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Harnessing the Power of Inclusive Language

S0: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there, thanks ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I am Toby Mildon, and today I’m joined by an amazing guest, her name is Jenifer Clausell-Tormos. Jenifer does a really interesting job, she’s created some really fantastic technology that can help increase the diversity of workforces and increase inclusivity within the workplace. I’m really interested in talking with technologists because I have a background in technology and I can see the role that technology can play in helping organizations scale up all that they do around diversity and inclusion. So Jenifer was introduced to me by one of my former guests and friends, Srin Madipalli who is a serial technology entrepreneur and has created a really great travel website that he sold to Airbnb. So he introduced me to Jenifer and Jenifer and I then got chatting about the software that she’s been developing, which I think is amazing, so we’re gonna be talking a bit more about that today. So Jenifer, welcome to the show.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Hi, thank you very much for having me.

Toby Mildon: You’re welcome, you’re welcome. So Jenifer, can you just let us know a bit more about yourself, and I suppose how you got or how you have arrived at your current company and the project that you’re doing?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yes. So as… Yeah. As you said, my name is Jenifer, and I am the CEO and co-founder of Develop Diverse. I originally come from Spain, Valencia, and as you might know, gender equality is not our strength in Spain. Myself, I grew up in a family where gender roles were very stereotypic and I was not supposed to challenge them, and I believe I kept challenging them since I can ever remember. So it was not an easy thing. I believe this was also the drive of… What drive me to pursue a higher education and as well to live and work abroad. So while living and working abroad, I have done a PhD in particular in developing tech platforms, both hardware and software. I worked over 10 years within biomedical application, so I worked as a research scientist using my expertise to speed up the process of finding new medicines. And four years ago, I decided to actually use my expertise in technology for speeding up the process of closing the gender gap and the diversity gap. The reason for that was because over, yeah, four years ago I could see it was like the last drop that make me make this step was when I found out that my friends at that time having children and they start experiencing the same issues that my mom did when I was young, and they are highly educated.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: It’s many years since I was a child and I couldn’t understand how this could still happen today. So this was a very… It touched me really strong and it was, I believe, the drop that made me quit my job as a research scientist in the biomedical field and move into founding Develop Diverse. Briefly, Develop Diverse, our vision, so that you can have an understanding, so we aim to create equal opportunities by normalizing diversity through an inclusive communication using technology so that we can close the gender gap and diversity gap in a decade rather than in a century.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I’m glad that you kind of explained what Develop Diverse is because obviously you specialize in inclusive language. So what is inclusive language?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yes, that’s a very good question. We all are used to language as it is to use it and we do not… Can’t think sometimes that actually language can affect us in different ways. But we can… I believe we can all agree that language is very powerful, and that language doesn’t only help us express ideas but actively help us to shape them, to determine how we understand the world, and as well, it affects how we shape our culture. So it’s very important, if we want to have a culture of inclusion, that we ensure that we have an inclusive language. So what is inclusive language? So it’s language that do not carry any stereotypical connotation and therefore doesn’t spread or reinforce any stereotypes unintentionally. It can be everything from individual words to grammatical structure, and not using inclusive language will prevent us from creating a workplace where diversity and inclusion can be leveraged.

Toby Mildon: Could you give us some examples about how language can prevent an organization from creating a diverse workplace, ’cause I think the way that you put it is hugely powerful, it’s how… Use, I suppose, how language can help ideas spread and so I suppose we want to be spreading the right message, I suppose, but how can language prevent us creating a diverse workplace?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: So I can give you some examples so that it’s very easy for everybody to understand. So for instance, in job descriptions, phrases like “competitive company” or “ambitious teams” or “ground-breaking ideas”, phrases that we use very often, they are actually more attractive to men, while discourage women. If we use “nurturing company”, we use “thoughtful ideas” or “cooperative teams”, those phrases are more appealing to women. However, if we want to appeal to all diverse applicants, we need to use inclusive words and inclusive words for these this type of phrases could be “aspiring company”, it could be “motivated teams” and “innovative ideas”. So if we want to appeal to all diverse applicants, starting from all genders but as well beyond gender as well. And just briefly, because I think many people like to understand, “Okay, why are those words more appealing to men or more appealing to women?”

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: In this case, I gave examples within gender, and I can go on on a few more examples in different type diversity groups. But if we focus on those ones today or right now, traditionally, men and women [0:06:56.4] ____ artists have been praised by having certain roles in society. Men have been associated with having agentic traits, meaning being more achievement-oriented, being more individualistic, being the breadwinners, the ones leading the future, a bit of that. While women have been more associated with communal traits, meaning that they have been expected or they are expected to take care of their family, to ensure harmony and be thinking more of the community rather than the individual. And those beliefs that women and… Or those beliefs that reinforce what traits men and women are expected to have, they actually affect how women and men perceive words and how they relate to them, and if they feel like encouraged or discouraged by them.

Toby Mildon: I think that’s really interesting ’cause when I was working at the BBC in our user experience and design team, we actually rewrote our job descriptions and job adverts, carefully looking at the language we were using. The thing is we didn’t have any technology to help us, so it was a bit… It was manual, it was a manual effort. But we noticed the difference in the gender balance that we were receiving from job applicants by switching some of the words around, so it’s really fantastic. And you also mentioned that this isn’t just about masculine or feminine traits, that there are other forms of language and impacting different types of diversity. Can you go a bit deeper into that?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yes, so there is language that will discourage people due to their age group they belong, either they are younger or older. It will also affect people depending on their ethnical group, if they belong to a represented group or an under-represented group. It will also affect a person if they belong to being a neuro-diverse or being a neurotypical diverse group, and also it will affect if people are physical able or physical disable, so it goes beyond gender. And it’s lot of research that have shown that we do have those stereotypes, those beliefs towards these specific target, those groups as much as people have them internalized, and that’s why it affects how we write job descriptions because we picture a person before we even interview somebody, as well as when people read it, they picture themselves with certain traits due to those stereotypes.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. And correct me if I’m wrong. Presumably, this process happens on the other than conscious level, so if somebody reading the job description isn’t consciously thinking…

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Correct.

Toby Mildon: Or they’ve used that word instead of another word, therefore, “I don’t see myself fitting in, and therefore, I shouldn’t apply.” It’s they’re reading it and their response to that job ad, I.e. Whether they decide to click on the Apply Now button or not. It’s happening on such and other than conscious level. Is that correct, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: No, it is totally, totally correct. Because we all know that women are as ambitious as men are, as men… As much as men are as caring or helpful as women are. So both women and men have communal trait and agentic trait. So on the conscious level, they will not say, “Oh, I’m not ambitious” or “I’m not necessarily… ” or “I’m not helpful”. But on the unconscious level, they will not feel represented by those words and will feel discouraged.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: But it’s very important to say that it doesn’t mean that if women feel discouraged by the word “ambitious” is that they are not ambitious or vice versa, if men get discouraged by the word “nurturing” doesn’t mean that men are not nurturing. It’s just that these words and really for them on the unconscious level have a negative connotation since they are counter-stereotypic.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, one thing I had learned when I’ve researched this in the past was that it’s not so much about male and female, but it’s about masculine and feminine. So you can be a man and have feminine traits, and you can be a woman with masculine traits. So it’s not so much your gender, but it’s like whether it’s masculine or feminine, is that correct?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: We’d like to go away from the terminology of feminine and masculine because research have been shown, research have been switched… So this has been terminology within the psycholinguistic field, and initially this was a terminology used, but this slowly has been shift into agentic and communal. So agentic traits are what we could say we identify more with the masculine traits, and communal trait is what we identify more with a feminine trait, but we like to go away from labeling men and women because research have also shown that communal traits, not only women identify with them, but as well, the older population and as well the non-represented ethnical groups or other minorities like neuro-diverse and physical disable. So communal traits are traits that are among more groups than just women, while agentic traits are also more among men, also they are representative of the young population, so young men, you could say. They reflect themselves more through agentic traits and as well, they represented ethnical groups, and as well, the neuro-typical people and the physical able people. Those identify more with agentic traits, and while the others identify more with the communal traits. So it goes beyond gender as well, these terminologies, why they are not just for women and men, they actually are associated with other groups as well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think agentic and communal are much better ways of putting it, frankly. And I’m glad you said that perhaps people with disabilities are more communal, let’s say ’cause that that’s something that I personally can relate to ’cause I think that’s kind of where I end up on the spectrum. But, well, I think language is hugely powerful because I read a book about unconscious bias, and they did a really simple experiment where they took a picture, the researchers took a picture of a bridge to Germany and Spain. And I might get this the wrong way around, but I think Germans, a bridge in Germany, it’s a masculine term. So people described the bridge as strong and sturdy and robust, but then when they took the picture to Spain, they described it as elegant and pretty and things like that. So yeah, it’s amazing how a language can really influence the way that we perceive something.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Indeed, indeed. And as you mentioned, also language is not only… We are not only about talking traits, about traits, like how adjective or verbs will affect us. But as you said, certain language, they also have this gender, gendered words, like they have an O at the end of the word in Spanish, for instance. O relates to being a male word while if it ends as A, it’s a woman’s… It’s a feminine word like yeah, bridge or chair or table. And this changes from… Not every language has this, like English doesn’t have it, but German and Spanish have it, and as well, French, among other languages. So this also gives an extra layer of unconscious effect in every individual as well.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So how do you think that technology can help us accelerate what we need to do in terms of creating more diverse workplaces and more inclusive workplace cultures?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yes, well if we just talk about technology in general, myself has working in that field for now 14 years. The reason why technology is so relevant to be used in the workplace is because it can give us objective data so that we do not have to rely on subjective opinions, subjective experiences. And this way, it helps us to be… To have processes that are accurate, precise, and therefore, more effective. That’s a number one and very important why technology is relevant. And another one why it’s as well very important is because it helps us speed up the processes. It can help make those time-consuming processes more scalable, faster and therefore, more efficient. And one thing, which you mentioned earlier that you did in your… In the previous… In that company that you used, you did manually try to make language inclusive and you actually got already some good change on the ratio of women and men in your application, which was fantastic. But we know that that’s a very laborious process, that’s it’s a very time consuming process.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Plus on top of it we are people, so we are influenced by our objective, subjective opinions, so having an individual not only spend many hours trying to make it inclusive while trying to go away from their subjective opinions and experiences makes it very difficult to the individual make themself language inclusive while… Yeah, because we are all affected by our own biases. So that’s why it was very important for me to use technology to help the individual to make their text inclusive and therefore, communicate inclusively within their organization but as well beyond the organization. And yeah, and that’s how the company started, and so trying to use technology to address the topic of diversity.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, so you developed Develop Diverse. Can you just let us know a bit more about so what the software does and how it works?
Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Indeed. So our software, I would like, I’d like to highlight that it’s primarily based on scientific research, my strong scientific research background myself makes it very relevant for me that what our software does is accurate and true. But on top of the scientific base, we use cutting edge technology. We are talking about natural language processing, machine learning, and this helps the user not only make their text inclusive, but at the same time, unlearn their bias, their unconscious bias while typing. So if I tell you how it works as I understand, so it’s real-time while we type. This software detects the phrases that have a stereotypic connotation and as simple as by hovering on those words, the user gets inclusive alternatives.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: But the important is that not only that for each word, the software proposes an inclusive alternative or multiple ones, but also gives an explanation of why the word is non-inclusive, why it has a stereotypic connotation because this way, the writer cannot can not only identify the words that they need to replace, but can also unlearn their own biases while typing, which happens daily so often. So it’s a very efficient way to get trained to remove or unlearn your biases because we know we have been learning our biases since we are born, it’s gonna take time unless we really work out there every day, every minute if possible in order to change such a way of thinking.

Toby Mildon: So how are people applying your software? So are they using it when they create job adverts, or so they’re doing it when they’re just writing emails to their team? How are people are applying the technology?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Today, it’s being applied mainly for external communication, which this means job descriptions, website content, social media posts, but it can also be used for internal communication. But this… Let’s say, the integration for that is coming within a few month. So today, our customers are mainly using it for, as I mentioned, external communication, so job descriptions, where they can easily quantify the numbers changed in terms of demographics that they get when using our software, but also they ensure that their employer branding also is aligned and consistent with the job descriptions because we know and they know that any applicant, in addition to apply, before applying, will also look in their employer branding, in their material that they publish because we know this defines… Unfortunately, it does defines, gives an different image on the company, and it’s very important that it is also inclusive, so they use it on that, those type of text today.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely, and I read an article recently about how important it is for millennials to want to work for inclusive employers. I think the statistic was well over 60%. So it just goes to show how much research prospective employees are doing into a company before deciding to work for them or not.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Indeed, indeed. And more and more as you mentioned, the millennials, which are our the new generations, they are caring more about the culture of an organization rather than the money they get. So it’s getting business-crucial for organizations, business-critical, to develop a culture of inclusion, a culture where everybody can drive and be themselves rather than fit into the box that we always were expected by how business have been run until now.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, so how, I suppose what are some of the results that you’ve seen your clients getting by implementing your software?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: We have… I have actually many, many numbers. It’s really good that our customers, they’d really like to compare and say, “Okay, that’s actually this action makes a difference.” Because they have been always doing other type of approaches that they didn’t help them that much. So they are really keen on measuring. So we work with large organizations within different industries, they are both European, but as well, worldwide. And one of our customers which is well known is Amazon. We work with Amazon Europe, they have used our software… They are still using our software. But when they run a very thorough experiment where they compare, like one-on-one, they compare their job descriptions, run through our software versus job descriptions that were just how they used to write them, they observed that they got four times more qualified women applicants in their talent pool.

Toby Mildon: Wow.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Not only more, they got three times more men, three times more women of ethnical groups, different diversity, ethnical groups and gender. They don’t measure the ethnicity itself, that’s why they couldn’t give us the numbers, but this just lead in not only in attracting more, but also more qualified overall. So four times more qualified women and yeah it was… We were very proud of that. So they indeed are very excited.

Toby Mildon: Right, that’s staggering. What are some of the other impacts that you’re seeing?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Other industries for instance we have other customers within the engineering construction sector. One of them is Vestas, they are manufacturing wind turbines. They are locally in Europe, but they are working globally. They have got, within the first six months of using Develop Diverse, this translated into increase of 15% of hired women within leadership positions. So they went down and measured all the numbers down the pipeline, and it translated into 15% more women within leadership, which was a striking numbers for them, and…

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yeah, so it became also very, very, relevant for them to keep using inclusive language because of that.

Toby Mildon: I mean, it’s just so striking how we modify the language and we’re seeing these results.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: It happens almost on the spot, like it’s something difficult to believe how just changing a few words in your job descriptions or employer branding will have such an effect, but it does. Because it does affect us on the unconscious level so deeply. Yeah, and other companies that we work with are within finance as well like the banking sector, and they got 81% more women applicants using our software also within a few weeks. So when they do this thorough experiments, where they compare one-on-one, because many companies say, “We want to compare one-on-one.” And they would say, “Yeah, of course, let’s go.” And that’s where they see… They can get those numbers so directly. Yeah, so we are very proud of that. I would like to highlight that the reason why I focus mainly on gender numbers is because we work with the European-based companies where due to GDPR compliance or GDPR policies, they cannot measure more than beyond gender. We know that they get more numbers in other groups, but they are not allowed to measure it, and therefore we cannot get those numbers per se, directly.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. It’s just amazing how technology can help us achieve those gains, ’cause as I mentioned, when I was at the BBC, it was a manual effort. If only we had a piece of software that would help us, it would have made the whole process a lot more objective. I mean, we noticed the difference. But having software to help us objectively measure the impact would have been so much better, and it just goes to show that the role of technology within diversity and inclusion can help us scale up what we’re trying to achieve, increasing more and in creating more inclusive work places. So this is the Inclusive Growth Show, and I’m interested in hearing about what you think inclusive growth is all about.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Yes, so Inclusive Growth to me means, within the context we are talking today, it means when an organization grows, when an organization becomes more profitable as a result of leveraging diversity and inclusion. Because this means that such a company will have themes teams that increase performance, increase productivity, because they are diverse, and because they have a focus leveraging the uniqueness of their employees, of their team members, everything from personality, skills, experiences, background, and all that, because they ensure that they have a culture of belonging, of respect and inclusion, otherwise it’s very difficult to get the individual out-perform develop themself.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Thanks Jenifer. So before we go, if the person listening to our interview is interested in learning more about Develop Diverse or they wanna get in touch with you, what’s the best way of doing that?

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: So there are two simple ways. The first one is they can connect with me on LinkedIn, this is a way to directly organize a meeting or just to keep in touch, it’s always good to expand my network with like-minded people. So please, I encourage you all to connect with me, on LinkedIn, just look for Jennifer Clausell-Tormos. And the other way is they can go to our website, developdiverse.com, and they can book a meeting directly over there so that we can showcase how the software works and answer any questions they may have. So both options work very well.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, thanks Jenifer, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today. I just… I’m a bit of a geek at heart, so I love talking about tech solutions and how that can help us accelerate the diversity and inclusion agenda. So thank you ever so much for joining me.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos: Thank you.

Toby Mildon: It’s lovely to chat with you. And thank you for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Jenifer. The next episode of the show will be coming up very shortly so I hope to see you on the next episode. If you’ve got any friends or colleagues that are interested in the topic that we’ve talked about today, feel free to share this episode with them. The more the merrier. So until then, take care and stay safe. Thanks very much.

S0: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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