degree of comparison, like ‘the best’, ‘expert’, and ‘professional’. Actually, there are a lot of people who do not know what superlatives are, and the fact that they are actually masculine-coded. Even people like Hiring managers do not know that. So it is better to avoid using superlative words. As my next advice, I would suggest the Hiring Managers try not to be so demanding about job requirements. Studies show that men apply for the job when they meet 60% of the criteria, while women won’t apply for a job until they are 100% qualified for that. So, I would suggest people try to be less demanding on job requirements and you can split them into essential and desired skillsets. That is how you encourage female applicants.

“I would suggest people try to be less demanding on job requirements and you can split them into essential and desired skillsets. That is how you encourage female applicants.”

Toshe: Danielle and Sonal said exactly what I was going to say. First, definitely use our tool, that will help you a lot. I think one thing that they didn’t mention is to not use gender pronouns, like she/he, they really do not belong in job descriptions. Instead, use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them. If you have to use she/he for any reason, make sure you are using both at the same time so that you are not choosing one gender over the other. I definitely recommend using gender-neutral pronouns throughout the job description.

Is your editor something that you could download? How can one access the UInclude editor?

Toshe: It is actually on our website if you go to UInclude.com, and go to the Editor tab, you will find it there. Right now our tool focuses on gender-biased language, but we are working on research that will allow us to provide recommendations about language that is biased against racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and all other marginalized groups that we are aiming to serve.

Let’s shift a little bit. What have been your biggest challenges starting this platform both on the technical side and the business side?

Toshe: Oh my goodness! So many challenges! I would say that is the reality of a start-up. You are just going to run into challenge after challenge, setback after setback, and that is to be expected. I think the biggest challenge for me (all of us, but I will speak for myself) from a technical perspective is that besides Sonal, none of us had technical experience before our Data Analytics Bootcamp. I literally started the program around this time last year and learned how to code for the first time. It was definitely a steep learning curve, and again, our program was a Data Analytics Bootcamp. So what we were learning was Data Strategy and Data Analytics, not Software engineering or UI/UX design. So yeah, the biggest challenge on the technical side has been having to really direct our ability and learn other languages that we didn’t have experience with before. But on the data side too, we are doing a ton of research, we have to run statistical analyses, a lot of data scraping, and do a lot of deep data analysis. I haven’t had the experience with any of that to this extent before. From the business side, business is a little bit intuitive for me, just because I have a finance and strategy background, so I did not face too many challenges on that end. However, one thing I realized I have to learn is Sales. When you are doing Sales, you have to be pretty aggressive. There is an art in Sales that involves selling a vision, product, and company. Again, that is something I never had to do before, and definitely taking the necessary steps to make sure that when we are ready to sell our product, I have all the skills needed to sell as best we as we can. So I think that’s my biggest challenge on the business side — just learning how to sell, market the product and sell our vision.

Danielle: I think Toshe went over everything. Everything about software development is a big challenge for us. One thing to add is the data collection part. You know in class you are always given with clean data, but in reality, we have to collect the raw data by ourselves. We actually scraped around 16000 job descriptions from LinkedIn, which was a big challenge. I had to put a laptop on for days and nights for it to scrape non-stop. It took a few trials and errors to really get the code to scrape all the data I want. This was one of the biggest challenges for me.

Sonal: Yes, I agree with what Danielle and Toshe said. Most challenging for me was maintaining confidence and keeping ourselves moving and focused. In the process of crafting a start-up, it requires the willingness to step outside your comfort zone. As you work to innovate, you need to be willing to challenge yourself and grow your vision. It is very rare that the first version of your product is the best one, so we had to continuously work on that and had to keep moving. Also, differentiating ourselves from our competitors was a challenging part, but we are doing that.

“As you work to innovate, you need to be willing to challenge yourself and grow your vision.”

I could see that keeping up with things and being motivated is very challenging, especially if that is something that is a learning curve, but I think you all have come so far from when you started from the Bootcamp. I am really excited about this huge jump that you all have come to! Sonal, you led me to the next question, about words of wisdom for entrepreneurs. Do you have a few more words of wisdom for entrepreneurs and any tips for success for women in this field?

Sonal: Surround yourself with good people, be in constant communication with people who understand your position, and who you think can make you better and stronger. When you are both a mom and an entrepreneur, you are striking a delicate balance between your work-life and your family life, and it becomes so crucial. Make caring for yourself a priority, because when you are juggling so many responsibilities like in start-ups, where you have to wear so many different hats at the same time, it is easy to let yourself slip away. So make it a point to tend to your own needs first, or you won’t be able to assist anyone else.

“Make caring for yourself a priority, because when you are juggling so many responsibilities like in start-ups, where you have to wear so many different hats at the same time, it is easy to let yourself slip away. So make it a point to tend to your own needs first, or you won’t be able to assist anyone else.”

Danielle: Yeah, it is about challenging yourself and pushing beyond your limits, and then you will discover your full potential. When I was a girl I never imagined that I will learn how to code or I will work in the tech industry because I always thought that was not my thing. I always thought only people who are super smart are capable of developing cool software or launching a start-up. But I am really happy that I took the Data Analytics Bootcamp and I have learned to code, get on this journey and discover my own potential. I can code and I can begin a start-up. It is really amazing to see we have come this far and along the journey, we got a lot of support from a lot of great people, and we have a chance to tell our stories and share our stories with you all!

Toshe: Yeah, before I share a piece of advice, I just remembered a challenge that we faced, so I will talk about it really quickly. One thing we were having trouble with initially was identifying implicitly biased language against other marginalized groups. A lot of research on implicitly biased language is related to gender-bias, right? There is a lot of discussion about language that is biased against different racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, people in LGBTQ communities, and so forth. But the results of these qualitative research studies were words or a language that is either overly biased, just completely outdated, or insensitive. For example, one research study I read about racially biased language gave the recommendation to not use words like ‘Negro’ and ‘colored’ that refer to Black people, or not to use words like ‘retarded’ to refer to people with cognitive disabilities. I feel like most people know not to use those words in general everyday conversations, let alone job descriptions! There is little to no research about implicitly biased words, or insidious subtle words that actually deter these other minority groups from applying to roles. The research paper we came across by Danielle Gaucher, (who is actually on our Advisory board now) and two other researchers, is really the first research paper that studied implicitly biased language in job descriptions and how the subtle words that we use on a day-to-day basis actually impact the sense of belongingness for women. Their research study found that there is masculine language, or there are certain words that have masculine connotations like ‘challenge’ or ‘dominant’. There are certain words that have feminine connotations like ‘communicate’ and ‘help’. These are words that we use on an everyday basis. The research study found that when a job description is loaded with masculine language, it actually impacts the sense of belongingness for women and women decide not to apply for that role. We have not seen research like that replicated across all other marginalized groups that we are looking to serve. So we are really doing the work of producing our own research. That was really big for us. We can get our users or our employers that we work with the recommendation that go beyond not using words like ‘Negro’ or ‘retarded’ in their job description because those are things people already know not to use. We wanted to provide value beyond that. So, yeah, it has been challenging going through the process of identifying implicitly biased words. But with the help of Danielle Gaucher, we found our way. Danielle mentioned it a little bit earlier — we are scraping and studying thousands and thousands of job descriptions by companies to identify the language, in hopes of eventually coming up with a word bank of subtle language, the language that you can actually find in job descriptions that can deter racial and ethnic minorities from applying for roles. So that was a huge challenge, but we are finding a way, we are doing our work, doing research and analysis, and we are launching our own research study. We are taking longer than we would like it to take, but we will get there, and we hope the results will be extremely valuable.

But in terms of advice for other entrepreneurs, expect to run into a lot of different challenges and setbacks. When we started, we were just so optimistic, we were just passionate about what we were setting out to do and hopeful about what we could achieve. I don’t think we went into it being naive, but we definitely thought it was going to be a lot smoother than it has been. We have run into different hurdles but again, my recommendation is to expect to run into several challenges, mentally prepare yourself to be able to work through those challenges when they do come. A lot of people say, have a solid ‘why’, and remember your ‘why’ whenever you run into setbacks because that’s really what will keep you going. I want to say that you should be confident in yourself, and believe that you have the ability to achieve what you are setting to achieve, but that’s not always easy. If anything, I would say just do it, even if you are not fully confident, because this process will make you confident. You will go through so many things that hopefully pass through and on the other end you will come out so much more confident than you were before. So, even if you aren’t confident, do it, because then you will become confident along the way. Also, having a strong team, Sonal and Danielle are just great! I could not have asked for a better team. A strong team that is willing to do whatever that takes to bring the vision to life and cares about what you are producing because there are so many moments in which we did not have the skill that we needed to achieve what we wanted to achieve. But since we were so motivated about what we needed to achieve, we did whatever we needed to do to figure it out. If we didn’t have a strong, motivated, hardworking team, none of this would be possible. Have a strong team.

“It is about challenging yourself and pushing beyond your own self, and then you will discover your full potential.”

Attendee questions

I am hiring at my start-up, and have a limited recruiting budget and limited time. What steps can I take to increase the diversity of my candidate pool?

Toshe: I think reaching out to your network is always a good start, like posting on LinkedIn. In terms of finding the best candidate particularly leverage different diversity platforms. Post your job description and role on different platforms that cater to different minority groups, like job platforms for women, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, etc. Leverage diversity platforms and leverage your network.

Danielle: Also look for Facebook groups for diverse communities. You can find groups that are for minority communities and people who are looking for jobs.

Toshe: I joined a ton of Facebook groups that are diversity and inclusion based. There are different organizations for different affinity groups, for example, the National Society of Black Engineers.

How do you build your own networks? What has been most helpful for you in building networks — any tips or tricks?

Toshe: I leverage the networks of institutions that I have been a part of. I am not afraid to reach out to anyone who has passed through the same places that I have passed through. For example, I will always reach out to Penn Alum. People who are part of institutions that you are affiliated with are more likely to talk to you. We reach out to the Data Analytics Bootcamp USC network, asking them for help with our surveys, etc. Continue to engage with people that you have come in contact with formally and informally. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people asking for advice or to chat.

Sonal: Also, form an Advisory board consisting of experienced individuals. We also try to leverage those connections and we get guidance from the company and access to the codebases, which has been very helpful.

Danielle: Also, go to Facebook groups, some have people posting every day and people that are very active. You just have to engage with them, and they are all people with the same goal, who want to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. That is also a good place to look for users to participate in surveys and to promote your platforms.

For any additional questions, you can reach out to Toshe, Danielle, and Sonal through their LinkedIn.

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