Technology alone won’t solve your company’s diversity problems

By Lars Schmidt and George LaRocque

We’re living in a golden age of HR technology. In 2018 alone, more than $4 billion was invested in the HR technology sector. As the market matures, we’re seeing an influx of new tools, including bots, algorithmic assessments, “AI-driven” everything, and a new suite of tools to diversify your workplace.

It’s easy for HR practitioners to be drawn to the quick-fix appeal of technology solving our problems, but the reality is more complicated. As countless Silicon Valley reports make clear, there is no quick fix for diversity problems.

The attention to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is not new, but the importance to companies has been elevated as movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter shine a spotlight on inequity. This focus is particularly true for the Human Resources teams often charged with the work of diversity. Until recently, D&I was largely considered a workplace-compliance issue driven by affirmative action laws and reserved for larger employers. Efforts focused almost entirely on the diversity of protected classes like gender, race, age, religion, national origin, and disability.

Times may finally be changing. An ongoing parade in the media of legal and PR nightmares for high-profile employers like Google, whose employees staged a massive international walkout over the company’s handling of sexual harassment and general fairness, has helped educate the market that diversity is about much more than affirmative action.

Diversity is no longer a compliance mandate, it’s a business imperative. Rather than the legacy focus on increasing the representation of what are considered protected classes in the workforce, diversity should be viewed as a bottom-line imperative. Building inclusive environments where individual differences, of all types, are respected, appreciated, and treated fairly is good for the business.

The value of a diverse and inclusive workforce gets proven in study after study. The Harvard Business Review has linked diversity to strong financial performance and increased innovation revenue. Recent HRWins research, conducted by coauthor and HCM Analyst George LaRocque, found that nearly 60% of the 1,312 U.S. and U.K. employers surveyed believe there is a direct financial impact on the business when an organization is competitive in inclusion and diversity. The correlation is clear.

Though the value of diversity is increasingly obvious, employers are still struggling to change. While workforce diversity has been receiving attention since affirmative action legislation in the 1960s, most efforts to increase diversity fail. Why? Too many organizations are still approaching diversity as a compliance issue, leveraging the same legacy approaches–mandatory diversity training, job tests, and grievance systems–and expecting different outcomes.

Laying the foundation for success

Katee Van Horn, CEO and founder of Bar the Door Consulting, helps companies like Here Technology and Infusionsoft with their diversity and inclusion strategies and plans. Her previous role of VP of global engagement & inclusion at GoDaddy provided a unique lens through which to look at transforming an organization’s approach to diversity.

Interview teams

She advises that your team focusing on diversity is itself diverse. “You have to have diverse people look at the problem to solve the problem. Moreover, not just diversity of race or gender. Also, add diversity of experiences to the equation. That can generate exponential results.”

Go beyond hiring

Too often we look at diversity through a recruiting lens. While attracting and hiring diverse talent is crucial, companies need to match that effort by embedding inclusive and equitable programs throughout their HR processes–talent programs, compensation, performance, coaching, and training.

Engage leaders in program design

Companies must engage leaders and managers while developing D&I policies and programs. Being involved in development gives your leaders a deep understanding of what the company is trying to achieve, along with a sense of ownership for its success.

Start early

A focus on making the initial leadership teams and staff diverse will ensure that a diverse group will be looking at both your business opportunities and your processes as you grow–and driving innovation. “Having a diverse team looking at the problems ensures a diversity of thought in solving them,” adds Van Horn.

Executive champions

Get your senior leadership team on board early. Tie executive bonuses to diversity recruiting goals, as Microsoft recently announced, or set expectations that they role model the commitment. Develop clear goals for the program that are measured and reported in the same manner as any other critical success metric.

Leading by example requires taking a hard look at the composition of your board and management team. If necessary, your initial goals may include timelines to achieve more diversity or equity in those areas.

Open communication

It’s also important to teach your team how to give and receive feedback. Remember that diversity and inclusion is about creating an environment where all employees feel seen and appreciated. Communication is a critical factor.

Technology to support your efforts

With that foundation in place, the following tools can then help your teams change, measure, and manage the behaviors needed for your diversity efforts to have lasting impact.

GenderDecoder (free)–A Chrome browser extension that reduces gender bias in job descriptions and ads.

Unbiasify (free)–A Chrome extension that hides names and profile photos on social networks, allowing reviewers to focus on experience alone when recruiting and sourcing candidates.

Cultivate–An app that sits in G Suite, Office 365, Slack, and Skype, and provides guidance on language and tone of messages, then provides “inclusion analytics” on an individual or team basis.

Greenhouse–A hiring platform with an inclusion product that helps remove bias by managing data that gets exposed to recruiters and hiring teams, and also helps modify behavior during the interview and selection process.

Pymetrics–Leveraging AI and algorithmic matching, Pymetrics identifies traits of your company’s top performers to create a profile of high performers based on traits like memory, risk taking, fairness, and focus. Applicants then take the same test, scored by AI to remove human bias. Pymetrics then presents recommendations based on top-performing trait alignment.

Small Improvements–Feedback and performance appraisals tool that helps prepare and guide managers on critical team conversations.

Textio–An app that augments the text in your recruiting communications, aiming to reduce bias while increasing conversions.

Vervoe–A new approach to candidate interviews and selection. Vervoe takes all prospective candidates in your hiring loop through a “job trial” where skills are tested across four dimensions, then qualified candidates are presented based on their merit to do the job at hand. It promises to reduce bias and expands your candidate pool.

Tools like these can be additive to your diversity efforts, but technology alone won’t solve your diversity challenges. It takes sustained work, commitment, and organizational alignment to create an inclusive environment. You must be willing to put in the work. If you do, the results will follow.


This post is part of a new series on 21st-century human resources (HR) practices. The series explores new and next approaches in the field of HR. Each month, we’ll cover topics ranging from emerging practices, HR technology, diversity and inclusion, and other areas related to the future of work. You can view the full series here.

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