Updated: Aug 27, 2020
By Sharon Florentine, Senior Writer, CIO
March 22, 2019
Diversity and inclusion is quickly becoming a business imperative. Thanks in part to increased scrutiny from the media and social movements, boards of directors, C-suite executives, business and HR leaders are recognizing how discrimination, harassment, and toxic workplace cultures can negatively impact a company’s brand, its ability to attract and retain talent and its financial performance.
Previously, bias, harassment and discrimination were assumed to be individual failings, and diversity and inclusion concerns were relegated to HR departments. Now it is much more clear that D&I is a systemic, institutional issue that is everyone’s responsibility, say Stacia Sherman Garr, co-founder and principal of RedThread Research, and Carole Jackson, principal of D&I research and products at Mercer, who co-authored recent research titled Diversity & Inclusion Technology: The Rise of a Transformative Market.
“HR has been pushing for diversity for a long time, and trying to emphasize the importance of an inclusive culture by showing research on how D&I will increase innovation, performance, how it will help companies compete for talent, but it’s really been those social movements — Black Lives Matter, MeToo, TimesUp — that have really driven the point home,” Jackson says.
And to help drive greater diversity and inclusion, companies are starting to turn to technology, Garr says.
“With the explosion of awareness has come increased technological innovation to help put that awareness into practice, like sentiment analysis, AI and machine learning, and pattern recognition, for example,” she says. “That means that companies can more easily create consistency and scalability whether it’s applied to people management, development, learning and education opportunities.”
The RedThread-Mercer study identified at least 105 D&I technology vendors, most of which are smaller startups that have come to market in the past four years — and are growing rapidly. Overall, the market for D&I technology is worth roughly $100 million, with three primary types of vendors offering D&I technologies, according to the study.
Here is a look at what D&I technology tools are currently available and the organizational concerns they target, according to RedThread-Mercer’s research.
The state of D&I technology today
D&I technology vendors in the main seek to address any of three core issues with their solutions, according to RedThread-Mercer’s research: reducing unconscious bias (43 percent), especially in support of attracting and retaining a diverse workforce; providing D&I analytics or insights (33 percent) to help guide decision making; and/or addressing inadequately diverse talent pipelines (30 percent). Other targeted focuses include inadequately inclusive cultures (22 percent), inadequately diverse companies (13 percent) and lack of employee knowledge of D&I issues (11 percent), according to the study.“Most customer interest centers on solutions to decrease bias and gather D&I data and analytics. Customers want more analytics to help them prioritize D&I areas for intervention and action. Leaders want to understand specifically where and how they need to make improvements,” write Jackson and Garr in the study. “Customers also seem interested in D&I technology solutions to address candidate selection and sourcing in their talent acquisition efforts, which also mirrors the focus vendors are placing on addressing inadequately diverse talent pipelines.”
A third of the D&I technologies identified in the report are developed by companies whose primary business is helping organizations address D&I challenges. Another 30 percent are from vendors that offer features or functionalities within their solutions that cater specifically to D&I needs. For example, recruiting software that can make all resume names/identifying information “blind” to minimize unconscious bias. The rest are from what the RedThread-Mercer report calls “D&I friendly” vendors — those whose products do not explicitly address D&I but offer features that could positively impact diversity and inclusion. For example, recruiting software that uses artificial intelligence to recommend appropriate candidates to hiring managers.
D&I technology tools and vendors
D&I technology tools can be broken down broadly by their use. Organizations leverage D&I technology to target candidates or employees in four broad categories.
Most D&I technologies, 43 percent, focus on talent acquisition, including candidate sourcing and selection. Talent management categories are growing rapidly, with 40 percent of these vendors experiencing 100 percent or more growth year-over-year, according to the study. Vendors within this category are almost evenly split between those that focus on candidate sourcing and candidate selection.
Tools in this category are generally focused on providing organizations with access to larger, more diverse candidate pools via the inclusion of features such as:
Established networks of diverse candidates. Examples: Advancing Women, Door of Clubs, Fairygodboss, Headstart, IBM, InHerSight, Interviewing.io, Jenna AI Inc., Joonko, Jopwell, LinkedIn, PowerToFly, Scout Exchange, Teamable and WorkplaceDiversity.
Job ads targeted to specific underrepresented groups. Example: Wonderkind
Enhanced search capabilities to surface candidates by specific attributes, such as gender or background/ethnicity. Examples: Atipica, Entelo, Headstart, HiringSolved, LinkedIn, PowerToFly, ROIKOI, Scout Exchange, SeekOut and Yello.
Text analysis to reduce bias in job postings. Examples: Applied, GapJumpers, TalVista, TapRecruit and Textio.
AI capabilities for removing identifying details from resumes. Examples: Applied, Blendoor, Eightfold AI, Entelo, GapJumpers, Greenhouse, Ideal, Limbo, Newton, Oleeo, Seekout, TalVista, Whitetruffle and Woo.
AI capabilities for highlighting data relevant to a specific job. Example: Blendoor.
Features aimed at reducing bias in the background check process. Examples: Checkr and GoodHire.
Blind assessments aimed at specific skill sets, to reduce likelihood that diverse candidates are screened out before they demonstrate capability. Example: GapJumpers, Greenhouse, HireVue, Interviewing.io, Pymetrics and Triplebyte.
Resume analysis for evidence of skills that match existing job descriptions. Examples: Bowmo, Censia, Eightfold AI, Harver, Headstart, HiredScore, IBM, Limbo, Jenna AI, Plum, Pymetrics, softfactors, Teamable, and Visage.
Job posting outreach to Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. Example: Jopwell.
Interview process standardization to reduce bias. Example: TalVista
Reminders of bias-reducing behavior, such as referring diverse candidates. Example: Greenhouse.
Video-based AI to assess interviewers’ potential biases, as indicated by speech and body movements during interviews with candidates. Example: 8 and Above
Candidate cultural alignment scores to help companies understand how well a candidate might fit into the team. Example: Fortay.
The second-largest segment of the D&I technology market, at 26 percent, comprises vendors that focus on analytics. Most D&I analytics offerings translate their analyses into easy-to-use dashboards for company leaders, focusing on key performance indicators (KPIs) such as:
Representation. Examples: Allie, Aleria, Blendoor, Diversity Dashboard, Diverst, Fortay, Glassbreakers, HRx Technology’s Analytics product, LinkedIn, Namely, OurOffice, PeopleFluent, Pipeline, Pluto, Qlearsite, SAP SuccessFactors, Stratus TMS, viGlobal viIntegrate, Visier and Workday.
Pay equity analysis. Examples: ADP, DBSquared, PeopleFluent, Pipeline, Sameworks, Syndio Solutions, Visier and Workday.
Organizational diversity, using Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to assess whether diverse people are included similarly or differently from majority groups within the organizational network. Examples: OrgAnalytix and TrustSphere.
Talent sourcing and selection processes analysis and recommendations. Examples: Joonko and TapRecruit.
While many leaders believe the business case for D&I has already been made, some still need quantifiable data to reinforce their point, according to the research. To that end, a few solutions are available to help with quantifying the impact of D&I on the business. Aleria uses complexity science and agent-based modeling to assess the experience of diverse talent in the organization and the impact of specific D&I activities on business outcomes. OurOffice has a toolkit module that enables users to see the link between D&I and business and financial KPIs and quantify the D&I business case for specific activities. Pipeline focuses on gender equity and estimates the financial impact of achieving it for each client organization.
Nineteen percent of D&I tools focus on employee development, mentorship and career advancement/management. While traditional education and organizational learning, like sexual harassment training and unconscious bias training, has been an integral component of diversity and inclusion efforts, they’re often ineffective. New technology-enabled approaches to D&I learning show more promise, according to the study.
For example, Translator offers an app that enables participants to ask difficult questions anonymously and helps moderators check the pulse of the room for people’s level of emotional comfort, and to then engage with people on the topic after the session. Virtual reality training also shows great potential to help staff better understand the experience of people with different backgrounds, experiences and identities, and/or how to best respond to specific situations like microaggressions or sexual harassment in the moment. Vendors such as BeingVR, Equal Reality, STRIVR, and Vantage Point are all working in this space.
There are a number of vendors working to deliver training within existing employee workflows. Allie uses a chatbot to offer micro-training within Slack in an attempt to interrupt bias. Crescendo is developing a product to recommend unconscious bias learning content within a Slack or Microsoft Teams workflow. Envisia Learning’s NeuroTeamView measures psychological safety/interpersonal trust and social/emotional awareness among teams.
Some vendors provide diverse candidates with tools to help find mentors within and outside their networks. Solutions include SAP SuccessFactors, Planbox, Chronus, Glassbreakers, Insala, Mentorloop, Guild, and Levo. Landit, offers personalized career pathing and development, executive coaching, and targeted skill development for diverse individuals.
D&I technology focused on engagement and retention includestools targeted on employee experience, employee communications and employee voice. These vendors make up 12 percent of the market. Solutions range from planning for and understanding diverse groups’ work experiences to using sentiment analysis to analyze text communications for sentiment or biases.
Allie, for example, uses a Slack chatbot to collect and analyze information about diverse employees’ experiences. SenseHQ creates worker journey maps for contract workers’ experiences. Many vendors, including Culture Amp, Fortay, Glint, Limeade, Qlearsite, and Waggl, allow organizations to customize employee survey questions to focus on diversity and inclusion topics. Some of these vendors (Culture Amp, Glint, and Qlearsite) use natural language processing and sentiment analysis to identify themes in written comments. Mesh/diversity (formerly Enkidu) and Pluto offer employee voice tools focused on diversity and inclusion. Organization View’s Workometry allows for open-ended employee feedback with text classification models built specifically for each organization and question, the survey reports.
One area ripe for D&I technology development is text analysis of employee communications for bias or sentiment, says RedThread’s Garr. The report reveals that natural language processing can be applied both to employee development and advancement but also to analyze employees’ written day-to-day communications to screen for sentiment and biases.
Bunch.ai helps organizations analyze their cultures in real time, based on Slack communications, and identify when teams may not behave in inclusive ways. Cultivate measures variance in managers’ communication approaches, derived from workplace communication platforms, including Slack and email, to provide self-awareness of team inclusion.
There are a range of existing products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives, and the research shows how many are being tailored for D&I purposes. Pluto has a platform that enables users to anonymously report information on misconduct, harassment and discrimination, with transparency on when and to whom the different reports are routed. Some tools, such as Balloonr, Glint, Organization View, Planbox, Pluto and Waggl are specifically designed to allow employees to anonymously provide ideas and respond to ideas provided by others. This helps prevent bias against specific ideas or suggestions based on who provided the ideas, the research says.
At the moment, the D&I technology tools market is focused on the IT industry, finance and other knowledge-based industries, says Garr. “But we expect this to change rapidly and I think we’re going to see a lot more D&I vendors emerge as the interest continues to grow,” she says. “Right now, not a lot of organizations have the dollars to put aside for these tools and systems, but as this becomes more mainstream, it will move into areas like healthcare, retail, manufacturing — and then it will really take hold,” she says.