Podcast: Canvas CEO Ben Herman on the Challenges of DEI Recruiting

Diversity Grid


Mark Feffer: Welcome to People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Mark:  My guest today is Ben Herman. He’s CEO of Canvas, which just rebranded from its identity as Jumpstart. The company also just raised $20 million. Ben describes canvas as being the only platform that helps CEOs and hiring managers truly walk the walk on diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ll talk about why on this edition of People Tech.

Mark: We’re brought to you by Criteria finding and retaining great talent is a challenge. Fortunately Criteria can help. Their assessments let you make better talent decisions by identifying high potential candidates and they help predict job performance by evaluating the skills and abilities that lead to success. Learn more at www.criteriacorp.com.

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Mark: And now, Ben Herman, welcome to People Tech.

Mark: You guys have had a big week, raised $20 million, rebranded from Jumpstart to Canvas. What’s it all mean? And where’s it going to lead? What happens now?

Ben Herman: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a very big week. We started three years ago in helping early in career talent find internships and new grad opportunities. Ultimately stumbling across a solution that really led companies to hire more underrepresented groups. And with that focus and with the demand from our customers, we wanted to give our technology to all companies hiring across all levels of experience. And so the rebrand really is to show how big our vision is and what we want to accomplish as a business in making the world more equitable for everyone and giving equal access to both candidates and companies in tech and finance. And so that’s really what this rebrand is, is to symbolize, is us moving from what is an early career recruiting platform as Jumpstart into a platform that will help anyone and everyone find opportunities in tech and finance.

Mark: It seems that at the center of your product is the diversity recruitment platform. Can you explain to me what that is and why is it unique?

Ben: Yeah, well, firstly, I think you have to understand what the word diversity means to us in understanding what we want to be. It’s much more than just ethnicity and gender. It encompasses for us anyone and everyone based on that differences, whether that’s a veteran, a working mom, someone with a disability, someone who looks different, someone who hasn’t had the same access, it’s really just about leveling the playing field for anyone and everyone. And so when we think about what we stand for as a diversity recruiting platform, it’s giving companies the data that they’ve never had to be able to make decisions that will help them build a more diverse inclusive workplace. And that kind of goes on to really symbolize that we believe is not a pipeline problem as these people do exist, but it’s merely a data problem. And so they can’t find them.

Mark: Can you tell me a bit more about that data problem?

Ben: Yeah. Companies today will largely use platforms that leverage AI, which will take public data and enable them to understand more about a candidate. And on top of that they’ll use what are diversity APIs, which will get someone’s gender or ethnicity based off of their name or photo. And let’s be realistic if your name’s Josh Meyers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a white guy. And so I think that’s not the right way to handle this. And because of this guesstimate, companies can’t actually use that data to inform their hiring decisions because self-reported data is the only way to actually use the data in structured form to go deeper on it. That’s less about aggregation of data. I’m more about the specifics on an individual candidate. And so once you have that information that’s self-reported, you can do so much more with it.

Mark: Can you give me an example of self-reported data? What kind of information are you tracking?

Ben: Yeah, it’s a lot. So we ultimately ask candidates many questions from their skills, experience, values, interests, demographics, visas, et cetera, like work authorization. From that we allow that to be the data that they provide that they own and is a holistic profile that can be viewed and understood by all companies. And so we’re taking the guesswork out of the recruiting process and allowing candidates to own and control that data regardless of which company they applied to or which company is viewing their profile. So the profile and representation from a candidate perspective is shown to all of our companies versus when you apply to a job today, you’re merely a resume in a database and those databases do not talk to each other. Even if they use the same ATS and you apply to 20 jobs they’re all an individual record, and we’re bringing all of that data into one place and giving candidates the ability to own and control that data. That’s way beyond that resume.

Mark: You had very strong performance last year, reading the press release, revenue went up, customer count went up. In 2020, it was supposed to be a pretty bad year for a lot of people, what’s your impression of your own performance? Why do you think that the company and its product did so well?

Ben: I think we actually had our best year last year and I think it was largely due to the fact that our solution can work for anybody in any place. And the fact that we’re a holistic solution, meaning from the initial application to the point of hire, you can manage the whole process from creating virtual events to understanding your data, to sourcing through your inbound applicants and then sourcing from the shared talent pool and building talent communities to engage with your candidates.

Ben: It meant that they could cut costs and leverage us in more ways than just the one way they were using us. And so that made sense for them. But in addition, I would say that the focus of them trying to understand that data more, to be able to make more informed decisions, I think became pretty important with the ability to create and manage virtual events, which they couldn’t do on many platforms without the data. So with the basis that we had, this all in one solution, it really enabled them to have much better use in a time where companies were looking to cut costs and make more virtual engagement strategies.

Mark: Now to come back to the DRP, it strikes me as a tough proposition to create essentially a new category, which it sounds like you’re trying to do. And at the same time, I think there’s probably cynics out there who’d say, “it’s not really about inventing the category. It’s just about marketing and positioning.” So do you have any thoughts about that? Just the whole dynamic around introducing this concept and…?

Ben: Yeah, a hundred percent. It doesn’t just come from wanting to create a category. It comes because of what we’ve heard and what we’ve experienced for many years, but also myself for a decade before starting this company as a recruiter, this phenomenon of having a CRM is really, to me, not as important as understanding your data and being able to make better recruiting decisions. And what I’ve seen and what I’ve witnessed over the last 15 years, being in the recruiting industry is that the problem at the core is that candidates are spammed time and time again, by being added to these email sequences and campaigns where they’ll be messaged 10 or 15 times by hundreds of companies. And if you’re one of those people added, who’s popular based on the such string of a common denominator, you’re going to be messaged thousands of times every single month, right?

Ben: It becomes to the point where you just don’t pay any interest and there’s way too much noise. And so what we want to focus on is how do we cut the noise and get to the right people for the right opportunities? And the way to do that is really about creating more access and more equal access. And for us, we believe every company in having a CRM is actually making this problem worse. And just like, they believe they need a CRM, what they really need is a DRP, which is a diversity recruiting platform. And that helps them understand the data of their candidates to be able to engage and hire more diverse talent.

Mark: One more question, kind of along those lines.

Mark: TechCrunch published an interview with you yesterday. And one of the things that you said was, you don’t really see AI as being the future. And that’s a pretty bold statement in the recruiting world nowadays. So can you expand on that? Why do you feel that way and what do you see happening?

Ben: Yeah. The words AI and machine learning are largely in recruiting terms is a lot of jargon. I can say because I have experienced it and I’ve been part of it. And we started by leveraging AI so it’s not like we didn’t try. But what you see is that you don’t ultimately enable better decisions. You are in fact leveraging what is information that isn’t actually given by an individual to make decisions that could be incorrect. So what I mean by that is when you say that you’re able to leverage AI to know if someone’s diverse, that’s just not true. And honestly, it’s not okay, from a representation perspective, with everything that’s going on in the world, it’s about candidates being able to represent themselves for who they are and who they want to be. And we can’t use public data that’s either scraped, credited, reported in some way to make decisions on people’s careers.

Ben: And when that data is used, as I said earlier, you can’t actually make better hiring decisions because you can’t go deeper into the candidates. You can only aggregate the data. So I can only give you the data to say, “Hey, we had a thousand job applicants, of that, 50% of them are women.” Right? Well, you can’t go in and be like, “cool, I want to reach out to more women. So can you show me those women?” No, right? So you can’t actually make those decisions. It’s good for reporting, but it doesn’t allow you to change. And as we’ve seen, this is diversity 2.0, it’s not 1.0. 1.0 was, “yeah, with spending this much money, with sponsoring this event and when leveraging AI expensive technology to change our strategies and increase diversity.” But what you’ve seen is that people would spend a million dollars to go to a conference like Grace Hopper, but actually they didn’t make any tangible differences in their diversity hiring.

Ben: Now with 2.0, this is not about showing that you’re doing the work, it’s about doing the work. And so that’s going to be with the data where you’re able to say, “We’ve actually engaged this many candidates and we’ve hired this many more candidates from diverse backgrounds.” Right? And so it’s not about the brand promise. It’s about the action.

Mark: And I think actually we can end on that note. So Ben Herman, CEO of Canvas, thanks for taking the time to talk today.

Ben: Thank you. I hope that was helpful.

Mark: I’ve been talking with Ben Herman, chief executive of the diversity recruitment platform, Canvas. And we’ve been talking on People Tech, the podcast with the HCM Technology Report, we are a publication of RecruitingDaily. This edition is brought to you by Criteria. Their scientifically validated assessments help you make better decisions by identifying high potential candidates. The result, increased revenue, reduced turnover and better quality of hire. Visit criteriacorp.com to see how Criteria can help you unlock the potential of your candidate pool that’s www.criteriacorp.com.

Mark: We’re also brought to you by Indeed with tools like Indeed instant match giving you quality candidates whose resumes on Indeed fit your job description immediately, and Indeed skills tests, which on average reduce hiring time by 27%. Give them a try, get a $75 credit at indeed.com/hcm. The offers is valid through June 30th and terms and conditions apply.

People Tech is part of Evergreen podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com.

And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Visit us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

Image: iStock

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