New solutions support workplace diversity and inclusion
Knockri is boosting racial and gender diversity in recruitment. KeepWOL is gamifying DEI training.
With workers holding the upper hand in the job market, employers are under pressure, not just to provide fair compensation, but to address quality of life issues — including not just work/life balance and opportunities for remote or hybrid working where appropriate, but ensuring teams are diverse and workplaces inclusive. Not only are diversity, equity and inclusion important assets when it comes to retaining talent; they are increasingly important factors in recruiting talent too.
The good news for marketing organizations and other business teams is that new tech-based solutions are becoming available which help do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to recruiting for diversity and training for inclusion. We looked at Knockri, a recruitment system which aims to eliminate both unconscious bias and tokenism, and Keep WOL, a SaaS-based cultural intelligence training system.
What’s in a name?
Knockri’s co-founder and CEO is named Jahanzaib Ansari — and it was his name that was one of the catalysts for the creation of Knockri. “I’ve got a long, ethnic name and I wouldn’t hear back from a lot of employers. I was pretty frustrated.” A colleague suggested he anglicize his name for the purpose of job searching. “We went through variations of Jordan, Jason, Jacob, and literally within four to six weeks I got a job. With that experience, I just felt like there are so many people being overlooked and that there has to be a better solution.”
What Knockri does is send interactive assessments to all applicants for a role who meet basic criteria, like being able to work in the U.S. or having a certain number of years of experience. The assessments, branded for the company which is recruiting, consist of pre-recorded questions designed to measure for skills and behaviors scientifically correlated with success in the open role. “For example, if they are applying for a consultant role: Collaboration, a growth mindset, innovation, leadership.”
Knockri uses AI to analyse the transcripts of the candidate’s responses (with clients like IBM, Deloitte and Microsoft, Knockri needs to deal with applications at scale). It’s only the transcripts that get analysed. “In the recruiter’s dashboard they see no names, no faces, just scores. Based on that, they call in the best candidates for a job interview.”
What follows, of course, are in-person interviews by the recruiters. “At the end of the day, we’re a decision support tool,” explained Ansari, “helping these organizations with a better decision on who to short-list. There’s still a person-to-person interview that is being conducted.” Knockri is primarily tackling bias at the top of the hiring funnel where a lot of qualified candidates are excluded through conscious or unconscious bias. “But our system is smart, and if somebody keeps bringing in candidates who have not scored highly and is hiring them, then that creates an alert for their superiors. For example, if I’m a Pakistani male and I keep bringing in Pakistani males who have not scored well, then that gets notified.”
Increasing diversity while avoiding tokenism
The AI is used for efficiency and scale, but the correlations between skills and success are based, said Ansari, on industrial organizational psychology — the AI is not making value judgements. “We now have a library of about 45,000 different job roles,” Ansari said. “We can assess anything from a bus driver up to a director level role at a large bank. Our sweet spot is entry to mid-level roles.” It’s also important to note that the AI is not trained on historical recruitment data, which would likely come with its own built-in biases.
Clients come to Knockri for a range of reasons. “They want to eliminate bias in the hiring process and increase gender and racial diversity in the short list of candidates,” he said. Efficiency in the process is also a component. “For one of our clients, it took them three months to screen candidates; we’ve brought that down to a couple of days.”
The elegance of Knockri’s approach lies in the way it excludes tokenism. Absent any sight of the candidate’s face or name at the short-list stage, it prevents businesses actively hiring for diversity. “We’re not helping organizations with their diversity quota,” Ansari said. “Our goal is to level the playing field for all candidates.” But here’s the punchline: “On average, our customers have seen about a 25% increase in gender and racial diversity in short lists compared to their previous method of hiring.”
Cultivating cultural intelligence
Recruiting diverse talent is one thing. Retaining it is something else. Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks, founder and CEO of Keep WOL (keep wondering out loud) has her own story. “I’m a Black millennial woman and my expertise lies in engineering and tech. I spent over a decade working in corporate America in five different Fortune 500 companies, feeling I didn’t belong for one reason or another. Each company had programs and initiatives that were focused on diversity, equity and inclusion but they always seemed to fall short in genuinely fostering connections between individuals and making you feel like you’re included especially at that team level.”
She added: “I’ve always been an outsider and so I launched KeepWOL as something that welcomes outsiders in. I want everyone in a team or in an organization to have their best work experience.”
KeepWOL set out to maximize cultural intelligence, not just throughout organizations, but more particularly in the teams which do the work. It provides, said Shanks, “recurring, guided, immersive team experiences.” In other words, games. “It’s powered by software but it’s driven by humans — we like to emphasize that point. We’re providing solutions and exercises to help you really cultivate engagement and learning amongst the people you work most closely with.”
But of course, it’s not just entertainment. “The impact of every immersive experience is tracked by the data collected within our platform; it provides accountability and measures change.” Cultural intelligence, for Shanks, means having the ability to relate and work effectively across all populations, cultures and demographics. “All of that requires good interpersonal skills — communication, listening, vulnerability, empathy and compassion — but those require regular practice to become second nature. At most levels of an organization they’re not providing that kind of training in depth and on a recurring basis.”
Beyond checking the box
In a lot of cases, businesses provide one-time training, panels, video training and plenty of policies. Or they have a specific month, said Shanks, where they honor a specific culture. “It all seems meant to check the box rather than really build up skills. Our whole purpose is to make diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging become more than passive awareness but actionable experience. Diversity is not just about what people look like or what gender they are or what sexuality they identify with — it’s really about letting them come into an organization and be the best employee they can be while having a comfort and safety level about being there.”
KeepWOL’s small but growing catalog of games was designed to be applicable to any line of business — marketing, sales, engineering, finance, HR, or procurement. They’re also applicable to SMBs as well as enterprise. “We have people on our team who are highly skilled in psychology, applied psychology and organizational development — all the areas that we need — and we developed our first four games focused on that, ” said Shanks. “We’re up to about 12 games now and we have another four coming out by the end of this year.”
Now, however, KeepWOL is getting inspiration from its customers. “One of the new ones that’s coming out is ‘Social Determinants of Health.’ That was the ask from the healthcare community: ‘We really need to train our employees on the social determinants of health and what that looks like when we’re working with our patients, understanding them as individuals rather than the global demographic they come from.'” This initiative cultivates culrural sensitivity about customers — or in this case patients — not just within the team.
“We don’t want it to be viewed that all of our games are about diversity, equity and inclusion,” explained Shanks. “They’re not all explicitly about that, although it’s inherently built into them. But we do have a game like ‘Paths Traveled’ that’s very much coupled with formal equity training; it focuses really on bringing it from passive awareness to practice in real-time situations.” KeepWOL is designed to complement, not replace, whatever kinds of in-person training a business has. “We’re the execution phase, we’re the tactical part of your strategy.”
The tech approach to DEI
Dr. Lauren Tucker is founder and CEO of Do What Matters, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting agency focused on the marketing services space. “I’m a big believer in technology,” she told us. “It’s just like any other tool. It can be used for goodness and it can be used for badness. We’re challenged by it today because it’s so scaled, it’s so pervasive, it’s in our lives every day and the pace of change is happening ahead of policy making.” She did, however, see merit in the solutions considered here.
She was familiar with both Knockri and KeepWOL. “Both of them are not only on our radar, but we are in conversations with both of them.” Do What Matters is not about individual consciousness-raising. “Not to say it isn’t important,” said Tucker, “but we use our limited consulting resources to focus on changing systems. That’s the way we feel we have the most impact, the most scalability at this point.”
She agreed that KeepWOL’s gamification of cultural intelligence training ticked the scalability box. As for Knockri: “A platform that’s very much in alignment with our inclusive talent management system.” She also noted the problem of bias inherent in the data on which AI algorithms are trained. “The way that Knockri trains the AI is less biased than we typically find.”
She also sees symbiosis between Knockri’s candidate screening process and the interview best practices she proposes. Told about the 25% lift in gender and racial diversity, she said: “Combined with our structured interview approach, our panel approach to interviews, it will make those numbers even more impressive.
“You cannot eliminate bias,” said Tucker. “It’s who we are; it’s part of the human experience — but you can minimize its impact on outcomes.”