Technology Transforming the Recruitment Funnel

Helen McGuire, founder and CEO of Diversely, came in to talk to me about how their product uses technology to help organisations bake in diversity from the very top of the recruitment funnel.
Photo of Helen McGuire

S?: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hey, there, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today I’m joined by Helen McGuire. Now, I first came across Helen because Helen founded and runs a really cool company called Diversely, which is a platform to help identify and remove bias from sourcing talent and then giving you the data to be able to help you measure or monitor what progress you’re making on diversity and inclusion in your organisation.

Toby Mildon: And the reason why I wanted to have a chat with Helen today was because in my book, one of the chapters, I… Which is about cyber, I talk about how technology can help organisations deliver on diversity and inclusion, because there’s all sorts of interesting applications out there now, and Diversely is one of those interesting applications. So it’s really great that I can just spend a few minutes chatting with Helen today and talking about her product. So Helen, thank you for joining me. It’s great to have you on the show.

Helen McGuire: Thank you, Toby, really appreciate the lovely introduction. And that is fascinating to hear that there’s a chapter about cyber in your book, which I have to admit I’ve not yet read, but I can see it on the shelf just behind you. So I’m going to grab a copy once we’re finished with this.

Toby Mildon: Oh, thank you. Thanks. Yeah. So in the chapter, I suppose the main point that I make is that there are technologies out there that can help organisations deliver on diversity and inclusion at scale, and organisations really need to kind of understand what is available to them and what will help them. Because at the end of the day, using technologies like yours, Diversely, helps them make a bigger impact. And I think as diversity and inclusion practitioners or people running HR departments, that’s ultimately what we want to make on the people agenda. So before we get into what your technology does and how it helps businesses, can you just let us know a bit more about yourself, like who you are, your background, and I suppose what led you to creating Diversely?

Helen McGuire: Yeah, absolutely. And you touch on a really important point now I think around scalability, and that’s exactly why Diversely came to be. So as you very kindly said, my name’s Helen McGuire, I’m the CEO of Diversely. Prior to this, I worked in communications, actually, in London at the BBC for about 10 years and then moved into advertising in the Middle East. And it was around that time that I had my first child, so end of 2014, and it quickly dawned on me that opportunities had started to narrow considerably, not just for me, but for colleagues and friends and other women that I’d met at the time in the Middle East who were having children.

Helen McGuire: And I came across a group of women who unfortunately were unable to find work despite their incredible career backgrounds, to be honest. They were previously heads of department or ran their own businesses or had taken on very senior opportunities in their home countries, but couldn’t find similar opportunities in the Middle East, which led me to set up the first women’s careers platform in the Middle East and then expand that over to Asia in 2018, which was called Hopscotch.

Helen McGuire: And I ran that for about four-and-a-half years, and had two more children in the meantime, and eventually just became really frustrated with exactly that problem of it just not being scalable. We grew to probably a group of around 20,000 women globally, we worked with clients like Facebook and Nestle and HSBC and so on, but we were only really scratching the surface, and we were obviously also only really helping women and it just felt too small. The problem is so much bigger than that and is on a global basis.

Helen McGuire: So Hopscotch. To cut a very long story short, dovetailed into Diversely, which is a very, very different way of tackling the problem, because it is a tech solution. It’s a platform that involves data and analytics and hiring tools, but it essentially achieves or tries to achieve the same outcome, which is better opportunity for everybody regardless of what colour you are, what school you went to, whether you’re able-bodied or not, whether you’re male or female, etcetera, etcetera. So as you said at the beginning, kind of taking bias out of that initial sourcing process, really.

Toby Mildon: Yes, ’cause the way I look at it, it’s like your talent sourcing process is a bit like a funnel. You’ve got obviously lots of people going in at the top of the funnel, a few make it to the bottom where job offers are made. And I remember when I was working at the BBC in technology and I was looking at gender imbalance and we were trying to get more women working in our design and engineering department, when we looked at the data, if a woman got to job interview stage, she had an equal chance of being offered a job to a man. But when we tracked the data back, we just weren’t having enough women applying in the first place. And that led us to look at things like our employer brand, for example, and how attractive we were as an employer, particularly within the technology space, competing with the likes of Amazon and Facebook and Google for engineers and such like. So how does Diversely the platform work? ‘Cause obviously you’re focusing on the kind of the beginning of that funnel, aren’t you, the talent attraction and sourcing stage?

Helen McGuire: That story that you tell makes absolute sense, and it is exactly where we begin. So number one, we help businesses to understand where the gaps are. So let’s say you are working in technology, it’s quite likely that you’re struggling to attract people of colour, for example, or certainly people from particular ethnic backgrounds. You are almost definitely struggling to attract women historically. And so we help businesses to understand where their gaps are, essentially, both across things like qualitative elements, so that does track back to employer branding. What are your policies and practices? How are you putting those across? What’s your accessibility like for different people, what is the language like that you use, let’s say in your job adverts.

Helen McGuire: So looking at those types of things and helping you to get that element kind of understood. And then secondly across data, so where are you in terms of percentages on ethnic and racial divisions, where are you in terms of gender? Where are you in terms of able-bodied and non-able bodied? Even things like age and sexual orientation, what do those look like for you? And where should you be on a geographical and industry basis, it’s going to look really, really different depending on where you are within the country, let alone within the world, and what is a good benchmark for you and for your industry?

Helen McGuire: So getting that data reflected onto a dashboard that helps everybody understand, that helps make sense of the full picture if you like. Once we’ve done that, we then move into elements of helping you to source more diverse talent, so how are you attracting that talent? What’s the language and the structure of your job ads like? And this all happens within about five seconds, by the way. It’s a tool that we’ve built that is completely automated. Where are you looking for that talent crucially as well, you know, are you just posting out to LinkedIn, or are you just posting out to the big job boards, are you relying on your own personal networks, in which case your funnel, that top of funnel as you mentioned is actually pretty narrow, there are many other places you can start to look for talent.

Helen McGuire: And then finally, how are you deciding who’s making that short list? Is there bias creeping in at that point? And I would say 100% of the time there usually is, if you’re reliant on people, because it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, there’s always an element of unconscious or conscious bias in there, everybody has it, I would definitely have it, despite kind of knowing a bit about this topic. So there’s various different stages that you can go through within the platform, basically to help you find more diverse talent, understand whether you’re getting to your hiring goals and being more inclusive about the whole process.

Toby Mildon: I like what you’ve just said, because technology really is the key to this, ’cause when I was working at the BBC, I piloted some software to remove bias from the recruitment process. It was the first stage of the recruitment process, actually, in terms of CV screening, and we had a 130% increase in people from an ethnic minority background being selected for interview compared to the conventional way of screening, and that was even, we had put our recruiters through unconscious bias training.

[laughter]

Toby Mildon: So that goes to show that actually, I suppose, like a systemic process intervention, but the technology that we basically plugged into the process had a much more profound impact on the outcome. Going back to what you were saying, you said that this happens very quickly in a matter of seconds. So I suppose, how exactly does it do it so quickly?

[laughter]

Helen McGuire: Well, that’s probably a better question for my co-founder, Hayley, who’s our Chief Product Officer and works on the tech side. But in my non kind of tech way of explaining it, basically we have several ways in which we’ve created algorithms and AI that essentially help our platform to understand biased language and communications, for example, that take out any identifying factors around someone’s identity. So instead of just completely anonymising a CV, what we’ll do, what the platform does, is create a completely fresh profile, but it can also tell from that profile whether you are likely to be male or female, what your racial and ethnic background is, up to about an 80% certainty level, and of course, your age and all of that data is then fed back into your dashboard.

Helen McGuire: So there’s a number of clever tools and ways in which we’ve created this. The other point to mention is that we’ve collaborated with the University of Nottingham Centre for Applied Linguistics, who’ve collected over about five years data on bias in job ads and who’s more likely to apply based on what those job ads sound and read like, essentially. And that helped us to create the AI and the algorithm around the inclusive writing tool that’s really the first step of the process.

Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. I like what you’re saying about creating that kind of fresh profile, because I would say a lot of organisations nowadays anonymise CVs, so they might remove somebody’s or blank out somebody’s name or which university they went to, but my experience is that hiring managers still try to read between the lines.

Helen McGuire: Yeah. I think there’s a lot that creeps in there that you don’t realise. I think when you blackline somebody’s CV, you’re automatically looking for… Your brain is trying to make sense of it, right? Whereas when you create a new profile and you’ve taken out things like… We even take out schools and university names, because in places like the UK and the US specifically, they can have a massive impact on whether somebody is selected for an initial interview or not. And an actual fact in many cases it has nothing to do with whether you can do the job, right? So we very much focus on skills and strengths and experience, as opposed to what colour you are, what age you are, what school you went to, and that gives everybody a fair chance.

Helen McGuire: And I think we’ve definitely seen within the platform, as you said, with your experience of the BBC, that more diverse candidates then get through to the next stage.

Toby Mildon: Yep. And then hopefully you get this ripple effect, don’t you? Because even if you can just get candidates to the next stage of the process from… Well, A, sourcing a much more diverse range of talent in the first place, getting them into, further into the recruitment process closer to the job offer stage, that has a massive impact. ‘Cause then obviously, the flip side of that is organisations have to start having a strategy around the culture of their organisation and how they retain talent as well, so it’s kind of two sides to the same coin, really, you need to attract people, attract diverse talent, but then you need to be able to retain and progress people in the organisation.

Helen McGuire: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think it’s a conversation that we have a lot, because obviously we focus on the kind of inclusive candidate journey and the D&I aspect for a business at the very start of the funnel. There are so many other businesses out there that I’m sure maybe you’ve spoken to that focus much more on the culture aspect, on the retention, on the data around employees and even the conversations that they’re having internally and all of that kind of stuff that we kind of hold hands with up the chain, and I think that is super important.

Helen McGuire: But when a candidate applies, quite often they take a lot away from how a job ad is written, or what a website looks like and the language that’s used there, or whether there’s an equality statement, or even, to be honest, how open a business is about what it’s trying to achieve. So even if they’re not where they want to be as a business in terms of diversity and inclusion, at least set that out, kind of say that this is where we are, this is where we’re trying to get to, and this is how we’re trying to do it. Even an openness around that is very attractive to candidates, and as we all know, it’s a very competitive market out of there, so anything you can do to set yourself apart on this front will make a massive difference in attracting some different talent.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So what are some of the results that you’ve seen with organisations that you work with? If they use your platform, what are they seeing in the short, medium and long-term particularly?

Helen McGuire: Yeah, the way in which we work with big organisations is to help the entire organisation understand this journey. So we don’t just give them the keys to the platform, there’s an implementation process, as we call it, which is three steps, clarify, measure and achieve. Because basically the people that we speak to within an organisation, let’s say like Cisco or KB Snacks or McCann, some of our clients, are not those that are actually using the software, so it’s really key to make sure that everybody is on board with this, everyone understands their internal data, their goals, and how unconscious bias can play into this if they’re not using tech, as you say, to take that out as far as possible. So I think that’s really the kind of first step.

Helen McGuire: The second step is then to broaden their minds a little bit in terms of you might have gone through your own conscious bias training, but hey, unfortunately your job ad is still only scoring 60% in terms of the bias that’s still included there. And you might think that you’re being diverse in your outreach, but actually you’re still only posting to two job boards, so that kind of education, I suppose. And then they’re starting to see up to 70%, in some cases, more diverse talent applying once they’ve posted that job out to wherever they need to post it to.

Helen McGuire: And then finally, we’re a very early stage company, so we’ve been in the market for about six months, but we’re now starting to be able to track who’s being hired and how that’s changing the overall diversity of businesses and their goals and their original benchmarks and scores. So we probably wouldn’t expect to see those results for about a year. We sell to businesses on a minimum yearly basis for that reason, hiring and retention, and so that data takes a while to trickle through, so that’s what we’d expect to see over the next three to six months for our key clients.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. What I like about your process is that, first of all, you kind of take stock and get that clarity, and then after that you open up minds to kind of think about all the different possibilities, all the levers that you can pull so you get more talent or more diverse talent into the organisation, and that’s before you even start to collect and analyse data to see what results are being made, so it seems like a very kind of logical process to follow, which I appreciate.

[laughter]

Helen McGuire: Yeah, I’m a very logical person, Toby, so it makes sense to me. And so far so good, I think we’re seeing some great results and got some brilliant clients on board, and we’re just about to head into our next funding round in the next couple of months to raise £2 million to further our growth, really.

Toby Mildon: That’s brilliant. I mean, that’s a really great sort of success story for a startup organisation within the diversity industry. You know, there’s so many organisations are focusing on diversity and inclusion now, and there has to be technological solutions out there, because if you don’t have technology to help you, it is a hard slog. And one thing that I keep saying to my clients is that we have to have an evidence-based approach to diversity and inclusion, you can’t just write a wish list and get busy doing stuff, only to find that the stuff that you’re busy doing has no impact, which a lot of organisations do. I don’t know if you’ve come across any of those.

Helen McGuire: I completely agree, and I think what we’re always quite astounded by is the lack of data, even in the really, really big organisations that we speak to, because if you’re not collecting it, there is an awful lot of GDPR, PDPA data, legal compliance around collecting data, as we all know, and specifically around D&I data, it’s hugely sensitive, so for many organisations, historically they’ve just not collected it or they are simply not allowed to, that data and legal compliance looks very different depending on where you are in the world.

Helen McGuire: Even in the US, for example, where some of our clients are, it can look different from state to state. So we’ve built all of that into the platform, which means that wherever you are in the world, you will be data and legally compliant, if you are using the platform and collecting that data, because it’s just, yeah, I think it’s just such a… D&I is a relatively new industry, right? And I think if you look at any other department in a big organisation, ROI is such a huge part of it. And ROI relies on accurate data and tracking and measurement and all of that sort of stuff. Up until really recently, there just hasn’t been that around D&I. So how do you as a D&I person justify your job, essentially, after a year or two years, if you can’t track and measure where you’re making progress, and to be able to track and measure you need the data, so it’s a kind of chicken and egg thing.

Helen McGuire: So yeah, I think, you know, as you say, there are certainly businesses out there that are starting to kind of pivot into this space, and I’m sure there will be more kind of technology businesses coming up in the D&I industry. It’s a market that’s growing at kind of 12, 12.5% a year. So it’s, it’s yeah, it’s quite attractive for startups, and I suppose for investors as well.

Toby Mildon: What you just said, you’ve touched on two of the biggest frustrations that my clients say to me. One, just a lack of data in the organisation or the data is fragmented. So in the UK, they probably have… Well, they will have data on gender, because we have to collect gender for HMRC payroll purposes. They may or may not have data around, say, ethnicity, and they might be missing data on, say, sexuality or disability. And even if they have data, it might not be a complete data set and therefore it’s quite small and unreliable. And then, if they’re a international organisation, they might not be able to collect some certain data in some areas of the world, and it just gets really messy.

Toby Mildon: So first of all, data collection is a huge frustration for my clients. Secondly, the other point that you made, I think is demonstrating impact. Like you were talking about ROI or return on investment and I think a lot of the, obviously, I work basically with like heads of HR or diversity and inclusion leaders, and for them, it’s not so much about return on investment. It’s more about, I suppose, return on effort.

Helen McGuire: Yeah. [chuckle]

Toby Mildon: Or the impact, or the impact that they’re making. Lots of organisations come to me because they get so busy, busy, busy doing stuff like running career development programmes or awareness days and then they, I suppose they sit back and take stock and they go, “Why are we doing this? Like, we’re just not seeing the dial shift.”

Helen McGuire: Yeah. What’s it actually achieving? I think those are usually the businesses that we work with, because you have to go through that process, I think, number one, to get yourself in the right frame of mind to understand what it is, to see what else is out there, to get everybody kind of on the same page with it. But I think eventually everybody gets to that point that you’ve just mentioned where you just kind of go, “Yeah. But so what, what are we… How do we know what we are achieving? What have we achieved? Have we achieved anything? We’re not quite sure.” And then it becomes a little bit sticky because how do you justify spending more and more and more on that, if you don’t know whether it’s doing what you need it to do.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. So before you go, the question that I ask everybody when they come on this show is what does inclusive growth mean to you?

Helen McGuire: So when I kind of moved from Hopscotch into Diversely, I joined an accelerator programme, when I was living back in Singapore, just before the pandemic, actually, January 2020. And they said to me, what is the thing that you want to solve, right? What’s the business problem that you’re trying to solve? And for me, inclusivity really means opportunity for all on an equal footing. So that doesn’t mean that it looks the same for everybody or that everybody should be trying to, or can achieve exactly the same thing, but giving people the opportunity to do so and to prove themselves on an even ground. And that’s really what we’ve built with Diversely.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. And finally, if the person listening to us right now wants to learn more about your platform and what it can do for their organisation, what should they do?

Helen McGuire: You can head over to diversely.io, which is our website. And there’s a bunch of free resources, a lot of information, obviously. Free guides, downloadables and information on the platform and how it works. And you can also find me on LinkedIn. So I’m just Helen McGuire on LinkedIn. And yeah, we’d love to hear from you.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Helen, thank you ever so much for joining me today. I’ve really enjoyed our chat. Good luck with your funding round, ’cause we need more technological solutions like yours to have a bigger impact on the world. And like you say, creating a level playing field for people to show their talents off. So thank you ever so much for joining me.

Helen McGuire: Absolutely. Thank you, Toby, and really appreciate the opportunity.

Toby Mildon: You’re welcome. And thank you for dialing into the Inclusive Growth Show today. I don’t know if we still dial into podcasts any more, but thank you, thank you for listening to Helen and I, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of this Inclusive Growth Show, which will be coming up shortly. Until then take care of yourself. Thank you.

S?: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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