Seagate’s Divkiran Kathuria on D&I and the Talent Marketplace

An interview with Seagate’s Director of Talent Mobility and Talent Technology on diversity, equity, inclusion and the Talent Marketplace

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By Adam Etzion, HR Analyst @ Gloat

Awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion (known alternately as D&I and DEI) as an important, mission-critical business function is constantly growing – but in many companies, it’s still seen as “just” a part of employee care programs, and not as a function that should permeate every aspect of an organization, helping form its goals and activities from the most strategic down to the most tactical.

Since the introduction of Talent Marketplace technology, the D&I function has been undergoing a quiet revolution. As workplaces are increasingly democratized and hierarchies are flattened, D&I efforts and programs must change as well to accommodate this new way of working.

We caught up with Divkiran Kathuria, Seagate’s director of Talent Mobility and Talent Technology, to talk about the way the Talent Marketplace is helping shape modern D&I efforts, and to see what we can learn about current trends and future visions for D&I and the HR world in general.

First off, let me start by thanking you for making the time for this interview. I know your schedule is very, very busy. I thought that we could start by hearing a little about where you’re coming from; your career has been packed with HR innovation, and it gives you a unique perspective on the shape of things to come. What have you been up to in recent years, and what are you doing now?

Divkiran Kathuria: Thank you Adam for inviting me to discuss such an important topic. I have been in HR technology and HR transformation programs for more than 15 years now and how technology can support Diversity and Inclusion and vice versa has always fascinated me.

Interestingly though. I didn’t start in HR function. I started with coding, mainly Java, PL/SQL. I didn’t even know what Human Resource function is and does back then!

One of my assignments included working on a quarterly performance evaluation system and that’s how started learning more about HR domain.

And post that, thanks to the wonderful opportunities my consulting career came with, I was able to see how HR technology, if done right, can positively impact the life of so many employees and human beings.

HR has now become a passion, and I’m especially interested in emerging HR technologies and how it can strategically support both employee and business growth – Talent Marketplaces being one of the most important HR tech innovations in the last few years.

I first read about talent marketplace in the 2013 HR trend report published by Josh Bersin’s that introduced gig economy and talent marketplaces as the next big thing.  As a part of consulting teams, I had exposure to similar tech trends going through the hype curves and hype cycles, so to finally see it in action was very exciting when I joined Schneider. While in consulting, I did work on some strategic roadmaps for customers building a business case for gig economy and talent marketplace – at Schneider Electric I got a chance to implement it via Gloat’s platform. And most recently, I was offered to implement Gloat’s marketplace at Seagate – we call is Career Discovery and rightly so! 

What’s been very interesting is that while the solution and implementation in all organizations I have worked on Talent Marketplaces has been similar, the problem statement has been different each time.

For any organization, D&I is not a choice anymore. It needs to be a part of every organization’s DNA. And this is where the talent marketplace can be a game changer.

Divkiran Kathuria

G: That’s a fascinating point! consulting companies, Schneider and Seagate are all vastly different from an organizational standpoint, as well as in their business goals and mission statements. Are they looking to solve the same problems with the talent marketplace, or did you find that its implementation addresses different issues in each case?

DK: The true power of Talent Marketplaces today lies in the multitude of problems it can solve with the same underlying core technology.

For all my Talent Marketplace projects, the problem statements were different. And as we progressed in the implementation journey, we realized that it’s not just about how you start the journey or what is your primary problem statement that a Talent Marketplace or a technology like Gloat can resolve. It is also about how you evolve after you have realized what this technology can do for your internal talent.

At the end of the day, the AI matching algorithm essentially matches demand and supply of talent, so wherever there is a problem between demand and supply of talent, you can utilize it. For my first Talent Marketplace project, the customer I was working with was from IT services industry and the primary problem they wanted to solve was making the right project teams, with right skills available for the right customer. 

When I moved to Schneider, the Schneider journey started with analyzing attrition data and hearing from 47% of voluntary exits that they’re leaving for a better opportunity outside. Surprisingly, this was the exact opposite of what we were hearing from the hiring managers, who had multiple opportunities waiting for the right candidate for 60 days or more. The problem statement in this case was to provide our internal talent the growth opportunities and a career path that aligned with their interest and on the other hand, supporting the hiring managers to find a diversely talented team faster.

Finally, in Seagate, it’s once again a different journey all together. Our “Career Discovery” story is really the story of a company’s goals meeting the career goals of the employees. Career Discovery supports upskilling and recruiting of internal talent within Seagate to fill open positions and drive the gig economy; helping us harness our employees’ career goals to satisfy the business needs. Focus areas for the business today is to innovate and grow further. The demand for technology skills is growing and these skills are changing and evolving rapidly from IT2.0 to IT4.0. And the only way forward for all of us is to continue learning, upskilling, and growing.

In just 5 months, we have 87% employees registered on the platform with over 34,000 hours of productivity unlocked. And this is just the beginning, we are looking forward to harnessing the power of Gloat’s platform and explore more capabilities like mentoring, networking, dynamic sourcing, succession planning, dynamic career pathing and more. 

So, we've talked about what the challenges these different organizations were looking to solve with the talent marketplace, and now I want to ask you about a more specific challenge they all faced: D&I. Just as the talent marketplace is a solution for different problems depending on the organizations in which it's applied, D&I also addresses different problems in different organizations. I'd like to ask you about the specific benefits that you've seen with the specific D&I programs you’ve worked on with the Talent Marketplace.

DK: Well if you want to talk about benefits of D&I, I think there is no end to it. There are many examples of products that were designed without a diverse team and hence failed to address needs of other customer segments. 

The first ever car airbags and seatbelts were built to protect taller, heavier passengers due to which women and children were at a huge risk. While airbags became mandatory in some countries in the 90s itself, it was only after 20 years they were properly tested with female statue dummies. 

Another example is facial recognition technology. Even the top-performing facial recognition systems misidentify darker skinned individuals at rates five to 10 times higher than they do white skin.

In both these examples, the products could have benefitted from engaging a more diverse background right from requirements to design; before you go to market and face serious implications.

And so – for any organization, D&I is not a choice anymore. It needs to be a part of every organization’s DNA. And this is where the talent marketplace can be a game changer

First and foremost, anyone using a talent marketplace will be immediately able to discover hidden talent – candidates and skills they didn’t know exist. And they’ll be able to experience how diverse, valuable and capable these discovered candidates are.

I can tell you from my personal experience, when I opened a project for the first time on a talent marketplace, I ended up having a team from across the globe that helped me bring in the local context to our internal communications plan. None of us were from a primarily English-speaking country and despite that we worked beautifully together. And I could have never thought of those cultural and local nuances alone.

You can open doors for a more inclusive environment within the company, simply by using the Talent Marketplace for a short-term project.

On the other hand, if I talk purely about the technical aspect, talent marketplace technology now provides you with an option, to completely hide the identity of the candidate. You don’t see the picture, you don’t see the name, you don’t see the nationality, race, religion, anything – you just see the skills and experiences and that’s what really matters. Any unconscious human bias in this situation will not get a change to surface as the bias forming attributes are not visible at all

I would say, this makes Talent Marketplaces an interesting combination of art (the user experience aspect) and science (the AI aspect) that can help shed biases and promote diversity and inclusion.

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Fascinating! So these are the D&I benefits of using a talent marketplace, which arise naturally from having this larger, more diverse talent pool available to managers, and allowing them to access people whom they might not have been able to access before. I must wonder, though; was there anything that surprised you about the talent marketplace from a D&I perspective?

DK: Quite a few things actually! From the way Talent Marketplace changes the way you look at a candidate to the way it can help organizations detect and mitigate bias is very appealing

On the design and implementation side it is revolutionizing how we discover and view the right talent by hiding the bias forming parameters and highlighting the skills vs the traditional resumes that essentially include information like location, education, ethnicity, etc. that could induce bias rather than anything that reduces it.

So, it’s truly special when you come across technologies that say, “Hey, we don’t need all of that personal information to tell you if you are right for a job.” And cherry on the cake – it also takes in consideration the changing skill requirements in the industry along with your aspirations and interests. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it in action for the first time!

Another aspect where the Talent Marketplace helped change perspectives is the “closeness bias” or geographical bias. During COVID, most companies had to redistribute and redeploy talent from one part of the organization to another to meet the changing market demands – both temporarily and permanently. The struggle to find the right fit was so much greater. If you are an organization of anywhere above a thousand employees, it is almost impossible to know everyone’s skills and interests without technology, especially if you’re a global company with employees spread across geographies. Talent marketplaces truly helped achieve the goal of “talent without borders” during this pandemic as it surfaced the right talent no matter where they are located, in turn helping move the manager mindset from “presence” to “productivity”.

It seems to me like there would be an even greater diversity benefit to that as well, because once you shed the geo location aspect, the talent pool almost necessarily becomes more diverse.

DK: Absolutely. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Alright, so these are all amazing DEI benefits that arise from implementing a talent marketplace, but I’d like to talk about overcoming a different type of bias now: bias creep. The concept of bias embedding itself into the system because of the data it’s based on reflecting real world bias. I was wonder how you’ve dealt with that in your implementations over time.

DK: Most human beings tend to be afraid of what they are not aware of and AI in Talent Marketplaces is one of those technologies. In case of Talent Marketplaces – AI is neither deciding nor taking an action on your behalf. Instead of “Artificial Intelligence” – I would rather call it “Augmented Intelligence” as it is helping you take the decision by surfacing unbiased options when you launch it afresh. So while its extremely important not to overlook the privacy and data concerns that could make this AI learn the bias from human actions – key to success lies in the right implementation and usage of this technology that can truly democratize talent and career development. 

At both Seagate and Schneider, we chose to reduce the possibility of bias creep by design. While setting up the system we simply eliminated employee information attributes like gender, race, age, ethnicity, nationality, etc. from the talent marketplace data. Some other organizations I know of have chosen to keep the name and pictures out as well!

The second important aspect, which I really like about Gloat and a few other similar products in the market, is that there is a bias detection mechanism built in to mitigate bias creep (if any). Unlike human actions, its easier to track and identify bias in AI applications, introduce noise and reset it. 

Machine learning is more objective and learns faster compared to human learning. To detect and then eliminate the bias from humans is nearly impossible. It takes enormous amount of research and training efforts being led by D&I professionals across organizations. And as human race, we still have a long way to go. 

To truly manifest that right talent at the right place, and to have the whole world as your talent pool, it’s critical to shed our biases. And without the augmented intelligence supporting us, it can be slow and painful. 

Interesting. So, you’ve spoken about two approaches. The first is to nip bias in the bud by simply not introducing parameters we would consider potentially biased like gender, age, or nationality. The second is identifying existing bias within the system and weeding it out with the help of augmented intelligence. And at this point, I’d like to talk about feedback loops, because to me it seems that when an AI learns a human system, it will also learn the human biases underlying it. As we try to fight bias with people, we also must fight bias creep in the AI. But it also seems to me that it works the other way around: the more diverse, the more inclusive the workplace environment is, the less biased it will ultimately become because people will just become more and more used to working with diversity, and biases will take a back seat. Do you find that to be true in your experience? And if so, do you think that the talent marketplace has a role in that erosion of bias just by virtue of being a more diverse environment?

DK: Oh, yes. I completely agree. Let’s not forget that humans prefer experiential and visual learning. And this what Talent Marketplace helps you experience and visualize – a diverse set of candidates with diverse experiences and skills that match your requirements; without any focus on bias forming parameters.

As per a D&I report by Mercer which, the best place to reduce bias is at beginning of the funnel, which is really at the time of hiring. And almost 40% of D&I focused technology is in the Talent Acquisition space. The more diverse profiles you can include at the beginning of the funnel, the better.

So, at Gloat we often talk about experiences. We speak about different professional experiences that advance a user's career, and the talent marketplace is where they come to find these experiences – so it’s interesting to think about the talent marketplace as a diversity experience provider as well. I've never thought of it that way. And I think that's a strong and interesting takeaway.

DK: You should really visit some of your customers and experience their talent marketplace firsthand.

For me, just looking at diverse, undiscovered talent being surfaced by Career Discovery at Seagate is a diversity experience. Just like we have an emotional quotient, we have an intelligence quotient, I believe there should also be a diversity quotient. Maybe that’s a good way to put it: the talent marketplace adds to your diversity quotient instantly as you discover diverse, hidden talent in less than 30 seconds!!!

G: I feel like that’s a beautiful note to end on. Thank you Divkiran, this was fascinating!

DK: Thank you!

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