DEI tech reimagines workplace equity and attracts investors amid mounting calls for change

Thousands of people take part in a Black Lives Matter protest march in Seattle in June. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

When Kim Vu joined fintech startup Remitly two years ago as the director of diversity and inclusion, she spent hours doing numbers manually and gaining insights into the teams that are spread across eight global offices.

Then the pandemic struck, forcing the company to switch to remote work, and the Black Lives Matter movement brought racial inequalities into the spotlight. Vu’s job of connecting and supporting employees got much more complicated and sent them on a quest for solutions.

Kim Vu. (Photo from a distance)

This year, Remitly is partnering with Seattle-based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Included platform, which automatically gathers demographic data across the enterprise and relies on a machine learning-driven projection engine to identify trends, make recommendations and to pursue goals. It also serves as a single point of contact for various DEI programs and initiatives that Remitly runs.

“When you think about the role of chief diversity officers, most organizations have very limited resources,” said Vu. “COVID has exacerbated that need, and technology allows us to scale our ability to do this job.”

Remitly is among a multitude of companies learning to navigate the social waters of a “new normal” under increasing pressure from consumers and regulators to accelerate their DEI efforts. According to LinkedIn, the chief diversity officer was the fastest growing role in the C-suite last year.

The increased focus on accountability has also created opportunities for DEI tech startups disrupting older HR systems and developing increasingly sophisticated analytical tools to help companies stay on course. The number of DEI startups has increased more than 80% since 2019, while the market has more than tripled to $ 313 million, according to RedThread Research from California.

“Every other part of the business has the tools and technology to drive continuous improvement and deliver results at scale,” said Laura Close, co-founder of Included. “We just believe DEI executives deserve the same skill.”

The growing need for innovation also attracts investors and spurs lucrative business. In January, enterprise software company Workday acquired people analytics and employee engagement startup Peakon for $ 700 million in cash and now plans to build a “continuous listening platform” as employers go through stages from hiring to leaving. That same month, Dallas-based SaaS platform Kanarys raised a $ 3 million startup round.

Co-Founded Co-Founder Laura Close.

“We believe all kinds of interesting technologies are coming around DEI,” said Heather Redman, co-founder and managing partner at Flying Fish Partners. “There are great technologies like Included that provide powerful analytics and support for DEI in HR organizations. There are also great technologies out there that meet the DEI requirements in the technology itself. “

Flying Fish Partners is the “loving” AI exam platform, Redman said. As consumers become increasingly aware of the potential risks of AI in creating bias, the Ontario-based startup ensures that the algorithms that companies use in recruiting, education, finance, or healthcare are fundamentally fair.

Last November, the Securities and Exchange Commission asked public companies to disclose their human capital metrics, leading to more nuanced reporting on DEI data to show investors how this correlates with better financial results, according to RedThread Research.

“When it comes to DEI, it’s about getting the data, but nobody asks,” What do we do with it? “said closing of included.

From planning a physical office redesign in a post-COVID world, to providing additional training for managers, to negotiating healthcare services, analytics can help determine the right strategy at scale.

“The more information we have available to truly understand the diverse experiences of our employees, the better we can truly create an inclusive environment,” said Vu of Remitly.

Even so, many companies have made slow progress. While some tech giants have repeatedly made diversity pledges, they are still predominantly white and male. And the global pandemic has had a negative impact on the unemployment rate for women and minorities.

Technology can enable awareness and highlight things that don’t work well. But people have to take action, and you have to have a culture that supports it.

Meanwhile, consumers are growing increasingly impatient – 80% expect companies to help solve “society’s problems” and 60% will buy or boycott a brand based on their viewpoint on racial injustice, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Sidney James, founder of Seattle-based B2B DEI platform Inyore, said he could definitely feel the tide change in his conversations with companies that are now devoting more resources to DEI executives and their needs. Inyore acts as an anonymous internal forum for employees and offers managers AI-based sentiment analysis and insights.

“All of these current events have helped propel this industry forward,” said James, who hopes to raise $ 3 million in seed investments this year. “Investors will definitely pay more attention to seeing companies increase their budgets in this area.”

While DEI analytics and metrics play an increasingly important role for private and public companies, it’s not just about software.

Seattle’s technical interview platform, Karat, uses “a human-centered lens” to build new interview applications based on its infrastructure to address hiring issues on a systemic level, said Jeffrey Spector, president and co-founder of Karat.

The company, whose clients include Roblox, Pinterest and Robinhood, recently launched Brilliant Black Minds, a new program that gives Black software engineers free field interviews, feedback and professional development assistance. Karat selects its interviewers based on technical and soft skills such as empathy and clarity and records its interviews to identify errors or causes of bias.

“Interviews are incredibly intimate and vulnerable moments in the hiring process,” said Spector. “It’s important to identify the places where technology and people are most useful and most susceptible to potential bias.”

Technology is never the silver bullet, said Stacia Garr, co-founder of RedThread Research.

“Technology can enable awareness and highlight things that don’t work well,” said Garr. “But people have to take action, and you have to have a culture that supports it. You need to have incentives and reinforcements, and encourage people to make the right decisions. “

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