By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bringing new employees onto a team forces managers to judge a mix of mandatory skill sets and intangible personality traits. In Silicon Valley — home base for tech giants Apple, Google and Twitter — that process has resulted in a workforce of thousands of highly skilled, innovative and loyal workers, most of whom happen to look remarkably similar.
Earlier this month, Apple reported that its global workforce is 70 percent male — a figure that mirrors Google and Twitter’s overall workforce.
A breakdown of racial demographics proves even more significant, with Apple reporting its U.S. workforce as 55 percent white, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic and 7 percent black. At Twitter, the U.S. workforce was reported as 59 percent white, 29 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black. Google’s U.S. workforce was 61 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black.
The figures, all released by the companies over the course of the last few weeks, raised eyebrows among industry insiders and sparked initiatives within all three companies to try to balance the scales.
The situation made Promise Phelon, chief revenue officer of West View recruiting software company The Resumator, briefly consider if the issues raised in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book “Lean In” — specifically about how more women need to step up to leadership roles — played a part in the situation.
But then, Ms. Phelon settled on the most important consideration: that this discussion offers an opportunity for her company to present a solution.
“When I saw those numbers, I asked myself two questions. Is this a systematic thing or is this about the point Sheryl was making about [women] getting a seat at the table? My conclusion was it actually doesn’t matter [how it happened]; it’s about breaking patterns,” said Ms. Phelon.
Shifting the paradigm that drives hiring decisions has been The Resumator’s primary mission since it was launched in 2009, said founder and CEO Don Charlton.
Mr. Charlton, a Masontown native who grew up steeped in the culture of coal mining, envisioned The Resumator as a way to help small- to medium-sized businesses level the playing field with large corporations when it comes to attracting top talent. After an independent launch, he teamed up with Pittsburgh startup accelerator program AlphaLab. Within a three-year period Mr. Charlton was able to raise $3 million in outside funding.
The Resumator’s offerings of job boards, referrals, questionnaires, interview management and custom assessments for hiring have so far helped more than 70,000 companies find more than 2.5 million candidates for various job openings. The suite of products and the data contained within them help the company streamline the job search process in ways that have helped it rise to the heap of a fledgling market.
The small business engine has also catered to some of the nation’s biggest players. Its portfolio of clients ranges from Major League Baseball’s MLB.com to the 2012 presidential election campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but a company spokeswoman said it has generated millions of dollars in revenue.
After adding Ms. Phelon as its chief revenue officer in December, the company opened a Silicon Valley office in March to keep close to West Coast investors. It embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign in June that set an eight-week time limit to meet the $15 million mark.
That push paid off this week, with a goal-matching investment led by Boston-based Volition Capital and supported by Tucson, Ariz.-based Rincon Venture Partners, South Side-based Birchmere Ventures, New York-based Blue Cloud Ventures and Riverfront Ventures, an investment firm run by South Side-based Innovation Works.
Hiring a team of data scientists and looking for a new space for a staff expected to grow from around 60 to 100 by next year top a list of priorities to be addressed with the new funding. With eyes on Downtown, Mr. Charlton hopes to work with city officials to address parking concerns and find an appropriate space.
Mr. Charlton, who envisions the company becoming a household name among small business recruiters, believes having The Resumator’s name shining within the city skyline could be a win-win proposition.
“We have a strong desire and belief that the recruiting software industry, especially catering to small- and medium-sized businesses, is emerging,” he said. “We have a leadership position. We have the data and resources now to take that position and become a dominant and fast player.”
Capitalizing on those data — a set of more than 1 billion points compiled over the course of the company’s five-year existence — will be a key factor in boosting the software’s ability to help people make consistently solid hiring decisions, said Ms. Phelon.
Not only that, the method of screening applicants through algorithms comes with the bonus of weeding out biases within the hiring process.
“The Resumator is at a stage where we’ve got millions of resumes, hundreds of thousands of hiring decisions,” said Ms. Phelon. “We can actually reverse-engineer what success looks like inside a company and allow organizations to look at candidates irrespective of anything besides what their skills are, what they’ve done.
“And we can give people data-driven, evidence-based decisions on the candidates they should be considering, and quite frankly I think that would remove a lot of natural biases that exist in the hiring process.”
Besides letting data dictate hiring, Mr. Charlton said tech and other industries seeking to diversify their forces could also make sure positions that don’t require advanced degrees are as heavily promoted among minority and women as skilled positions.
Diversity within Apple, Google and Twitter is slightly better for nontech positions in the U.S., but the majority of those positions are still held by white males in Google and Apple. Twitter did not have information about the number of women working in nontech positions in the U.S. immediately available, but reported a 50-50 split between men and women in the positions globally.
Noting that secretaries and customer care workers cashed in on Twitter’s $24 billion initial public offering just as easily as executives, Mr. Charlton said tying a lack of diversity solely to a lack of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — training among women and minorities was a “red herring scapegoat” that could delay action for generations.
“One of the things I think a lot of minorities don’t know is that personal wealth creation — especially an acceleration of personal wealth creation — occurs when you join very early companies that have a high probability of failure,” said Mr. Charlton.
“You don’t have to be a computer scientist or engineer to be in tech. We have plenty of women and minorities in our company right now who wouldn’t know how to code if their life depended on it but they feel just as much involved in tech as we do, every single day.”
Calling themselves capitalists in the purest sense, Mr. Charlton and Ms. Phelon said opening doors to new faces in the workforce isn’t about charity so much as a means of maximizing options for quality talent.
Within a tech company founded by a black man that boasts a 40 percent female executive board, standing out as the new face among industry counterparts is a reality. On the other hand, so is standing out for being exceptional.
“The best way to break patterns is to shape the pattern,” said Mr. Charlton. “We believe by us focusing on building a really great business and this happenstance of what our demographics are, it will all play out in the end.”