Diversity and inclusion are top priorities for companies around the globe – is Joonko the solution?

In a recent survey of HR professionals around the globe conducted by LinkedIn, diversity was named the top trend shaping the future of recruitment.

It’s a top trend within recruitment because it’s a top priority for companies. It’s a top priority for companies not only because society takes a dim view of non-diverse workplaces, but because it has been proven that diverse companies report higher profits.

Addressing issues of diversity is potentially lucrative, but things such as unconscious bias can stymie the efforts of those who want to change.

Anyone wielding an easily deployed solution is sure to drum up a lot of interest. Could Joonko, an artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, be the answer that forward-thinking companies seek?

What is Joonko?  

Joonko was founded in 2016 after graduating from that year’s TechStars Atlanta class. Soon after its initial launch, the company moved operations to San Francisco.

Joonko takes its name from Junko Tabei, a Japanese woman who, on 9 May 1975, became the first woman to reach the top of Mt Everest.

One of the company’s founders, Ilit Raz, cites her 13 years’ experience working in the tech industry in Israel as a large motivating factor in the creation of Joonko. Speaking to Fast Company, Raz explained that her ‘Aha!’ moment came after joining a professional women’s group in Israel.

After proudly declaring that she had never experienced the bias that her peers in the group cited as holding them back, she came to realise through hearing their points of view that bias didn’t merely amount to explicit instances of discrimination, but could be small events during the day, such as off-colour jokes or who gets assigned the most critical tasks over others.

Not only does the company hope to improve its clients’ ‘talent pipeline’, it aims to train people “to be more open and inclusive and respectful”, as Raz explained to digital magazine Ozymandias.

Joonko is a real-time ‘diversity coach’, which utilises AI and machine-learning methods to identify instances of bias, be they conscious or unconscious.

It estimates that US companies spend as much as $70bn a year on diversity programmes, training and consulting “with low success rates”.

The AI start-up leverages SaaS platforms that companies already use – such as Slack, Salesforce and Workday – to help it identify instances where bias could, for example, be leading to an employee being underutilised.

Once Joonko establishes that there is no professional reason why there should be any kind of discrepancy, it sends an email to the relevant manager highlighting the issue and giving advice as to how to solve the problem, such as notifying managers of opportunities ideally suited to particular employees.

Does it work?

Joonko boasts some impressive statistics about its success rate. According to the company website, it leads to 13-16pc faster ‘time to fill’, an average of $11,000 of work hours saved per recruiter per year and 4-8pc more minorities in a company within three months.

Yet as Bérénice Magistretti from VentureBeat points out, the company has yet to enlist the help of neuroscientists or cognitive behaviourists to more deeply explore the roots of bias, which is an issue considering the difficulty AI can occasionally have recognising contextual nuances.

Joonko hopes to soon launch a feedback option, which is one possible workaround for this. It would allow managers to explain that flagged situations actually aren’t the product of bias – for example, someone may be getting less work because they requested fewer things on their plate. This feedback could be used to teach the AIs to recognise shades of grey and improve analysis.

Overall, Joonko seems like a potentially incredible tool that companies can use to incrementally improve workplace culture and become the diverse and inclusive organisations they aspire to be.



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