Ep. 15 : Empowering the world with fair and equal opportunity

Ascend Canada > Blog > Podcast > Ep 15: Empowering the world with fair and equal opportunity

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is a significant focus for companies around the world and talent acquisition plays a big role in helping achieve DE&I. In this month’s podcast episode, Jahanzaib Ansari, Co-Founder and CEO, Knockri, speaks about how his company works with Fortune 500 companies to reduce bias and increase gender and racial diversity in the recruitment process. Tune in to learn how Jahanzaib’s immigrant journey influenced his drive to transform the recruitment process, how the metaverse will play a role in talent recruitment in the future, and more.

TRANSCRIPT

Varun:
We live in a world where every voice is unique. The Ascend Together podcast taps into these voices in open dialogues that cover personal and professional journeys, the power of human potential, and emerging trends and ideas within our communities. I’m your host, Varun Chandrasekar, and today we’re going to be speaking with someone whose company is helping drive inclusivity in the job application and recruitment process. Jahanzaib Ansari is co-founder and CEO of Knockri, a company with the mission to align diversity in hiring. Knockri works with Fortune 1000 companies to transform their talent acquisition and raise awareness about issues like unconscious bias in the recruitment process. And the steps an organization can take to eliminate it. Jahanzaib was recently named to the Forbes technology council and served as a key advisory member to the world’s economic forum’s global council on equality and inclusion. He’s also a past recipient of Ascend Canada’s Innovator of the Year award for his efforts to reduce unconscious bias and increase diversity in the workplace. Welcome Jahanzaib.

Jahanzaib:
Thank you so much for having me Varun, it’s such a pleasure to be on this podcast with you.

Varun:
Awesome. Yeah, you’re someone we really wanted to bring on our show for a while now. So appreciate you making the time. Typically how we start these conversations off is to get a background about yourself. Could you tell us a little bit more about Knockri and what it does?

Jahanzaib:
Absolutely. So we help large organizations, including IBM, Shopify and Department of Defense essentially reduce bias in the hiring process. And what we’ve created is an automated behavioral video assessment that is essentially at the top of the hiring funnel. And it’s helping these companies reduce bias, increase gender and racial diversity and shortlist the best fit candidates to interview without tokenism. And really just making sure that each and every single person has a fair and equal opportunity as it comes to applying to a job.

Varun:
That’s interesting. Could you build on what you mean when you say ‘tokenism’?

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, absolutely. So our goal here is not to fill a diversity quota. Our goal here is to make sure that every person that is applying is assessed in a fair and just manner. And so we’re not helping companies explicitly bring in or hire more diverse candidates. As in, just for the sake of diversity. We have created an assessment that is actually helping organizations assess everybody in a fair and just manner. And by just the notion of that, we’ve been able to increase gender and racial diversity by up to 25% in their short list of candidates. And so what we’ve proven now of course is that these candidates are not just racially and gender diverse. They’re actually better performing talent as well. And it’s just because there’s some cracks in the hiring process. And because of certain unconscious biases, these folks get like looked over.

Varun:
I love that. There’s already this myth that diversity comes at the expense of quality. And so it’s great to hear in the context of that, how Knockri isn’t about filling quotas. How do you know the markers of what’s going to be successful in the job? Where do you get that kind of data?

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I would just step back a little bit and share that. We have built our technology and merged it with the practice of industrial organizational psychology. And I/O psychology is a very coveted and highly respected field in workforce science, as it essentially has mapped out the correlations to success predictors of pretty much all job roles out there, universally. And the practice of I/O psychology started, I believe at the time of like world war II when they had to measure certain competencies, certain attributes in the workforce. So we’ve taken this and we’ve learned what correlates to success in a particular job role. So whether you’re in the banking sector or you’re in the consulting sector or the technology sector, we have essentially mapped out what attributes or competencies are successful. So as an example, if you’re a consultant it could potentially be a growth mindset, collaboration, leadership, skills, agility. And essentially we’ve been able to break down what each of these attributes mean and what the sub attributes also how they all measure up to this aswell.

Varun:
So what’s the kind of analysis your technology does to make sure it’s bias-free?

Jahanzaib:
You know, Varun. What makes us really different is that we don’t train any of our data on historical AI models that are based on previous hiring manager decisions at an organization. Because this actually tends to further perpetuate bias in the hiring process. You might have heard about Amazon, they had a resume screening technology. And this resume screening technology was actually ingesting historical data, which was essentially kicking out qualified female candidates from the hiring process because all of the data that it was being trained on was just men who had hired other men for the last 10 years. And so we are very, very wary of algorithmic bias and we are taking a very different and science based approach. We have trained our technology on the practice of industrial organizational psychology. And from an I/O standpoint, we are utilizing a behavioral based assessment that does not create any subgroup differences in the hiring process.

There’s another type of assessment called a cognitive based one that has been used for the longest time and is still being used. And it shows a lot of subgroup differences in lower socioeconomic statuses. Which means that a bunch of people unfairly get kicked out of the hiring process because they have not been exposed to these types of assessments in cognitive based. In the case of Knockri, it shows zero subgroup differences. In fact, when the Department of Defense was using Knockri, we showed a much higher representation in women, minority groups and folks with disabilities that scored the highest in the short listing process. And our goal is to fix the broken hiring process and to make sure that each and every single person has a fair shot and is evaluated extremely fairly.

Varun:
Thanks for breaking that down. How did the idea of Knockri come about to you? Tell us more about the origin story and what gave birth to the start-up?

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, so it’s been a very interesting path for us. And one of the catalysts was I was applying to jobs myself and I wasn’t hearing back from a lot of employers. As you can all hear, I’ve got a long ethnic name, which is Jahanzaib. One of my co-founders, Maaz, suggested that I anglicize it. And we went from a variation of Jordan, Jason, Jacob, and literally in four to six weeks, I got a job. And with that experience, we just felt like there’s so many people that are being overlooked, there has to be a better solution. And so I came together with a machine learning scientist, who’s our third co-founder and an I/O Psychologist to create Knockri. And long story short, we started to get some really good traction, signed on some big customers, closed several million dollars of financing. And we grew from a small team of three to more than 30, 35 people now.

Varun:
That’s a great story. It’s so important for people to remember that we don’t have to change who we are in order to succeed and kudos to your team for really going out and solving that problem at scale.

Could you tell us about your journey as a person? Would love to hear about where you grew up and some of the experiences that really helped shape you as an individual.

Jahanzaib:
Absolutely. So I’m a person that embodies several cultures and it’s really funny because a lot of folks in Canada are of the same way as well. So I was born in Pakistan and then my family moved to Saudi Arabia and we came to Canada in ’97. And I would say that moving from the middle east to Canada, absolutely was a shock. I think, as a child sort of growing up in extremely warm weather was an amazing feeling to sort of have sun out 365 days a year to be playing outside all the time, to sort of being like in six months of winter. And I think that initial transition was extremely challenging, but as a family, we realized that we are transitioning or immigrating for a better lifestyle. Which was actually the best decision, I think, my parents have ever made.

And then just coming to Canada and just not knowing anybody here and growing up in a very predominantly Caucasian neighborhood with a long ethnic name. It was very, very difficult, those first couple of years. What sort of, I would say, kept us going is that we have moved to a new country, we have moved here for a better opportunity and we have to make the best of ourselves. And I think just that grit and resilience I feel has transpired from the immigrant journey to sort of what I’m working on now and that embodies I think every aspect of my life now.

Varun:
Amazing, really great summary of the immigrant experience and the resilience that we as a community have as a result of what we go through.

This is a two part question. Did you have feelings of doubt, setbacks and failures in your journey? How did you overcome them? And the second part to that question: what according to you are some defining entrepreneurial attributes of those who make it?

Jahanzaib:
Okay. So, well, this is a really good question, by the way. I would say feelings of doubt, setbacks and failures. Absolutely. I think every entrepreneur sort of goes through this. And in fact, a lot of you can’t probably tell, but I also grew up with a terrible speech impediment, so I used to stutter quite a lot. And so I think for me sort of battling, stuttering, being in a new environment, even as an immigrant and just trying to learn very quickly. I would say was something that sort of stuck along with me for a while. And starting Knockri, I was going to say that you have this, as a founder, there’s this roller coaster journey. And some days are going to be really good and other days are going to be like, “Oh my God, why am I doing this? What did I get into? I’m in the wrong thing.” And this is going to happen.

And I think what I’ve really learned now is that, the number one thing that I feel that has changed my entire like perception on life and how I see things is that bad things are going to happen and that’s just part of life. So you have to embrace the suck. I would say, just embrace that things are going to break and things are going to happen, but you sort of mentally have to be prepared and anticipate these. Because what really, I would say, has built my character is how I handle this. So instead of breaking down and beating myself up continuously. It’s just, I would say now I’m a lot more, in I think one word, I would say stable in how I see things and how I see setbacks. Because at the end of the day, what I feel like makes somebody extremely successful, especially on the entrepreneurial side is how hungry you are to actually succeed.

And the bigger that hunger is, the farther you’re going to get. And also what is that hunger fueled by, right? In our case, it’s making sure that each and every single person has a fair and equal opportunity. And so when your hunger is deeply rooted in a mission, then I think you can go extremely far because let’s face it. It’s not going to be rosy. It’s not going to be rainbows and sunshine and you just have to embrace the suck. Just be extremely resilient and also have the mindset that it’s going to all work out and even if it doesn’t, you like probably have learned something. That is a piece of education, you would’ve never been able to get.

Varun:
That’s powerful. Thank you for sharing.

We’ve seen how the pandemic has accelerated the normalization of remote work, almost to the point where’s even seeing geographic barriers being eliminated when it comes to hiring. Have things changed for Knockri during COVID?

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. COVID has undoubtedly accelerated a lot of transformation, as you all know. In our case, it really accelerated HR transformation and the communication norm over video. It became very normalized. And this extremely helped us in the sense that a lot of companies were before digital assessments or assessments like Knockri, there was a shift of transformation and it wasn’t there at that stage. And I feel with COVID, it just accelerated that. So the adoption of video, doing video interviews, video assessments, it became the norm. And then with the murder of George Floyd, it actually highlighted the amount of systemic racism just in corporate America and corporate Canada and all over the world. And this further accelerated the focus on diversity and in the workforce. Diversity in several areas.

And so I would think for Knockri, COVID accelerated a bunch of HR transformation and the murder of George Floyd really showed the world what systemic bias is. And what is out there that we can utilize to eradicate it.

So we experienced a fair amount of growth actually from now until then with unfortunate world events. And I would say, as it pertains to remote work now, we were actually initially opposed to be Frank. And even as a startup we’re a fast growing team and we wanted to make sure that we have a cohesive culture. As you grow two or three times over a year, it’s very difficult for you to maintain that. And so we were initially hyper focused on keeping talent in Ontario. But we soon realized that the quality of output somebody is able to make, whether they’re in Mexico city or they’re in Spain or they’re in Dallas, Texas is fairly the same. I would just say one thing is that we try our best to make sure that this person is in a close enough time zone. So we can sort of be on calls together. And we can essentially work together, just to make sure it’s not impacting any efficiency.

Varun:
Amazing. And so what growth opportunities are you most excited about? Both from a business perspective, but also from a D&I perspective.

Jahanzaib:
The next phase for us is – how can we continue the value that we provide to our customers as it comes to reducing bias in the hiring process. And so now we’re essentially looking to embed our technology into tools like Cisco WebEx, into Microsoft Teams, into tools like Zoom.

And I’m also extremely excited about what the metaverse is going to bring, because I feel that at the core of it, you are being able to sort of recruit talent or find talent that might be floating in the metaverse now. Of which you cannot sort of tell apart the race, gender, ethnicity. I think this is going to be extremely interesting. And I can already see certain companies trying to set up a recruiting platform there, because this is where a lot of the world is going now. So I know this might be extremely sort of radical to a lot of the listeners, but so was social media back in 2008, 2009. Who thought that large banks and large conservative companies would be on TikTok. And so this is a I feel a shift that we probably are going to have to adapt to. It might take slower, but I’m really excited about what’s going to come out of this.

Varun:
That’s awesome. So in summary, would it be accurate to say Knockri is just one part of a larger solution to reduce bias in hiring?

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, absolutely. We’re not a silver bullet as it comes to reducing bias, right? I think this is sort of more the mentality of leveraging technology to reduce bias in the hiring process. I would say that’s where we’d come in and we plug into major applicant tracking systems, into SAP success factors, into Workday, all the big ones out there. And essentially we would be the way a candidate interacts with us is that when they apply to a job at a company, it automatically triggers a custom branded assessment. That looks like it’s coming from, let’s say RBC or from TD Bank, et cetera. So it’s custom branded. And then the candidate would respond to three to five pre-recorded video questions from the employer. And our goal is to make the process very personable. So the employer has an introduction video where they talk about themselves, about the organization and to have three to five questions and an outro video.

And the candidate actually has the opportunity to take a practice test and to respond at their own convenience. And they don’t have to keep the video on, the video is just for the experience of taking a virtual assessment. And so we’re solely analyzing the audio transcript. And so the candidate can even turn the video off if they wanted to. And we just analyze that and the candidate at the end of the process actually can score the experience, because we want to make sure that we’re not just helping employers. We’re creating a better experience for candidates like you and I who’ve applied to jobs before. And so at the end of every assessment they would rate the actual experience and give comments on that as well. So, that is a huge part of us getting feedback and how we drive product improvements.

Varun:
Thanks so much for adding color to that. We’ve been hearing a lot about Knockri’s recent campaign, #NotATokenHire. Could you tell us a little bit of how that came about?

Jahanzaib:
Absolutely. Yeah. So I think what our notion is that nobody should wake up one day and be like, “Oh my God, I got this job because I was the only minority and they were trying to fill a job role, right?”. Nobody feels good about that. They want to know that they got hired based on how good of a talent they are. And we just saw a lot of companies, part of them trying to hit their mandates, which is difficult, of course.

But just hiring diverse talents for the sake of diverse talent. And then the feedback that we get from the chief diversity officers is that this talent ends up leaving because the environment is not inclusive. There aren’t any senior leaders from that background, et cetera. So tokenism, what it does is that yes, it allows you to bring in a diverse candidate, but they might not end up staying at your company for too long. And they don’t like waking up and sort of knowing that they got hired just because they were a minority. And so we started a campaign that’s called ‘Not a Token Hire’, which actually has done phenomenally well, the first post on LinkedIn got nearly 50,000 likes, about three million views. And we are just trying to raise awareness of some of these systemic challenges and what we can essentially do to address them.

Varun:
That’s awesome. We’re coming to the end of our conversation. And I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that Ascend Canada is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. It would be great for our listeners to know about your association with Ascend and the role you see groups like ours playing in corporate Canada.

Jahanzaib:
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think Ascend Canada has been a phenomenal organization in terms of personal and business growth. About four years ago, I was awarded as Ascend Canada’s Innovator of the Year, which significantly helped me to expand my network and get our work out there to a lot of these senior leaders. Whether it’s in the banking sector or the consulting sector or the technology sector. And we were able to grow the company in a period of four years from about three people to north of 35 now. And what I’m extremely excited to share is being able to give back now. So I am now participating on Ascend’s advisory committee, which started a couple of weeks ago to essentially see how we can further help the community. And make sure that Pan Asian talent has all the right access to be able to climb up the ladder and also explore other opportunities if they wish so. And just helping them build a better network as well.

Varun:
Congratulations! Really excited to hear that you’re a part of our advisory committee and we’re really looking forward to seeing Knockri go from strength to strength.

What would be the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Jahanzaib:
So they can reach out to me over two ways. One is just find me on LinkedIn. My name is Jahanzaib Ansari. Or they can shoot me off an email at J.Ansari@Knockri.com and I’d be happy to connect.

Varun:
Amazing! On that note. Thank you so much, Jahanzaib for being here with us today.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode. Make sure you follow us on LinkedIn at Ascend Canada, to join and engage with our community. If you liked your episode today, please rate and review us on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Thanks again for tuning in and have a great day!

This transcript is auto-generated. Please excuse any errors.