Diversity Job Recruitment

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Liz Wessel, CEO & Co-founder of WayUp

My proudest moment recently as a DEI professional was when our Product Manager, Emma Hyams, launched our D&I Analytics Dashboards.

Liz, How did you start your career in DEI or Social Impact? 

My co-founder, JJ (WayUp’s CTO), and I both felt a mutual frustration with the way employers recruit early-career candidates — we saw it often was highly correlated to how likely someone was to have a connection within the employer, which often unfairly correlated to race, gender, or socioeconomic status. So, we created a tech platform that would help level the playing field and connect talent of all backgrounds with employers — enabling candidates to be seen (often for the first time) by top employers. Furthermore, we built out robust analytics that drives employers to catch their own biases in their recruitment processes, which is resulting in some of the most diverse recruiting funnels these companies have ever seen.

Now, in my day job, I have the honour and privilege of being the CEO and co-founder of WayUp, where we are responsible for helping employers around the country achieve their diversity goals while simultaneously helping diverse early-career candidates get hired.


Tell us about a personal experience on why our world needs more Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Many years ago, my team member was talking to a group of recruiters who work for a very large Fortune 500 financial firm. When discussing their recruitment methodology, they shared that they “reject every candidate who has an Asian-sounding name” because they assume that the candidates will require visa sponsorship, which they can’t offer. Not only was I shocked and horrified (we obviously did not work with them any longer after hearing this and informing them that this was illegal discrimination), but I also remember thinking about the thousands of candidates who had their lives changed as a result of that bias and, to be blunt, racism. Everyone remembers their first job, and while not everyone follows the path that their first job sets out for them, for many, their first job can be a huge stepping stone toward their dream career. So to hear that lack of inclusion from a massive Fortune 1000 company was resulting in so many deserving candidates not getting their dream jobs made me and my team furious and more determined than ever before that our work is needed.

What does DEI mean to you?  

To put it simply, DEI is all about levelling the playing field and ensuring equal opportunity for diverse candidates. It’s not just about opening one door for one diverse candidate, it’s about making sure that the door stays open. My favourite saying about this is one I heard recently on a panel, “diversity is about inviting someone to the prom, while inclusion is about asking that person to dance once you get there.”

What is your proudest moment as a D&I professional?

My proudest moment recently as a DEI professional was when our Product Manager, Emma Hyams, launched our D&I Analytics Dashboards. While there has been a rise of companies focused on finding diverse talent and getting them to apply to their positions, most of the companies we spoke with didn’t go about fixing their recruitment processes to ensure they actually hire those diverse applicants (it’s not enough just to get them to apply)! So we developed a tool to fix that — and showed companies exactly where the bias in their hiring process is.

Our D&I Analytics Dashboards identify exactly which parts of a company’s hiring process (i.e., from the application to the screening questions) are biased. We can identify the bias because our technology reviews precisely how candidates of different ethnicities and genders make their way through the hiring funnel, starting at the job description. Giving companies these types of real-time insights into their hiring funnels was HUGE for our business (and even TechCrunch wrote about it here). It’s one of the products I’m most proud of, and I’ve loved seeing companies adopt it.

Why is equity, diversity, inclusion vital to you as an individual?

As a woman working in a predominantly male industry (and role), I feel so grateful that I have been surrounded by people, investors, and companies who value diversity, equity, and inclusion. But unfortunately, the truth is that the diversity workforce gap is growing (especially because of 2020). And my team is excited to be a small part of the solution to help fix it. 

If you could change one thing in terms of DEI, what would that be? 

Companies come to us struggling to hit diversity goals, and they often think their problem is at the top of the funnel. In reality, their problem often is not just their applicant flow but also their recruitment processes. If I could change one thing about DEI, it would be to help employers understand why their hiring funnel is inherently broken and show them how to fix it (just like our DEI dashboards do) — so that diverse candidates don’t keep getting unfairly dismissed because of systemic inequality in hiring processes. Helping employers see their hiring funnel from a new perspective is just one (very critical) step toward helping to close the diversity gap as a whole. At WayUp, we work closely with our employer partners to help them reevaluate their hiring funnel, identify top talent fairly, and implement strategies to combat bias.

What is stopping your community, organization, or company from achieving a more equal and equitable world? 

HR organizations are often risk-averse, so getting companies to take the leap of working with WayUp (a tech startup) can sometimes be a hurdle. Not to mention, it costs money to use WayUp (we’re not a non-profit), so getting companies to find a budget for DEI can also sometimes be a hurdle. Fortunately, when employers try our sourcing products and use our D&I analytics dashboards, they usually love it. So the biggest challenge is helping employers make the leap to try it in the first place. With that said, in 2021, WayUp is on track to grow at the highest rate it has ever grown in its 7-year company history — and that’s with the smallest sales team we’ve ever had. Why? Despite having sold D&I products for many years, WayUp is finally seeing companies put their money where their mouth is and invest.

If you could say one thing to the leader in your community, organization, or company about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, what would you say?

I would say: pay your interns! Unpaid internships perpetuate systemic inequality, period. And research has also shown that paying your interns is a simple yet effective change that makes a massive difference in driving more equality in the workplace.

The cost of an unpaid internship is enormous, which means that many students cannot afford not to make any money and, instead, spend money to gain experience. Regardless of what some companies claim, “experience” doesn’t pay the bills. Therefore, unpaid internships tend to go to those who are more financially advanced. (And in the U.S., “financially advantaged” likely means you’re not an underrepresented minority.)

Paying your interns isn’t just beneficial to diverse candidates either. For companies, paying your interns will not only increase your diversity in the short term, but it’ll help your recruitment efforts further down the road. You can learn more about the importance of this issue on PayTheInterns.com; a campaign WayUp launched to bring more awareness to this conversation.

Anything you want to share with your readers and customers?

Employers have a unique opportunity, right now, to help close the diversity gap. According to Pew Research, Gen Z is the most diverse generation in our country’s history. That means that this group of graduates is going to make a lasting impact on the workforce. By hiring a diverse cohort now, we can ensure there’s a greater chance that diversity trends rise over time. And if you’re a company that’s ready to take your D&I recruiting goals seriously, I hope you consider partnering with WayUp.

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