The story of Unitive
My entire professional career, I’ve been one of few women in the room. When I got my Ph.D. in computer science, women were 18% of graduates in the field. In the security space, women were 12%. In startups, 3% of CEOs are women. As I moved forward in my career, the number of women around me decreased. That was hugely concerning. And when you look at the lack of people of color, LGBT individuals, and others from underrepresented backgrounds in corporate roles, the numbers are even worse. Our companies were missing out on a huge swath of intellect, passion, and energy.
In late 2012 my cyber-security company, Silver Tail Systems, was acquired by RSA. That was a momentous event in my life. It left me in an interesting place. I had a blank slate and could do anything I wanted, so I started to explore what was happening in the world. Flashback to 2013: Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was gaining momentum. #BlackLivesMatter was founded. The conversation around equality and diversity was increasing in volume.
In reflecting on my career up until that time, I realized that I’d spent my career using technology to address hard problems. At NSA I’d built algorithms to identify “interesting text” without an analyst having to read everything. At eBay – and later at Silver Tail – I helped build systems that identified anomalous behavior in website usage. I thought to myself, “What if I could use technology to address diversity?” At the time I had no idea what that meant.
Based on the aspiration to address diversity through technology, I spent 2013 and 2014 trying to learn as much about bias as possible. While many in Silicon Valley believe that they are so smart that any solution they develop will be better than anything that came before, I am much more of a “stand on the shoulders of giants” type. I wanted to understand what other people knew, what they’d tried, what worked, and what didn’t.
At first, I looked at the entire spectrum. I realized solutions were needed everywhere from preschool to boards of directors. I knew I couldn’t affect every step along the way, so I had to focus on the area where I could make the most impact. For me, that seemed to be an area that I was innately familiar with: hiring.
During my journey of 2013 and 2014 I talked to lots of people: hiring managers, recruiters, HR VPs, and academics. My conversations with the academics were the most interesting. I found that for decades, researchers have understood how to mitigate unconscious bias in the hiring process. There were fairly simple techniques (from clearly defining a job, to blind resume reviews, to structuring interviews) that were shown to improve the chances that the most qualified candidate would be chosen for the job despite race, gender, sexual orientation, sports team affiliation (yes, this really happens), etc. The most compelling part of this for me was that even though researchers understood how to address unconscious bias in hiring, no one had taken these findings and put them into a system to operationalize them. Here was my opening.
So, in 2014 I founded Unitive. We started building the system in 2015 and the rest is history, as they say.
But what keeps me, and the entire Unitive team, motivated is our vision. Imagine a world where every hiring decision identifies the absolute best candidate for the job. What would that world look like? Not only would diversity be addressed, but companies would be more profitable. Innovation would explode. Income inequality would be reduced. National GDPs would increase. The list goes on and on. All of those things are what drive us every day. It’s why what we do is so important and why we’re so excited to partner with you.