Five years ago, when data privacy was just emerging as one of the most challenging business risks, Raghu Gollamudi spotted a trend.
With new rules for tighter consumer privacy protection looming, freshly appointed chief privacy officers often lacked tools to manage enormous amounts of sensitive data scattered across siloed departments, with some still using spreadsheets to manually store passwords and social security numbers.
Anticipating an urgent demand for holistic security solutions, Kristina Bergman and Gollamudi co-founded Integris, an AI-powered data discovery and classification startup that had raised $16 million before getting acquired by software giant OneTrust last summer.
Now Gollamudi, who resigned from OneTrust last week, is on a mission to help enterprises face their next biggest challenge: getting their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy right. His latest startup, Included, is building a platform that integrates with all employee data systems to help promote a high retention and belonging culture at scale.
In light of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, more companies are focused on using tech and data-backed strategies to navigate workplace bias and enable accountability, according to Redthreat Research, which estimates that the emerging DEI technology market is worth $100 million. Chief diversity officer was the fastest growing C-suite role last year, jumping 84% from 2019’s pace, LinkedIn reported in November.
While the majority of DEI startups tend to have a narrow focus, such as talent acquisition, Gollamudi says he has built a “constant companion” for the most vulnerable employees who are more likely to slip through the cracks in a corporate system. Similar to Integris, which uses AI to identify and visualize where personal information is located, Included is leveraging machine learning to spot and understand trends based on employee sentiment polls, make recommendations, and track progress consistently.
The company hopes to raise up to $3 million in seed investment this year.
We caught up with Gollamudi to learn more about his newest endeavor.
GeekWire: You immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. What part of your own experience made you want to build a DEI company?
Gollamudi: I got on a plane in Hyderabad, India and landed in Cloquet, Minn. to my first snowfall. Cloquet was a small town with almost no people of color. I’d go to work and someone would say: “Hey, I saw you at Walmart last weekend!” They could spot me a mile away but it was a very friendly small town. As I began to travel around the US, I experienced a variety of work cultures, some of which were not as open to someone like me, an immigrant with a strong accent and a person of color, and I definitely had to develop a thick skin and learn to shrug it off.
I first learned about DEI efforts during my engineering stint at Microsoft, where I joined the ‘diversity ambassadors’ cohort and got to see its inner workings at a large enterprise company. I’ve watched these programs become more widespread and common, but last year during the BLM protests I noticed an exciting new trend as both consumers and employees started to push companies to take a more clear stance on diversity, equity and inclusion.
I also started to wonder why existing DEI programs didn’t have the technology and tools that I see in other parts of enterprise to lead change and deliver on all the promises that companies are making to the public.
GeekWire: In the past six months your team interviewed dozens of chief diversity officers and experts to find out about their needs. What did you learn?
Gollamudi: There has been a dramatic uptick in diversity recruiting across industries, and it’s still growing, but there are no cohesive tools in order to promote retention of a diverse workforce at scale. As a result, the DEI programs and HR teams are stretched too thin. There’s just too few of them to be everywhere at once. During our interviews, they’d say things like “I wish I could clone myself.”
DEI leaders in particular are really supposed to function as the connective tissue that helps people feel included, feel that sense of belonging and happiness that makes them want to stay.
We also realized that the data companies are using to measure and understand demographics across boards and teams is stored in fragmented systems throughout the enterprise. In fact, the very few DEI leaders who managed to unify their data have done it by “Frankensteining” internal solutions and borrowing headcount.
GeekWire: There is a belief that DEI is an emotionally-charged issue and technology can’t resolve it.
Gollamudi: Technology should be an enabler and not a deterrent, and I think we can actually use it to complement, not replace the human aspect. And when you design with the voices of the most at-risk underrepresented minority employees in mind, you create a product that benefits everyone.
Included’s platform sucks in all the data from all of these different locations throughout the business and unifies it into one highly visible insights dashboard. Additionally, we have an employee chat bot, and a discoverable engagement hub that employees can log into and participate in the DEI program, which just doesn’t exist for any company right now.
You can set your diversity goals, and our ML-driven projection engine will use various aspects of your people data, and provide a timeline by when the goals can be met. Given the plan, you can then use one of our solutions to ensure you are on track to meet your goals. The platform will alert you if you are deviating from your goals, enabling you to continuously monitor and course correct by identifying trends proactively.
In other words, managers get continuous insights on how they are performing, how their teams are doing, as they build that inclusive experience, which is especially crucial amid working from home orders.
GeekWire: There are still very few companies who want to release their diversity numbers. Google’s 2020 report shows very modest gains in representation for women and people of color and high attrition rates. What needs to happen for the DEI efforts to really take off?
Gollamudi: We’ve had some of the greatest minds of our generation focused on creating technology and products that people love to use. From Tesla to Apple to Airbnb, the tech sector knows how to solve complex problems and deliver flawless user experiences. As a CTO I’ve seen people build amazing things. It’s just past time for DEI to benefit from what we can do.
Now we have AI, ML, Slack, and Teams, lots of great tools to solve this problem. Using product design to close the belonging gap for underrepresented minorities is an obvious next step for Big Tech. Just imagine personalized employee inclusion experiences, continuously delivered. It’s going to benefit everyone.