Plum CEO Caitlin MacGregor has heard it all before, that companies are unable to find qualified women and as a result are unable to meet their diversity goals.

“Bullshit,” she says.

The reason companies can’t find qualified women, MacGregor says, is that they keep making the same mistakes, using the same broken hiring processes and getting the same unwanted outcomes.

“If you are using artificial barriers to [a] job that actually don’t predict success, you’re not helping attract anybody,” says MacGregor.

Plum, she says, has a fix. It’s called “diversity by design.”

Boiled down, it means changing hiring practices. It means removing people and their inherent biases from the early stage of the hiring process, doing away with résumés, and handing the job over to dispassionate machines. Specifically, to Plum and its algorithms.

“Why not let the machine do the work at the top?” says Plum’s new Director of Marketing, Andy Pandya. “How can you afford not to?”

People, Pandya says, hire what they know, and in many cases who they know. Trouble is, those people often aren’t the most qualified. Or diverse.

Plum’s products use intelligent questions that help companies more accurately identify the people they need, matching them with prospective hires on a dispassionate, bias-free basis. The byproduct of a more qualified workforce is also a more diverse workforce.

“[We know that] Michaels get more interview requests than Michelles,” says MacGregor. “And that Michelle gets more than Mohammad.

“[With Plum], it doesn’t matter about the name any more.

“This person whose name I can’t pronounce, who went to a school I don’t know about, who has only worked a few years in this space, [and] who has a 98 [out of a 100] match? You have to say, I want to meet that person.”

The male-centric, bro-culture nature of the larger tech ecosystem has long been lamented. That culture has lately generated alarming tales of sexism and  harassment.

“We can reference Tesla, Uber, or Google, or VC firms who have had their share of troubles in the last couple of quarters,” says Pandya.

Plum’s product, delivered on a SaaS platform, generates a pool of potential hires based on pure ability rather than connections, or the whims of the person doing the interviews, or merely a résumé. Plum has found that time and again, that pool will be more diverse than a pool generated by old-school hiring methods. As a result, MacGregor believes Plum can be the antidote to bro-culture.

“If we want a different outcome, we need to change the way we’ve been [hiring],” says MacGregor.

MacGregor acknowledges that many companies now have policies and training in place to change company culture and ensure more inclusive practices and employee behavior.

Her product, she says, gets better outcomes than training. She tells a story favoured by Harvard behavioural economist Iris Bohnet. It’s a story about saving energy with a hotel key card.

Bohnet says you can train people to turn the lights out in their hotel room, or you can redesign the room user interface so that when people leave their room, they are required to pull their key card out of a slot, turning all the lights in the room off in the process.

“Which one is going to be more effective?,” MacGregor asks rhetorically. “Training, or designing it differently?

“So, in our space, when it comes to HR, you have unconscious bias training. Every company that cares about diversity, that’s the first thing they do.

“But if you look at the research, it’s not effective. It’s a really, really poor [return on investment]. Great intention. Great place. But it’s not effective at creating real change.”

Plum, she says, is in effect the key card.

Plum, founded 5 ½  years ago, was part of Communitech’s Hyperdrive accelerator program back in 2013 (Hyperdrive, since wound down, was the predecessor to the current sales-focused program, called Rev). The company now has 18 full-time employees, is based in Waterloo in offices at Weber Street and Northfield Drive, and is growing, aiming to do a Series A round in the near future. It completed a $2-million seed raise last February; investors included: Thomvest Ventures, BDC, Golden Triangle Angel Network, Angel One, Capital Angels, Keiretsu, and Conconi Growth Partners.

Companies like Nestlé, Frontpoint Security, Timbercreek and Waterloo-headquartered video and communications company Dejero already make use of Plum’s products.

Conventional hiring, MacGregor says, depends on people sending in a résumé, a poor predictor of performance. The person making decisions about who to interview based on résumés alone can’t help but allow their bias to infect the decision-making process.

“Resumes were designed over 100 years ago, when very few people went to post-secondary school. It was a way of sorting people that was fairly effective 100 years ago.

“But in 2017 it is completely outdated.”

Women, she says, often self-select out of applying for jobs.

“If a woman sees a job post and she thinks that she meets only six of the 10 criteria, she’s less likely to apply. Whereas, a man who has three out of 10, is more likely to apply.

“So it makes a tangible difference as to who applies if you have these barriers in place and they aren’t even necessary. We don’t want people to self-select out.

“The goal isn’t to change the system to get more diversity,” says MacGregor. “The goal is to change the system to get the people who are the best matches for the job. By default, when you stop using that résumé to screen, you get a lot more diversity.”

“So what we suggest, is: What is that keycard that you remove when you leave the hotel room equivalent for the HR space.”

“We think it’s Plum.”

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.