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 as the head of diversity and inclusion two years ago, she spent hours manually crunching numbers, scrambling to gain insights into the teams scattered across eight global offices.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company to switch to remote work, and the Black Lives Matter movement put a spotlight on racial inequities. Vus job of connecting and supporting employees got a lot more complicated, sending her on a quest for solutions.

Kim Vu. (Remitly Photo)

This year, Remitly is partnering with Seattle-based DEI platform Included, which automatically gathers demographics data across the entire organization, relying on a machine learning-driven projection engine to spot trends, make recommendations, and track goals. It also serves as a one-stop hub for various DEI programs and initiatives Remitly is running.

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

Remitly is among scores of companies that are learning to navigate the social waters of a new normal amid mounting pressure from consumers and regulators to accelerate their DEI efforts. Chief diversity officer was the fastest growing C-suite role last year, according to LinkedIn.

The heightened focus on accountability has also created opportunities for DEI tech startups that are disrupting legacy HR systems, building increasingly sophisticated analytics tools to help companies stay the course. The number of DEI startups has jumped more than 80% from 2019, while the market has more than tripled to $313 million, according to California-based RedThread Research.

Every other part of the business has the tooling and technology to drive continuous improvement and deliver results at scale, said Laura Close, co-founder at Included. We simply believe that DEI leaders deserve the same ability.

The growing need for innovation is also attracting investors and spurring lucrative deals. In January, enterprise software company Workday acquired DEI data analytics startup Peakon for $700 million in cash, and now plans to build a continuous listening platform as employers move through different stages, from recruitment to exit. The same month, Dallas-based SaaS platform Kanarys raised a $3 million seed round.

Included co-founder Laura Close.

We think all sorts of interesting tech around DEI is coming, said Heather Redman, co-founder and managing partner at Flying Fish Partners. Theres great tech, like Included, that is bringing powerful analytics and support for DEI across organizations in the HR sphere. Theres also great tech that is addressing DEI needs in tech itself.

Flying Fish Partners is loving AI audit platform Fairly.ai, said Redman. As consumers are becoming increasingly aware of AIs potential risks in creating bias, the Ontario-based startup makes sure that the algorithms companies are using in recruiting, education, finances or healthcare are fundamentally fair.

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

When it comes to DEI, the race is on to get to the data, yet no ones asking What are we going to do with it? said Close from Included.

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

The more information that we have at our fingertips to really understand the different experiences that our employees have, the better we can really create an inclusive environment, said Remitlys Vu.

Nevertheless, for many companies, progress has been slow. While some tech giants have made repeated diversity pledges, they are still predominantly white and male. And the global pandemic has had a detrimental impact on unemployment rates for women and minorities.

Meanwhile, consumers are getting increasingly impatient 80% expect companies to help solve societys problems, and 60% will buy or boycott a brand based on its stand on racial injustice, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Sidney James, the founder of Seattle-based B2B DEI platform Inyore, said he can definitely feel the tide shifting in his conversations with companies, who are now allocating more resources for DEI leaders and their needs. Inyore acts as an anonymous internal forum for employees while providing managers with AI-powered sentiment analysis and insights.

All these current events helped propel this industry, said James, who hopes to raise $3 million in seed investment this year. Investors will definitely start paying more attention as they see companies increasing budgets in this area.

While DEI analytics and metrics are playing an increasingly crucial role for private and public companies alike, its not just about software.

Seattle technical interview platform Karat uses a human-centered lens to build new interviewing applications on top of its infrastructure to tackle hiring issues at a systemic level, said Jeffrey Spector, president and co-founder of Karat.

The company, whose clients include Roblox, Pinterest, and Robinhood, recently rolled out Brilliant Black Minds, a new program that provides free practice interviews, feedback and professional development help for Black software engineers. Karat selects its interviewers based on both technical and soft skills like empathy and clarity, and records its interviews to identify mistakes or sources of bias.

Interviews are incredibly intimate and vulnerable moments in the hiring process, said Spector. Its critical to identify the places where technology and people are most useful, and most prone to potential bias.

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

Technology can enable awareness, it can highlight things that are not working well, said Garr. But people have to take action on it, and you need to have a culture that supports that. You need to have incentives and reinforcement, and encourage people to make the right decisions.





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