Gender diversity

By Women, For Women: The Startup Addressing Unconscious Bias

After receiving $2.7 million in seed investments, a female-led startup has its sights set on overcoming bias during the hiring process.

By Lara Robertson

Gender diversity

After receiving $2.7 million in seed investments, a female-led startup has its sights set on overcoming bias during the hiring process.

By Lara Robertson

Another win for female-led companies this week, as Kim Jackson and Scott Farquhar’s investment fund Skip Capital backs anti-bias hiring startup Applied in a $2.7 million investment seed round.

Applied, which was co-founded by CEO Kate Glazebrook and Richard Marr, eliminates the influence of conscious and unconscious bias during the hiring process by removing names, addresses, hobbies, and education from job applications.

Glazebrook, who grew up in Sydney, moved to London five years ago to join the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, or “nudge unit”. The unit, which uses behavioural economics to influence the way people think and act, inspired Glazebrook and Marr to start Applied.

“We wanted to bridge the gap between what the evidence says about how to hire and what organisations are actually doing,” Glazebrook said. “For example, all the evidence says that seeing someone’s name and picture can mean you overlook people who don’t ‘look the part’. And yet most recruiters spend most of their day on LinkedIn, inadvertently doing just that. Most recruitment platforms are solely focused on how to speed that process up, not how to help you make the best decision. We wanted to tackle that.”

The gender bias phenomenon is very well documented. You’ve probably heard of the famous experiment where researchers submitted two versions of the exact same resume to both male and female employers, one with a female name, one with a male name. The fictional male applicant was twice as likely to be hired than the female applicant. Female applicants were also offered a lower starting salary: $26,507.94 compared to $30,238.10.

In a similar study, around 13,000 fake resumes with either a Western name or non-Western name were sent out to over 3,000 job postings. The results showed that bias also affects the job prospects of racial minorities, with those with non-Western names being 28 per cent less likely to get a job interview than those with Western names.

 

“Unconscious bias is hard to retrain out of the brain, but we can make an impact if we instead redesign our processes to make it easy to focus on the things that matter, like skills.”

 

Although many companies offer unconscious bias training, Glazebrook said that it is not very effective at creating behavioural change.

“Companies spend billions every year on unconscious bias training, and yet there’s very little evidence that it works,” she said. “It improves awareness of the issue, which is great, but data shows it very rarely translates into changes in behaviour. That’s because unconscious bias is hard to retrain out of the brain, but we can make an impact if we instead redesign our processes to make it easy to focus on the things that matter, like skills. Applied is all about instilling the best evidence into technology that people use in their every day.”

Subscriptions start at $150 a month, with some of Applied’s clients including Hilton Hotels and Penguin Random House in the United Kingdom. Over 50,000 candidates have already applied for jobs through Applied, and more than 400,000 candidate judgements have been made through the platform.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50 per cent of Applied’s investors are women. The latest $2.7 million seed funding round was led by Blackbird Ventures and supported by Skip Capital, Angel Academe, Giant Leap and Impact Generation Partners, as well as a number of angel investors. These investors join Applied’s existing shareholders, including the Behavioural Insights Team and gender equity advocate and businesswoman Carol Schwartz.

Glazebrook said she is particularly “thrilled” to have Skip Capital’s Kim Jackson, who is speaking at Future Women’s VIP Dinner later this month, as a key investor.

“[Jackson is] analytical and cares that what we do is backed not just by a great mission but actually works,” Glazebrook said. “Her own experience as a former engineer and banker have, I think, given her first-hand experience on what it feels like to be the one that stands out. She cares about working with and supporting female founders, which is also a huge advantage.”

Since launching Skip Capital at the start of the year after leaving her career as an investment banker, Jackson has become one of Australia’s most influential investors. She has recently backed a number of female-led startups, including home energy finance start-up Brighte, founded by Katherine McConnell; gender equity recruitment start-up WORK180, founded by Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva; skin cancer start-up MetaOptima, co-founded by Maryam Sadeghi; and craft app Making Things, founded by Megan Elizabeth.

Although Jackson said she didn’t intentionally set out to invest in female-led companies, her journey to find entrepreneurs who were looking to solve real world problems led her to find a pool of talented women.

A Boston Consulting Group survey that found although female-led startups deliver more than twice as much revenue per dollar invested than male-led startups, they only receive 2 per cent of venture capital funding.

Applied turned over $150,000 last year, but Glazebrook said the company is looking to expand its customer base, as well as introducing some new product features.