D&I Tech: The Rise of a Transformative Market

Posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 at 10:47 PM    

In this Research:

Diversity and inclusion is not a new idea for today's corporations, but over the last 18 months, the slow D&I burn has turned into a flashpoint, in part due to the #MeToo moment. Leaders across organizations are asking: "How can we systematically challenge the status quo, and build a more diverse and inclusive workforce?"

D&I Technology Rise of a transformative market

It is upon this foundational question that technology companies have begun to construct dozens of new and innovative ideas to support equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace—recognizing that new technological capabilities, paired with this increased urgency, represents an opportunity to address D&I challenges in novel ways.

Women, Networks, and Technology

Posted on Saturday, January 19th, 2019 at 7:50 PM    

Why this is important right now:

Research abounds showing the positive impact of diversity – and gender diversity in particular – on an organization’s outcomes. For example, a recent McKinsey study showed 47% higher return on equity for companies with women on executive committees.1

However, women are unique in that they are the only historically disadvantaged group who make up nearly 50% of the workforce. Despite that, they are woefully underrepresented at top levels. Fewer than 5% of S&P 500 CEOs are women and only 26% of senior management positions are occupied by women.2

To address this, organizations have recently invested in unconscious bias training in droves. However, it is not at all clear that unconscious bias is the villain. One large-scale analysis of more than 80 research studies and 17,000 individuals found no reliable relationship between measures of unconscious bias and actual behavior.3 And even if unconscious bias did affect behavior in some cases, simple awareness cannot remove implicit bias. It cannot be trained away. Diversity training, in fact, is one of the least effective methods to promoting diversity and inclusion.4 It may even make matters worse.5


Exclusion from informal professional networks has been identified as one of the greatest barriers to career success.6 One multinational study of over 240,000 men and women found that while 81% of women report some form of exclusion at work—astonishingly—92% of men don’t believe that they are excluding women at all!7

However, research shows that men’s and women’s networks do not seem to follow consistent patterns, revealing that solving the problem is not so as easy as simply identifying new ways in which women should build their networks. Instead, we believe organizations may need to re-think work partitioning, training, mentoring, sponsorship programs, and collaborative technologies to create opportunities for professionals to develop effective working relationships built on understanding and trust.

To that end, RedThread Research is excited to announce our new research initiative on how women use their networks to advance in organizations and the potential opportunity for technology to amplify those network behaviors. This research is being supported by GSV AcceleraTE. The final research report will be previewed at the 2019 ASU GSV Summit, April 8-10 in San Diego, and published shortly thereafter.

This Project:​

This research will focus on identifying how women can more effectively use existing opportunities, overcome factors that hinder performance, examine the role of technology, and make recommendations on what can be done by women and men as individuals, and organizations as the system in which people work, to improve women’s likelihood to rise in companies.

More specifically, we will examine the following topics:

Women, Networks, and Technology: Premise


The above list represents our initial hypotheses as to what the study will cover. However, one of our core values at RedThread is collaboration and we need you to be a part of the process. We are collaborating with Dr. Inga Carboni, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the College of William and Mary, to conduct interviews now through the end of March. If your organization is doing anything interesting on this topic, we encourage you to reach out to us and share your input at [email protected].

We are currently looking for folks to participate in our research around these topics:

  • How organizations help women advance in their organizations
  • How organizations help women build and develop important professional relationships inside and outside their organizations
  • How organizations are helping women design their networks intentionally
  • The importance of women’s networks and relationships in enabling them to advance within the organization
  • The role or potential opportunity of technology to democratize or accelerate women effectively using their networks

If you have an interesting story to share about the topics above, wish to participate in an interview, or have recommendations, please contact us.

Talent Management Trends 2018: An Update from the Road

Posted on Thursday, October 11th, 2018 at 6:17 PM    

Nine months into 2018, smack dab in the middle of fall conference season events, so it seems like a good time to pull up and reflect on what I’ve been hearing from the road. I have three new trends to add to the list, and three that I think are still especially relevant right now.

There are a few new trends I would add to the list from March, and these include:

  1. Talent management strategy – more necessary now than ever. In some research I led years ago, we found that organizations with a clear talent strategy outperform those without one. With the substantial amount of information, initiatives, and opportunities for organizations to navigate today, the need for a talent strategy seems greater than ever. Yet, if my anecdotal evidence is any indication – a minority of companies have invested in developing one. As organizations start to look forward to 2019, now could be a great time to plan to make one.
  2. Employee voice – listening is just the beginning. I have seen some impressive employee listening technologies – and some strong examples of company’s successes with these technologies – in the last six months. LinkedIn’s acquisition this week of Glint (I will post my thoughts on that later this week) only underscores the criticality of this space. That said, I think that employee listening technologies that primarily rely on surveys (be they pulse or longer-form) are just the beginning. The next step is to think through how we enable the workers who contribute to those insights the capability to do something with that information. We are working on new work on this topic (called the responsive organization research), so stay tuned.
  3. HR organizational structure – a new vision is necessary. I don’t know if it is because Dani Johnson worked with Dave Ulrich at RBL Group or what, but for some reason, I’ve been asked a lot in the last few months about my opinion on modern HR org structures. My answer is generally yes, I think they need to evolve – but I haven’t seen a great model yet for what they should look like next. In general, I’m a fan of getting closer to the business units HR serves so as to make more strategic decisions closer to them. However, I haven’t seen many models that do this in a significant way that departs from the current HR business partner approach (let me know if you have one!). I definitely see the old COE model, where talent management was often siloed off (and often disconnected from learning), as not being terribly relevant any more. We don’t have an answer on this one – but for those of you who feel like this is a problem for your organization, I wanted you to know I am hearing it from a lot of your fellow practitioners, too!

Of the trends I wrote about back in March, three remain a consistent trend in all of my conversations:

Diversity and inclusion – now core HR responsibilities

D&I, as a topic is EVERYWHERE. As many of you know, we wrote a report on D&I technology, which is part of the reason I’m talking with folks about it so much. Even beyond that specific topic, though, I am especially hearing folks talk about the following:

  • Gender. Many organizations are choosing to primarily focus their D&I efforts on gender this year, at least in part, because they can positively impact 50% of the population and gender is a diversity characteristic that is similar across all cultures. We are working on some new research on the topic of women and their organizational networks and behaviors, which will help advance this topic.
  • Legal risk. In many conversations – especially those around D&I data – many organizations are asking how to manage the legal risk of becoming aware of D&I problems on which they previously had no insight. One person I spoke with in the last month said that when this question was posed to a group of CEOs, half of them said they couldn’t focus on D&I data because of the legal risk and the other half said that the first half simply needed to find a less conservative general counsel! All joking aside, the answer is more complex than this, though, and is worth a deeper conversation.
  • Power dynamics. It is not possible to solve the challenge of women’s equal inclusion without addressing the question of who is in the “in-group” versus the “out-group” and the associated power dynamics. While I’ve heard some really good ideas about how to address pay equity, female promotion rates, etc., this question of how to address power dynamics to make women’s inclusion systemic is one that is still open for me.
  • A new era in people data – with great power comes great responsibility. So if D&I is super white hot, this topic is just white hot. I may have some recency bias on this one, as I have been to three people data-related conferences in the last three weeks, but the opportunities in people data are huge and the field has come incredibly far in just the last three years. For example, at last week’s People Analytics and Future of Work Conference, the stories told by leaders from organizations such as JP Morgan Chase, USAA, Pfizer, Western Digital and others absolutely blow away what was commonplace just a few years ago, especially when it comes to organizational network analysis (ONA). At this week’s Connected Commons event, Michael Arena told a story of phenomenal transformation using ONA to drive wide-spread network-owned innovation at General Motors – you can read more about it in his book, Adaptive Space. This topic deserves its own post, but let’s just say that this is definitely a space to keep watching.

Converging people practices

…but they need to create business results (not just a common employee experience). We keep hearing about this convergence – particularly between, but not limited to, performance management and learning – in our conversations with organizations, but we have also seen it reflected in the vendor space. If you’ve been following our newsletter, you will see the huge number of acquisitions: LTG bought Peoplefluent, Degreed bought Pathgather, Saba (which had already bought Halogen) bought Lumesse, YouEarnedIt (a recognition company) bought Highground (performance management), and – as previously mentioned – LinkedIn bought Glint. Many of these vendors used to play in different spaces, but are now coming together to create new visions of what it means to manage and enable talent. This trend is only going to accelerate in the coming months.

I’m going to be talking about these topics in a lot more detail on October 25 in Los Angeles at an event being hosted for talent management consultants by The Predictive Index – I invite you to join me and share your thoughts on what you are seeing, too! If you can’t make it, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

D&I Tech: A Question Becomes a Quest

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 at 4:14 PM    

Back in March 2018, I posted to LinkedIn what I thought would be a rather quickly forgotten question: What technology had others seen that focused on improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in companies? The response was huge, with lots of people I'd never met sharing how their company was using technology to tackle diversity and inclusion in ways that I'd not even dreamed of. Clearly, something big was happening – so the question turned into a quest to understand this new market.

We've ended the first 2 phases of that quest with the publication of our research on D&I tech, Diversity and Inclusion Technology: The Rise of a Transformative Market, which we, RedThread Research, have completed in partnership with Mercer.

Let me take a step back and tell you why I was even asking the question. Years ago, I'd asked folks what vendors they used to help with D&I. Most people just scratched their heads, and said, “Huh? I don’t understand what you mean.” So, I went about my merry way working on a study that ultimately focused on D&I practices, with no technology component.

Post #MeToo. Post many public D&I missteps that cost executives their jobs and companies their stock prices. I thought, surely, now, there must be technology focused on this space. But I just hadn’t read that much about it.

I started talking to a lot of people about this topic and found that it resonated with many of them. One of those people was Carole Jackson, a former colleague and current Principal at Mercer, focused on their When Women Thrive research. We found a shared passion for this topic and we agreed to partner on this research to bring a heightened understanding of the D&I technology market to both vendors and customers.

So, what began as my simple question ended up turning into a quest to find as many technology vendors focused on D&I as possible – and document who they are and what they do. Why? Three reasons:

  1. This market is exploding with new vendors – Our study has nearly 100 in it (and that's in just this 1st phase of the research) and many of them have only started within the last 3 years. Given this, organizational leaders need to better understand the innovative technology solutions available, and technology vendors need to see where opportunity for new products and solutions exists.
  2. D&I technology has the potential to be a disruptor – Structural biases hide in our processes and behaviors and, applied correctly, D&I technology can enable scalable, consistent treatment of people decisions while also alerting users to previously hidden patterns of bias. That said, our glasses are not so rosy as to blind us to the potential limitations and even detrimental impacts of D&I tech.
  3. Too little information is available on the market – The folks over at Gartner have written a report on this topic, but not everyone can access that. Further, focusing on the question of “If There’s Too Much Diversity Tech?” doesn’t give folks insight into the range and capabilities of D&I tech. We wanted to do an in-depth study that would help vendors and buyers truly understand the market.

To that end, our study answers 5 questions:

  1. What is D&I technology?
  2. Why are D&I technologies coming to market right now?
  3. What are the benefits and potential risks?
  4. What types of D&I technologies exist?
  5. Who are some of the players in the different D&I technology categories?

This report is a both qualitative and quantitative study that summarizes the D&I tech market landscape, based on a vendor and customer survey, customer interviews, and the feedback we received. It also includes an interactive market map tool that allows readers to quickly understand which vendors are in the market.

THANK YOU! To everyone – practitioners and vendors alike – for participating in this research! We hope you'll continue to be part of the D&I tech conversation going forward!

Recap: Fenwick & West Diversity & Inclusion Summit

Posted on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 at 11:13 AM    

Last month, I had the privilege to attend a Diversity & Inclusion Summit, hosted by the law firm Fenwick & West at the Stanford Alumni Center. We didn’t yet have the blog live, so I couldn’t write about it immediately. However, I found the opening panel, in particular, especially compelling, so am sharing my thoughts now. Similar to Dani’s blog last week, I have structured this blog around three quotes that especially resonated with me.

Quote #1

“Gender diversity – it’s a man’s job.”

Anita Sands, Board Director at Symantec, ServiceNow, Pure Storage, ThoughtWorks

The Context

This comment came in the context of discussing gender diversity on Boards of Directors and in senior leadership roles within corporations. With this comment, Anita was essentially saying that since men are generally in dominant positions of power, it is their responsibility to find, promote, and support women in moving into more senior roles. While I have heard many people talk about how men need to be involved in supporting women, I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone put it so bluntly.

Why it Matters

If you agree with the quote, then it is up to men in positions of power to make fundamental changes that will get more women into senior leadership roles. One approach discussed was changing the requirements for women on boards (e.g., dropping the requirement for Board members to be a former CEO/CFO) and considering other meaningful experiences that could benefit the Board. Another approach was expanding beyond the existing Board’s network to find future Board candidates and perhaps engaging executive recruiting firms that specialize in finding high-quality female talent. Finally, the panel discussed moving beyond a “token” female member, but rather having a meaningful percentage (e.g., at least one-third) of the Board comprised of women. The idea is to fundamentally shift the culture and make it one where it was hard to ignore the perspective of female Board members and make it a group where the women would want to stay.

Quote #2

“If you’re not intentionally including, you’re unintentionally excluding.”

Michelle Skoor, Director of Programs, Lesbians Who Tech

The Context

Michelle was discussing how Lesbians Who Tech selects its speaker population for its annual conference, and how it should be gender balanced and have a high representation of LGBTQ individuals.

Why it Matters

This quote can be applied to almost any HR process, policy or practice. In particular, one speaker discussed how organizations need to re-examine all of their human capital management practices to identify where unconscious bias may exist. For example, in talent acquisition, companies can identify bias in job descriptions (Textio enables organizations to do this) or make salary offers based on the market value of a job, not a person’s past salary (using salary history especially negatively impacts diverse people – this practice is no longer allowed in California and Massachusetts).

In performance management, companies can begin to identify if certain language is used more often when giving feedback to women or men (Zugata offers a service that can do this), and to then coach people on how to approach feedback differently.

Companies can also, obviously, analyze compensation, and make adjustments, such as what Salesforce did recently. Another speaker mentioned the intentional changes that Harvey Mudd College has made to its computer science program to make it more approachable for young women, which has led to female enrollment increasing to more than 50% women.

Quote #3

“Diversity of thought is a thing, but not the thing we are solving for. Not when folks still struggle to get a cab in New York City.”

David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb

The Context

This comment was made in the course of a “debate” about what it means when leaders use the word “diversity.” In essence, David was saying that while there may be value in diversity of thought, the big struggle – especially the one that Airbnb has worked to address on its own platform – remains visible diversity.

Why it Matters

In the course of the conversation, panelists shared that a focus on visible diversity as a proxy for cognitive diversity was deeply problematic. First, one panelist stated that people could all look different, but have attended the same schools and have the same training, making them more similar than different. Second – and this panelist’s comment was even more critical – was that for people who experience discrimination regularly, when companies focus on diversity of thought, it minimizes the importance of the discrimination, which is deeply off-putting.

This debate matters because many organizations today are talking about the value of diversity being in the resulting diversity of thought (and the connection between that and business outcomes). However, in trying to connect diversity to business results, these panelists raised the point that organizations may actually be alienating many diverse people. If true, this is a paradox that organizations need to consider.

Something new, remarkable, or that changed our thinking

Michelle Skoor shared information about, which was new to me. The organization is trying to address the problem that there are many people – and especially people from diverse communities – who may lack a degree or formal education, but have the knowledge or skills organizations need, obtained through community college courses, work experience, “bootcamps,” or the like. connects those people with mentors at corporations, to help them refine their skills and guide them on searching for a job.

The idea is that those mentors can then “validate” people’s skills, after having established a relationship with them. It’s an interesting idea, and may give corporations an actionable step for their employees to take to do good in the world, diversify their network, and connect with new talent pools.

Something I will do differently as a result of the event

Listen much more carefully / research more the topic of visible vs. cognitive diversity and diverse populations’ perceptions of it.

People or organizations of particular note

  • David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb
  • Lesbians Who Tech

What resonated with you from this post? We’d love your feedback!

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider