Reimagining Talent, Work, and Workplaces in a COVID-19 World

Mark Peek talks with Frida Polli, CEO of pymetrics, a Workday Ventures company, about the impact of recent events on hiring, redeployment, and skills.

The pandemic and recent social justice protests have challenged all of us to not only imagine a new future but to work toward it. Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of Workday Ventures’ portfolio company, pymetrics, stated it very well in her recent blog post when she identified the movement toward equity and inclusion, and the global pandemic, as a call to “inspire unprecedented progress.” 

The pymetrics’ technology hits at the heart of what will make our workplaces better, more diverse, and more inclusive. The company offers a talent matching platform that uses a unique dataset, captured through a series of behavioral science-based exercises that objectively measure cognitive, social, and behavioral attributes, and ethical artificial intelligence (AI) to match individuals with their best-fit job. It removes inherent bias from the hiring process to more accurately and fairly match the right people to the right jobs. 

In advance of Polli’s upcoming talk at the Collision technology conference, I spoke to her about the impact of recent events on hiring, redeployment, and skills as companies increasingly focus on diversity, inclusion, human wellness, and creating the best teams and companies possible.

The pandemic has forced rapid changes to workplaces and workforces worldwide on top of what was already looming with the prospects of a recession. What impacts are you seeing from this?

These catalysts—the pandemic, the economic fallout, the focus on social justice—are changing things really fast. Before, human resources and ethical AI-tech had been on this digital transformation journey of incremental improvements to make the hiring experience more efficient, effective, and fair. Now we’ve shifted to remote work. We won’t meet in-person as much for a long time. Interviewing will be done differently. People have had to rethink how jobs are done, and what skills are needed. More companies are suddenly more ready to look at using science, technology, and new ways to measure potential and assess talent as they move from a physical process in a physical world to one that’s more digital. 

You’ve noted that we’re amid what will possibly be the biggest re-allocation of talent since WWII. How will your platform assist with that?

We have key initiatives going on around this. We have a talent marketplace, for instance, used in hiring. If somebody gets rejected from a job search, they can be ushered into the marketplace to find a match with another job. We are enhancing this offering to not only include aptitudes measured through our exercises, but also adding skills assessment and training recommendations to identify what learnings that candidate might need to match with a new job. We can take our whole paradigm around hiring and mobilize it around redeployment as companies offboard employees and also leverage it within a company to move people internally. 

What’s the prospect for ethical AI to help companies find candidates that might have been prematurely weeded out by a traditional hiring process?

The two things that introduce perpetual bias in hiring and interviewing are resumes and cognitive ability tests. When humans are scanning resumes, we look for keywords, like a specific university, where someone lives, or even their name (John versus Jose), and make snap judgments with our “fast-thinking” part of our brain. These judgments are inherently biased and funnel otherwise suitable candidates out of the process. Meanwhile, cognitive ability tests have been shown to contain bias against people of color and lower socioeconomic groups. At pymetrics, our technology measures things like generosity, fairness, emotional agility, and how that maps to a role. It provides another data point for companies, and doing so diminishes built in perceptions that if someone went to a prestigious university, for instance, they’re automatically more likely to be successful in a particular role. It is hard to train bias out of human beings, which creates challenges to hiring fairly. But by using technology to get rid of bias, we should get better teams, which will help companies.

How do you see skills needs changing in this changing world?

I see a huge need for soft skills, like agility. Someone might work in a retail store one day and then the next day need to move out of the store and be a customer service representative. If they’re good at interacting face to face, can they do as well via chat or email? Companies need human capital to solve business problems, and that human capital needs to be agile.

Given the move to remote work and the expectation of a slow return to offices, do you see companies expanding geographic searches for talent?

Definitely. We’re hearing our customers have that “ah ha” moment, and realizing that this is a great opportunity to find talent they wouldn't have been able to recruit before. The focus will be even more on what’s the right talent, not where that talent is located. The ability to find talent remotely, and use it effectively, will be very key for companies, and cities will look very different in the next five to 10 years. 

What role does your and a customer’s data play in this?

Data is the foundation and science is on top of that. Our aptitude assessment data, for instance, is very different from what companies have had for decades. It opens up opportunities to rethink talent mobility and creates an opportunity to have a very different conversation.

What’s the big opportunity that’s emerging out of our current challenges?

There’s a whole re-imaging going on. Will the office culture continue? What will it look like? How do we think about growing our businesses? How do we look at connecting and growing our teams? Are there ways to help people of color and people of lower socioeconomic status who’ve traditionally been left out of a lot of hiring practices? Tech is a big enabler of change, but companies need to also look deeply at the human implications of it, and always use technology for good. I do believe the world has changed... For good!

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