Grow Inclusive Workplaces with Develop Diverse
This conversation on the Inclusive Growth Show is with Pil Byriel, co-founder of Develop Diverse, an impactful tool that highlights both the power of language and the role that technology can play in accelerating progress towards inclusive workplaces.
Pil Byriel is based in Copenhagen and is the co-founder of a company called Develop Diverse.
The Develop Diverse tool looks at how organisations use corporate communication and identifies the stereotypes that are being reinforced through language choices. I actually interviewed Pil’s co-founder, Jenifer, on this podcast a few months ago and I’m keen to hear how the tool is evolving.
In that previous episode, with Jenifer, we explored the concept of inclusive language and its impact on diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Jenifer emphasised that language is not merely a tool for expressing ideas, but it actively shapes our understanding of the world and consequently our culture. She defined inclusive language as language that avoids stereotypical connotations which can unintentionally reinforce the stereotypes. Jenifer provided examples to illustrate how job descriptions, with phrases like “competitive company” or “ambitious teams”, might appeal more to some people, while phrases like nurturing company or thoughtful ideas might appeal to others.
To attract a diverse applicant pool, Jenifer recommended looking into using neutral terms like “aspiring company” or “motivated teams” and “innovative ideas”. But beyond gender, which is what Jenifer and I were talking about, she pointed out that language can also discourage people based on other characteristics like age or ethnicity, or neurodiversity or physical disabilities. She said that much of the bias in language we use is unconscious which stems from ingrained cultural norms and stereotypes.
We also discussed the transitioning of terminology from masculine and feminine traits to agentic and communal traits to better capture the diversity that exists beyond gender, which is new terminology that I learned and now share with my clients.
The role of technology in promoting inclusive language is where Develop Diverse comes in because it is a platform for looking at language. The platform uses natural language processing and machine learning to provide real-time suggestions for more inclusive language, whilst the person is actually typing away. This not only helps make texts more inclusive, but it helps individuals unlearn their implicit biases. Jenifer shared some compelling data about the real-world impact of using the software.
I’m hoping in this conversation with Pil, I’ll learn more about some of the Develop Diverse client case studies where companies like Amazon saw a four-fold increase in qualified women applicants and Vestas saw a 15% increase in women within leadership roles within six months of using the software.
It was a real honour to be able to catch up with the other co-founder of this wonderful software. We got started with Pil introducing herself.
‘Thank you, Toby, for the great introduction. As you mentioned I’m the co-founder of Develop Diverse with Jenifer. My pronouns are she/her and I’m based in Copenhagen.
I’ve always worked in technology. I’ve always been working on human behaviour. I have a formal education in business, but also communications especially in linguistics. Aways working with technology, I wanted to think about how we can leverage it to actually create a better future of work, better ways of working and create greater employee engagement. That led me to work and live in the US whilst I was doing more human behaviour understanding and research using technology.
More recently, I worked in a company called Peakon, where we worked a lot on employee engagement, building better workplaces by listening to our employees more frequently. This led me to the idea of Develop Diverse alongside Jenifer.
At Peakon, I remember one time when I was talking to customers about the need for employee listening, and I kept getting questions about diversity. People were saying things like, “Of course, we need to listen to our employees.” “Of course, we need to build up engaging workplaces.” “What my real problem is to get more women into leadership. How do I do that?” So, I was thinking, “How can I leverage the technology of Peakon to do this?” And at the time we didn’t have the answers.
I teamed up with Jenifer to make sure we could build software, take it to market and to the companies to actually give them a concrete way, a tangible way to work with diversity. A way to work with inclusion specifically, to not only get more women into leadership but create equal opportunities in the workplace. That was my way into Develop Diverse and it is still the mission and vision that we have today.’
When I sat down with Jenifer in a previous episode, our focus was very much on the language used in talent attraction and recruitment, particularly in the language used in job descriptions, whether that’s appealing to some people or not. But I know that the Develop Diverse platform has evolved since then, and they’re now looking at the language used in corporate communications – the language used on website careers pages and that kind of thing.
I asked Pil, ‘What are some of the common stereotypes that they see within business communications? How are these stereotypes being reinforced? And ultimately what’s the impact that you’re seeing happening?’
‘In general, I think what we focus on is the attraction piece. So, how do we make sure that we can build all-round inclusive brands? Both for greater inclusion, so that the employees are proud of working there and can see themselves in the brand that’s being put out there, which affects retention and engagement overall. But also of course, for the attraction of new talent and new people to join the organisation for diversity of thought.
The stereotypes that we tend to see in corporate communication follow the stereotypes we have in society. It becomes a problem, of course, when we want to build and represent society, which luckily most companies realise they have to do today. Organisations have a strategy, whether it’s more women in leadership, or wanting to focus on building a greater representation of ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, so forth, but at the end of the day, they don’t see the results they were hoping for, right? That’s the typical image that I see. When companies come to us and we look at the text and the general brand, whenever they talk about the company and who they are, they are emphasising a stereotype.
We have a lot of engineering companies that employ a lot of engineers, for example. They come to us and they can say, “You know, we just don’t believe there are women out there because we don’t get them. Why is that?”
And what we see is that they tend to only have images of able-bodied white Caucasian men on their website. They describe themselves as the leading company within this field and they are building on strong teamwork and so forth. The whole image they’re using to describe themselves, both in terms of text and images, just doesn’t align with what they want, the results they hope to achieve. What it really does is that it reflects the stereotype that most often they see internally. So most often when they look internally, that is also the people who are represented in the company already, and it’s also what the general stereotype is.
Even you and I, Toby, where we’re very aware of our biases would still tend to have a stereotype around what an engineer looks like so that is just what tends to be reflected implicitly, of course, not explicitly. Organisations aren’t saying “We’re looking for a white Caucasian male,” in our pages, but they say that implicitly, which makes it very difficult for them to reach their goals.’
When I caught up with Jenifer last time, basically the technology-enabled somebody to copy and paste the job description, or job ads, and then the platform would give real-time instant feedback. I asked Pil how the technology evolved since then.
‘We’re building more and more on making it easy for users. By looking at URLs, for example, rather than pasting that in we can actually do an automatic scan of a website. We still have the option of copying and pasting. A lot of customers see that as a natural flow when they work with job ads for example, but we tend to work more and more by overlaying our software on LinkedIn. We are inclusive in every way that we approach people. We create that equal opportunity through the language and we don’t emphasise that you have to look a certain way or behave a certain way in order to be part of this company. We’ve come some way since then.’
This is the great thing about working in tech because it’s just constantly evolving and adapting and living and breathing. There are some exciting solutions available now. AI for example. I mean, just over the last few months, it feels like AI has just completely blown up. There are so many AI tools out there. I use ChatGPT pretty much every day to help me be a lot more productive in my work, and I know from talking to other people who specialise in implicit bias, for example, there are problems with AI and tools like ChatGPT. I imagine that Develop Diverse is keen on using AI and incorporating it into their solution, but I wondered if Pil could highlight some of the problems and challenges they’re noticing.
‘I really like to speak about this topic actually. I’m very passionate about it. I think it’s amazing with the recent innovations, especially within AI and actually making something like ChatGPT and other generative AI tools available to people to generate content fast. But it doesn’t come without cost. From our side, when we look at bias, and when we look at the stereotypes in society, we have to think about how these tools are being built in the first place and how AI is generally being built. It’s also had a lot of trouble in the past when companies have used AI tools to give them recommendations on who to hire.
What we do with AI, is we train a model to provide recommendations, to provide an output based on all the data we put in there. The output can only be as good as the input. It can never be better. And when we think about generative AI and something like ChatGPT, everything that’s been put in there is generally all the content out there on the World Wide Web. And that has been somewhat the reason why we don’t see slang and very offensive language on there when we have outputs from ChatGPT because it has been filtered out to some extent.
So, we don’t get all of that in our outputs, but there is no way that ChatGPT and generative AI know what biases and stereotypes are. Every user should be aware that it might reinforce stereotypes. We did a study on it actually, just to see, because logically you can think that ChatGPT would portray stereotypes to the same extent as humans because it’s based on human text and content on the internet, but AI actually amplifies that even more. We compared 7,000 job ads written by ChatGPT versus 7,000 job ads written by humans, and it was 40% more biased than humans. So, I think we tend to use output as if it were the golden truth in that way, right? And that is even when we prompt it to be inclusive.’
My next question was about what Develop Diverse clients are noticing in its latest iteration. I asked Pil, ‘What are some of the benefits that companies using the software are seeing?’
‘It tends to be mainly used for attraction. We’re going more towards a full brand, of course, but what we see is across the board is more equal opportunities. Instead of having that tunnel vision of only attracting and appealing to the people who have the same behaviours we expect from a certain stereotype, we broaden that out and actually will appeal to a much larger group – everyone we’re looking for who has the competence and skills to do the job. They will have a greater sense of belonging, and they won’t exclude themselves from the hiring process, which they otherwise tend to do when we use stereotypical words.
Across the board, companies like Danske Bank, which is a Danish bank with more than 25,000 employees managed to get 81% more qualified women into their candidate hiring process after using Develop Diverse. Vestas managed to hire 15% more women into corporate leadership, after using Develop Diverse because they got more women in the top funnel in the hiring process.
These are the results Develop Diverse shows, but I think the really interesting thing is the self-reported learnings from users. They learn about bias and how they actually become better and take that knowledge with them into conversations with peers, into one-on-ones and throughout the company. That creates a big difference too. It’s how we are then more intentional in our communication and aware of how we may come across.’
I’ve seen the impact first-hand of this sort of learning too. When I was working at the BBC in user experience and design, we looked at job adverts and job descriptions for roles like UX designer, for example. We had a copywriter on the team and we actually manually re-wrote the job advert. We didn’t use software. If we had used software, it would have probably accelerated the whole process, but at the time, I don’t think there were many solutions like Develop Diverse on the market at the time. As we manually re-wrote the job descriptions, not only did we consider gendered language, but we also looked at the overall quality.
Where job descriptions linked to job ads would run over several pages, we reduced the length of the documents; no one’s got time to read several sides of A4. We made them punchier and more interesting. We considered the type of language that we used. What we noticed was an increase in job applications, and in particular, we saw more women applying for roles with us compared to the old job descriptions of the job ads.
It definitely works when you analyse the language that you’re using in job ads and in job descriptions. When I talk to my clients, actually, they don’t think further back in the talent attraction recruitment process. They’re not really thinking about the language that they’re using on their careers’ website or their careers’ portals or the documents that get sent out as part of a recruitment process when inviting candidates to interview or job offer letters or things like that. So, there’s definitely a need for solutions like Develop Diverse.
Pil added, ‘What’s interesting as well is that there’s also a misperception or misconception in terms of targeting language towards certain people. But we also know that doesn’t actually work. So, a lot of companies, if they want more women, they tend to target the language towards that group, because that can seem like the rational thing to do, but by doing that, we’re again, taking on the tunnel vision and we’ll discriminate and exclude other groups. With the framework that we’re creating, we know that women are not just women, we also have an age, and that intersectionality has to be taken into consideration too.’
I think my biggest takeaway when I spoke to Jenifer from Develop Diverse before was the transition and terminology. Previously, I was aware of using masculine and feminine language, or terminology but Jenifer was saying there needs to be a move towards talking again about agentic and communal traits because yeah, masculine and feminine are not necessarily linked to one’s gender identity. I liked the idea of moving towards agentic and communal traits or language instead.
But Pil is right, I mean, as a disabled person myself, I’ve seen language in job ads, which makes me concerned about being able to do the job, like being really flexible and being able to travel at a minute’s notice. That’s quite difficult for me because I can’t just jump on a plane. I need to plan travel ahead. I need to arrange taking carers with me. If I have to travel, I have to take a hoist to get in and out of bed. I can travel, but it just takes me a bit of time to put everything in place to do so.
The final question for Pil was the one I ask everybody when they come on the Inclusive Growth show, ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’
‘It’s a good question too to ask everybody. I think for me both as a startup founder and working a lot, there is just no impact without economic growth and without the economic aspects. So, when I think about inclusive growth, I think a lot about inclusive economic growth, and how do we actually create equal opportunity in that way?
That’s a lot of what it is to me. Thinking about how do we both plan growth, spending and investing in ways that do not take advantage of marginalised groups in any way, or of groups that are less privileged? How do we use our privilege to make other groups more privileged? That’s what inclusive growth is to me. It will benefit everybody at the end of the day.
That’s maybe a brief answer, but I think, unfortunately, there are not too many good examples. There are a lot of bad examples of how companies have really taken advantage of underrepresented and marginalised groups in order to grow because that has been the lowest cost in terms of big growth – a lot of production. Also, governments are doing the same. So, taxation systems decided with a lot of inequality and fewer good examples, I would say.
But that’s where companies can really make a difference and prioritise inclusive growth. Close the pay gap, make sure we bring equity into the picture and make that part of the DEI and not just call it D&I anymore. And I think the E within that for companies is really where the inclusive growth comes into the picture.’
To learn more about Develop Diverse, or give it a go and put in job ads, get real-time feedback, look at the language that they’re using on their career site, maybe some of the stereotypes that they’re reinforcing, visit the developdiverse.com website. In the upper right corner click on the Login button (next to the Book Demo button) and create a trial user account.
Develop Diverse don’t take any payment for the trial user. Upload some documents to get some feedback on the inclusivity of the content. It is a great learning opportunity to get some insight into where there might be bias creeping with regard to gender, age, ethnicity, neurodiversity and
physical disability. Hopefully, what Pil has shared has sparked some inspiration and provided some new ideas on things to look out for around language.
To get tailored support on your organisational diversity and inclusion journey please contact Toby and the team at mildon.co.uk.