Can HR Tech Level the Playing Field?

HR leaders are increasingly focusing on inclusion, equity and fairness as new tools are taking the manual work out of analyzing and making recommendations to business leaders.

By Steve Boese

One of the highlights of last year's HR Technology Conference and Exposition was our first-ever "Women in HR Technology" summit on the first day of the event. This session was developed to focus on and raise awareness of many of the issues facing women in technology roles generally, and in the HR technology industry more specifically.

Additionally, we also tried to showcase many of the individual success stories from the many HR and HR technology leaders who participated in the summit, with the idea that their stories of personal and organizational achievement and impact would help educate and inspire the audience. The program was received positively, with standing-room-only attendance, and I have since been acting on numerous recommendations to expand it at this fall's conference.

Tech firms' ability to attract, recruit, develop and fairly compensate women and other underrepresented groups is an issue that continues to be top of mind for many HR and business leaders. And when there exists a compelling business or workplace need or opportunity, HR technology solutions and services will be developed or be adapted to attempt to meet these needs. Increasingly, a number of HR technology solutions have been created or have been enhanced to deliver functionality and insights to help HR and business leaders attract more diverse candidates, reduce the impact of bias in talent management decision making, and monitor and audit compensation programs and practices for fairness and equity across the organization.

Let's examine a few of these new and emerging HR technology solutions that help HR and business leaders promote and support the increasingly common and important goals of workplace diversity, inclusion, fairness and equity. We'll also explore how these technologies can help make a difference for organizations working towards meeting these goals.

Talent Sourcing

One of the primary reasons cited by organizations for their inability to build more diverse teams -- particularly for technical or engineering functions -- is a lack of qualified candidates at the beginning of the recruiting process. Many organizations say they would love to hire more female engineers or more people from underrepresented groups for these roles, but they simply are not able to find interested and qualified candidates. While there is debate over whether there's truly a so-called "skills mismatch" for these roles that is driving this challenge, there are some HR technology solutions that have been developed to address this "top of the funnel" issue and help HR and business leaders find more diverse candidates.

Entelo, a past recipient of the "Awesome New Technology for HR" recognition at HR Tech, has a product called Entelo Diversity that allows organizations to find and identify candidates based on gender, race or ethnicity, and even veteran status. This information and these indicators are layered on top of the candidate's skills profile to help organizations see a complete picture of the candidate, which will support diversity recruiting efforts. The Entelo algorithm is designed to help identify candidates who may meet these criteria without relying on specific keywords such as "black," "female," "veteran," etc. Using data about a person's academic history, social affiliations and job titles, the algorithm determines his or her likely gender, ethnicity or race, and whether the person has military experience. Tools such as Entelo Diversity and other advanced candidate-sourcing tools can augment the networks of an organization's recruiters and hiring managers, which may be otherwise lacking members of many underrepresented groups.

Job Descriptions

Another challenge facing organizations that are making efforts to attract and hire more diverse candidates is in the way that online job advertisements and job descriptions themselves are written. Companies might be unintentionally attracting more males and repelling females for certain roles by the language used in job ads. A quick search on any major job board or corporate jobs page is likely to reveal weighted terms like "rock star" or "ninja" when describing the kinds of applicants that are desired. Terms such as these are very likely to dissuade female applicants, who often don't associate themselves with those particular attributes.

Textio, a technology provider of tools that can analyze the text of copy like job ads or job descriptions, has found that job ads containing phrases they classify as "fixed mindset," -- for example, using language that expresses fixed traits necessary for a role, such as "best and brightest," "top talent," or "high performer" -- attract relatively more male candidates, thus leading to more males being hired.

However, when job-ad copy uses phrases described as "growth mindset" -- with language that focuses on how the company helps employees grow (e.g. "loves to learn" and "seeks challenges"), then these roles attract and are filled more frequently by female candidates. While simply altering the copy of job ads is probably not going to fix a company's diversity challenges, it is important for HR leaders to know that their efforts may be hamstrung from the start by job, website or even email communication copy that repels the very kinds of candidates they are seeking.

Pay Equity

This column was written on April 4, recognized by some as "Equal Pay Day" -- a date that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. While a detailed review of the sources and reliability of that premise is outside the scope of this column, it is nonetheless important for HR leaders to understand what tools and resources are available to them to conduct their own review or organizational pay practices, as pay equity will continue to be an important issue moving forward.

Companies such as Salesforce have recently made news by undertaking comprehensive internal reviews of pay, job roles, gender and tenure in order to uncover disparate treatment in terms of compensation in their organizations, and many have made changes -- largely by increasing pay for women in many roles -- as a result of this analysis. It is likely that more companies and HR leaders will be asked to conduct similar analyses in 2017.

The job-search and company-reputation site Glassdoor just released a guide (and some open source code) that companies with more than 200 employees can use to examine their organizations for the presence of a gender-based wage gap. This model factors in variables such as tenure, job role and job category to help companies isolate gender as a potential factor or driver of wage gaps. While useful, this guide does require some level of advanced statistical capability and understanding on the part of HR data analysts.

And more organizations are leveraging the power of modern integrated HR technology platforms for payroll, core HR, talent management and reporting and analytics to facilitate this kind of advanced analysis. For example, Infor provides solutions for payroll processing, integrated compensation planning that can factor in external metrics, including revenue, special incentive funds, pay-for-performance models, along with reporting and data analyses tools. These tools, coupled with the way that data is shared across them, allow HR and business leaders to look into compensation fairness, pay equity and the impact that making compensation adjustments to align pay across genders, roles and categories will have on organizational compensation expenses. These advanced tools help HR leaders by taking the manual work out of analyzing compensation and making recommendations to business leaders.

Funding

Although not limited to only the HR technology market, it is true that if you have followed the technology investment and venture capital markets for any length of time then no doubt you have heard or read that women and members of underrepresented groups have a much harder time gaining access to early stage or venture capital. Only 9 percent of entrepreneurs are women, despite the fact that women are majority owners in 36 percent of small businesses overall, according to Kim Seals, managing director of Golden Seeds, a venture firm that invests in women-founded businesses, in venture capital-financed, high-growth technology startups.

For women and other underrepresented groups to make meaningful advances in participation and equitable compensation in the technology industry, the sources of capital that drive the growth and direction of new technology firms have to find ways to reduce their own biases and their history of disparate evaluation and limited support of women-led technology startups. When more women-led technology, startups get traction, funding and start to grow, the overall environment for women in technology will improve.

The history of HR technology suggests that, when organizations have unmet goals or new requirements for the attraction, management, compensation and engagement of their workforces, new technology solutions will be developed to attempt to meet those requirements. While the issues around diversity, inclusion, equity and fairness are not new, they have been under increasing attention in the media, inside HR organizations and, increasingly, inside the board rooms of most midsize and large organizations. HR technology solutions such as the ones mentioned above provide support and insight to HR and business leaders to ensure these important issues can be addressed in ways that are fair, understandable, repeatable and scalable.

While no single HR technology solution can make any organization's diversity or inclusion challenges go away immediately, they do provide powerful resources for progressive organizations in meeting these challenges head on.

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology Conference and Exposition and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.

 

Apr 5, 2017
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