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How 4 Chicago Startups are Using Tech to Address the Industry’s Diversity Problem

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of the most talked-about topics in tech today. But a closer look at the numbers shows talk is often all that’s happening.

Atlassian, in collaboration with Market Cube, recently surveyed 1,500 tech workers on their attitudes and behaviors toward diversity and inclusion. While 80 percent of respondents agreed that it is important, the number of companies in Silicon Valley that said they had formal inclusion programs fell by 10 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Nationally, companies just began catching up to the Valley in implementation this year. Similarly, feelings of belonging among underrepresented groups remained relatively flat, as did retention.

What’s going on?

There are several factors at play. In my work conducting diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting for growing and growth-stage startups, I’ve identified a few core issues.

Individuals within companies often experience diversity fatigue in the face of a slow process that often doesn’t yield results. They also feel overwhelmed by the complex problems of recruiting, retention, promotion, and protection, and often have no idea where to start.

The fact remains that fostering belonging and inclusion within a company is hard, and many of the methods we’ve learned to do this don’t work. Yet, in Chicago, a new wave of entrepreneurs have the specific goal of fostering diversity in tech, through tech.

Stella Ashaolu, founder and CEO of WeSolv, is one of the Chicago entrepreneurs at the forefront of closing the diversity gap and fostering inclusion within companies. WeSolv’s platform gathers real-world performance data to help companies more objectively assess MBA job candidates from more than 60 programs nationwide.

The idea for the company arose while Ashaolu herself was an MBA student looking for consulting roles.

“I think I had a really great background, but it wasn’t enough to convince companies that I had the transferable skills. I didn’t look like the people interviewing me, and my resume didn’t look the same either. It wasn’t until I started doing case competitions that I could showcase my skills, which lit a fire under recruiters to recruit me. I was able to land multiple opportunities, but it wouldn’t have happened without [the case competitions],” said Ashaolu.

WeSolv is focused on creating this opportunity for candidates by creating mini-consulting projects that let prospective talent show off their skills in assessments designed around the roles they will need to perform. Their performance can speak louder than background, shared personal affinities, or behavioral interviews, which often leave the door open for bias. In this way, WeSolv’s tech levels the playing field.

But Ashaolu points out that technology isn’t always a force for good.

“Technology can be used for good or bad for diversity. It can be used to close the gap or widen the gap. Technology gives access to more people [and] is a way to look at problems with a different lens using more data. But it’s dangerous to think technology can only help. We have to be critical of what is underlying the technology and how we can use it to get to the outcomes we’re looking for,” said Ashaolu.

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