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This Norwegian start-up wants to make sense of employee reviews on diversity and inclusion

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Increasingly companies are coming under pressure to disclose how diverse their teams are, but gathering and making sense of that data is easier said than done.

Large companies like Google, Apple and LinkedIn publish reports laying out the diversity of their employee base. This practice is increasingly becoming the norm but is also driven by regulation.

The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority is consulting on new requirements for financial services firms to disclose the make-up of their board and executive teams.

Earlier this year, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, called for greater representation of women on the boards of the companies it invests in.

In Norway, companies are required to report on their gender balances. It was amid this backdrop that Isabelle Ringnes co-founded Equality Check.

The Norwegian start-up is building an employer review and data analysis platform for improving equality and inclusion in the workplace.

“We were very passionate about equality and we wanted to address the unconscious bias which is very hard to put your finger on,” Ringnes told CNBC.

She said that it is one thing for companies to use tech to flag warning signs around a lack of diversity but many companies are still struggling with ways to effectively act on that data.

Equality Check’s roots are found in campaigning around gender equality in the workplace. Ringnes, formerly a product manager and analyst at media group Schibsted, alongside co-founder Marie Louise Sunde, a medical doctor, led a social awareness campaign a few years ago that sought to address unconscious bias and gender inequality in Norway.

“We saw that there had been a shift in society in which we saw that companies were now on board with the fact that diversity is something that we need to prioritize but the issue was that they didn’t really know what to do,” Ringnes told CNBC.

Ringnes said that technology solutions have proven effective at pinpointing where problems may be in an organization, but employers still need help in how to address those problems. 

“We started this platform where employees can leave anonymous reviews about how they experience their workplace on indicators such as how inclusive the culture is, how management prioritizes diversity, how parental leave is, how work-life balance is and so on,” she said.

That data is then collated into actionable insights for higher-ups to put in place.

Valuable reviews

Employer reviews are not a new phenomenon. Sites like Glassdoor have provided a platform for years for employees to air their grievances or praise their bosses while Fairygodboss has provided a space for women to scope out potential employers.

Equality Check is among a wave of new start-ups that want to improve on this model for the purpose of greater diversity and inclusion. Some other players that have emerged in the space are Denmark’s Develop Diverse, which recently raised 2.5 million euros for its AI tools to help with diverse recruitment.

Equality Check has worked with research partners to develop its product, which has two main prongs: reviews submitted by employees and assessments of the data for the employers to identify pain points and what action to take.

Companies need to get better at understanding the make-up of their companies and what issues their workforce may be having, Ringnes said.

“One of the things that we do see is that sometimes diversity efforts tend to be directed towards a specific group,” she said.

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This can inadvertently lead to some other groups feeling overlooked or forgotten about, she added.

“We ask companies to report on these different indicators and then based on what they report, the platform identifies where they may have problem areas, where there are large imbalances and then based off of that again, we present solutions based on the best available research for how they can improve.”

This approach brings its own share of challenges, namely encouraging users to provide feedback on their workplace while ensuring that those reviews are securely anonymized.

The platform requires at least five different reviews from different employees before it begins analyzing that data. This is to ensure a single employee’s review will not identify them or compromise their anonymity.

Misuse or misconduct is another matter that companies need to be wary of when polling their workforce, Ringnes said.

“We have a very strict code of conduct where we ask all reviewers to agree that they will not publish any information that identifies individuals, is aggressive or discriminating, or reveals any confidential or sensitive information about the company.”

Pandemic effects

The pandemic has opened up a whole host of discussions about the future of work, whether it’s the role of remote workers or the need for offices.

Among these are concerns raised over the impact that hybrid or remote working will have on diversity in the workplace.

A McKinsey report last year found that women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community were struggling the most with work-life balance in the age of Covid-19 and working from home.

“Global movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter have further accelerated these questions to the boardroom and to management level,” Ringnes said.

“We see that governments, consumers, employees, large companies and stock exchanges are now requiring more diversity. We also see that the workforce that is now growing up are requiring diversity and more inclusive cultures where people have equal opportunities and the potential to develop themselves is incredibly important.”

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