How Efficient Is Your Diversity Initiative? This Startup Is Using AI to Find Out

Creating an inclusive culture doesn't stop after recruitment. Eskalera wants to help companies understand how well their diversity efforts are working.
December 20, 2019
Written by Molly Fosco

If you work in tech, you’ve probably heard about the “pipeline problem” — the idea that some industries, especially STEM, lack diversity because there aren’t enough women and people of color with qualifying degrees or training. Although there is a contentious debate over whether the pipeline problem actually exists, many large tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have been putting more effort into recruiting diverse talent. 

But what happens when women and people of color are hired, only to realize they’ve joined a toxic environment? Tech leaders are realizing that diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop after recruitment. 

 

Eskalera co-founders Debra Kadner, Tolonda Tolbert and Roopak Gupta
Eskalera co-founders Debra Kadner, Tolonda Tolbert and Roopak Gupta

Eskalera, an AI-powered human resources platform based in San Francisco, wants to change that. Their mission is to attract more diverse candidates to medium and large companies, get them in the door and help them stay there. 

The latter is a lot tougher than many organizations realize, especially in the tech industry. In 2017, the Kapor Center for Social Impact found that nearly eight in 10 employees who left tech jobs said they had experienced unfair treatment at work. Women and people of color were most likely to report these experiences. 

Eskalera is built upon the idea that the future of HR will rely heavily on data. Their platform uses artificial intelligence to show business leaders how their diversity and inclusion strategies are performing within their industry, how employees feel about the company’s diversity efforts and actionable tips for improvement. If Eskalera does its job right, employees are more engaged and feel more included at work. 

 

The right person for the job

In one recent effort to make sure this happens, Eskalera is bringing on an unlikely leader. Dane Holmes, head of human capital management for Goldman Sachs, will soon be Eskalera’s new CEO. 

Dane Holmes CEO Eskalera
Dane Holmes CEO Eskalera

The topic of diversity and inclusion in the corporate world has been top of mind for Holmes for several years now. In 2017, he moved from investor relations to HR and recruiting, aiming to diversify the bank’s notoriously white, male staff. Right away, Holmes noticed a massive hole in the practice of HR at Goldman and within the industry in general — “a total lack of data analytics,” he said. 

Joining Eskalera will give Holmes the opportunity to tackle that problem for multiple industries head-on. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can be overwhelming for an HR team to handle on their own, he said. “Bringing robust analytics to the effort can really make a difference.” 

 

How analytics can impact diversity

Eskalera tracks the diversity and inclusion stats of employees. The platform captures and analyzes data from both mobile and desktop HR platforms like Workday and BambooHR, as well as payroll systems, email, calendar and other communication tools, so that people officers have a real-time view of the atmosphere among employees across the company. They can then leverage those insights to engage them with career growth opportunities or community programs. 

 

Eskalera engagement and inclusion dashboard
Eskalera engagement and inclusion dashboard

HR departments have struggled to create an integrated approach to understanding their people — arguably the most important aspect of any company. When it comes to using data in this approach, many firms know they need to work with historical data so that biases are not reinforced or introduced. But they don’t know where to begin. 

Eskalera integrates employee sentiment with historical data from multiple HR platforms, making the process far less complex. “We can provide HR with a holistic view of their employees, allowing them to better manage talent and create more inclusive, more productive and more enjoyable work environments,” Debra Kadner, Eskalera’s co-founder and head of product, said in an email. 

Understanding these analytics has the power to drive business results. Eskalera can support corporate strategy by providing training in a scalable way to all employees and can recommend actions that foster inclusion, Kadner said. 

Essentially, if you have a dollar to spend on diversity at your company, Eskalera can tell you how best to spend that money. It will help identify which efforts are going to get results — for your employees and your bottom line. 

 

Attrition insights
Eskalera Attrition insights

 

Eskalera’s core technology has three main components: 

  1. The platform integrates and analyzes structured and unstructured data from HR systems, like Workday and BambooHR, as well as from Eskalera’s own system. 
  2. Then, using historical data and AI-prediction tools, the analytics application provides insight into a company’s productivity, attrition and inclusion. 
  3. Their data governance layer leverages security and privacy best practices. Any identifiable information about employees is hashed to ensure privacy and all comments from employees about workplace sentiment are encrypted by the system so they cannot be read by a human. 

“Diversity efforts are not a silver bullet item,” Holmes said. “You can’t just say, ‘hey let’s have a good program on diversity.’ That is not the pathway to providing a good environment.” 

Kadner agrees. Much of the work on diversity in the tech industry has centered on the pipeline problem, she said. “This is very important work, but if you succeed in recruiting more diverse candidates and have them join a toxic environment, you are just going to have disengaged employees or an uptick in attrition.” 

Eskalera is focused on improving inclusion, which improves retention. This requires companies to have a mix of strategies in place, like employee engagement and leadership support, among others.  

“Tech can be used for good or bad and we’re designing our tech to be used for good,” said Holmes. “It’s about measurement and providing insight. When you draw an algorithm with a limited set of data, that’s very different than collecting diverse data,” which, he noted, Eskalera has thanks to varied data sources. 

“Diversity efforts are not a silver bullet item.”

 

A different kind of venture capital

Eskalera is backed by venture capital firm, super{set}, a unique fund in San Francisco that provides its portfolio companies with operational and strategic support in addition to investment dollars. Super{set} co-founder, Tom Chavez, is also a co-founder of Eskalera and served as CEO before asking Holmes, his friend and business associate, to take over. Eskalera is the firm’s first and only startup to come out of stealth mode. 

Chavez believes that the key to startup success is scientific — that there’s a method to the madness. Super{set} employs experts in everything from artificial intelligence and data science, to sales and business strategy, who are matched with the most relevant startups in the fund to provide mentorship and guidance. Entrepreneurs work directly with their super{set} mentors in a shared office in San Francisco and the company plans to open more offices in Boston and New York.  

To Holmes, Eskalera’s success will come down to a shared vision and values among the team. “I feel very aligned with super{set},” he said.  

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