In late February 2016, I was invited by the Law Society at the University of Oxford to give a talk to their members on overcoming adversity and finding strength in diversity. As part of my talk, I also discussed what it was really like to be different in a profession as traditional and conservative as law. How did we, despite the best recruitment methods and assessments aspiring for objectivity, end up with women, ethnic minorities and LGBT+ persons continuing to be underrepresented in the hiring and promotion process? Is meritocracy just impossible to achieve or have we been recruiting talent in completely the wrong way?
For generations, hiring graduate or any other senior level talent has changed very little. New technologies such as the internet may have taken away the need to post your CV through the letter box but the way business recruits has remained pretty much the same. Newer challenges to graduate level hiring, such as verbal reasoning tests and other analytical examinations, do very little to weed out the good from the bad. In fact, the same tests and same interview questions by the same white, male, straight old guard have consistently produced the same results - new hires that are almost identical to each other with a splattering of those who look and are different so that the graduate recruitment brochure is more appealing.
But, in an increasingly competitive and globalised world, businesses are also realising that if they want to get ahead in the race, they need to look beyond the membership of the old boys club. Success in the 21st century will require creativity and that can only come through diversity - not just diversity in ethnicities, sexualities and genders (although these are key drivers) but diversity in backgrounds, experiences and ideas. In order to meet these demands, businesses will have to revolutionise the way they hire talent, focusing more on traits and characteristics of individuals as opposed to schools and universities alone.
The solution to the 21st century hiring conundrum may lie in a technology being created by 21 year old Nicholas Shekerdemian, still an undergraduate at Oxford University; and experienced tech entrepreneur Jeremy Hindle. The business, very aptly called Headstart App, is creating a simple, automated, one-stop solution that will integrate with existing corporate recruitment systems and ensure accurate, non-discriminatory job matching between business and graduates. Unlike rival platforms, Headstart, which is conveniently available as an app for on the go millennials and centennials, doesn't rely solely on qualifications and work experience to filter applicants. Its unique and innovative Applicant Matching System creates a detailed 'fingerprint' for every applicant utilising neural networks and deep learning. This 'fingerprint' considers personality, interests, skills and demographic background as well as traditional criteria such as qualifications and experience. The matching system allows students to apply quickly and simply for multiple jobs as themselves - via just one, highly personalised application - avoiding the need for repetitive job applications. The technology's machine learning algorithms also continually work to match applicants with the best 'fit' internships and entry-level jobs pulling data from multiple online sources and asking students applicable questions using an Artificial Intelligence powered 'chat-bot'. The future has finally arrived.
Headstart's easy to use platform and dashboards for recruiters will offer companies huge commercial benefits through a fast, accurate and cost-effective method of recruitment. But its key marketing tool will be its ability to finally help companies crack the glass ceiling on diversity. For too long, diversity has remained a tick box on company forms and a milk round play word increasingly seen as a marketing ploy. With many companies showing little to no substantive improvements on their diversity figures, it is not surprising that Headstart has already enrolled FTSE 100 companies into their system to begin trials. Headstart's unique deep learning technology educates and guides recruiters to help remove subconscious human bias, ranking candidates that truly best match any number of very specific requirements. Real time analytics also mean that companies can now tailor and amend requirements as the cycle progresses to continually ensure a best match.
When founder Nicholas approached me following my talk at Oxford, that fateful cold February evening, it was almost as if someone had finally switched the floodlights on. For decades businesses have been recruiting in the dark and the consequence has been stark. Inequality of opportunity due to archaic recruitment methods has seen rising income inequality disproportionately affecting already marginalised groups. Despite ever increasing non-discrimination legislation and companies throwing ever bigger galas showing their love for diversity, statistics show us what company brochures don't want us to see. But the real losers at the end of the day have been business itself, which explains their rush to solve the diversity problem. Solving the issue requires not just bold decisions but bold technology and it has taken a 21 year old undergraduate to finally give business and graduates the head start they have been looking for.