Israeli AI startup helps companies like Nike and PayPal hire for diversity

Israeli AI startup helps companies like Nike and PayPal hire for diversity

An Israeli-founded startup, Joonko, hopes to help bring diversity to the workplace by providing companies with recruiting technology that leads to a much-needed balance between gender and cultural and ethnic influences.

“We provide opportunities for underrepresented people, women, people of color, veterans,” said Albrey Brown, who recently joined the company as US general manager and vice president of strategy.

Creating a diverse workforce is good for company culture and helps create innovative products, Brown said. It’s also “the right thing to do,” he noted.

Companies around the world are realizing the importance of having a diverse workforce, both because employees increasingly expect it, and because having employees of diverse genders, ethnicities and cultures is good for business.

A study published by consultants McKinsey & Co in 2015 and updated in subsequent years shows that companies with a more diverse workforce “perform better financially”.

“Companies in the top quartile for sexual or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national medians,” McKinsey said.

More diverse companies have better access to top talent while becoming more attractive to customers, increasing employee satisfaction and improving decision-making, McKinsey said. And yet progress has been slow in most countries and across industries, McKinsey said.

Female representation on senior management teams in the US and UK was still 20% in 2019, according to McKinsey. Globally, women’s representation in senior management teams was just 15% in 2019, down from 14% in 2017. Ethnic minority representation in senior management teams in the UK and US was only 13% in 2019, compared to 7% in 2014; globally, the proportion was 14% in 2019.

Employees at Nvidia Israel. (Courtesy/Nvidia)

Joonko was built on this concept. The company was founded in 2016 by Israeli Illit Raz, its CEO, who said that as a woman in tech, she had personally witnessed the main barriers to hiring underrepresented talent.

Named after Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei, who became the first woman to summit Mount Everest in 1975, Joonko has developed AI-based software that identifies qualified candidates and matches them with suitable roles among the companies with which it associates. The company achieves this by creating an extensive talent network of screened candidates, across all industries, with a focus on potential employees from underrepresented communities.

Through Joonko’s technology platform, businesses and companies can access the network to recruit for different positions, track their analytics to improve their strategy, and deploy personalized rejection letters to candidates who didn’t make the cut like “a gracious farewell” that extends other opportunities (with an offer to join the Joonko network and be “associated” with relevant roles). Joonko then brings the best candidates into her talent pool.

In September, Joonko announced a $25 million Series B funding round led by Insight Partners, with backing from Berlin-based firm Target Global and existing investors Kapor Capital and Vertex Ventures Israel. The round brought the total amount of funds raised by the startup to date to $38 million.

Find the right candidate

Here’s an example of how Joonko fits into the recruitment process: A software engineer is interviewing for a position at one of Joonko’s partner companies. She gets to the final stages of the interview but doesn’t get the job or decides not to take the job. At this point, the company’s recruiter offers him the opportunity to join the Joonko Talent Network. If she accepts, the recruiter informs Joonko, and the startup sends an email to the woman inviting her to join its network.

If she accepts, Joonko’s algorithm springs into action, determining from publicly identifiable information whether that person is an underrepresented, network-appropriate candidate: is the person a woman, a person of color, someone from a culturally or ethnically diverse background, or a military veteran?

“If someone passes seven of the 13 checks we have, then we send them the offer to join the pool. Once they get the offer, they decide whether or not to join… 87% of people who receive offer join the pool, join our talent network,” Brown said. Once they provide consent, the algorithm connects them to jobs that resemble the ones they originally applied for, with companies Joonko partners.

Joonko partners with 130 companies, including Nike, American Express, Adidas, PayPal and Crocs, Brown said. And there are about 170,000 applicants each month applying for jobs, he said.

The average company using Joonko sees a 25% increase in underrepresented candidates in its recruiting funnel and hires one in six candidates recruited through the platform, the company said in a statement announcing the funding round.

Illustrative image of working from home, video conferencing and a laptop (asiadelight; iStock by Getty Images)

Joonko’s data doesn’t show how long new hires stay in their new jobs, Brown said. But clients who have used Joonko for diverse recruitments remain with the company. “We haven’t experienced any customer churn,” he said.

Currently, Joonko is solely focused on women, people of color, and military veterans in the US market because “diversity is different in different places,” Brown explained. Before expanding to other markets, it’s important to understand them first, he said.

There are competitors in the field, such as the recruitment platforms Untapped or SeekOut. But Joonko is different because his candidates are recommended by other recruiters, Brown said.

“Our key differentiator is that we don’t allow all applicants to register with Joonko. We only allow applicants referred by other companies,” Brown said. So clients don’t have to s worry about the quality of candidates because they have already been screened and recommended by other recruiters, even if they didn’t get the initial job, he said.

“Everybody’s been a silver medalist” at some point, Brown said. Even if they didn’t win gold by getting the job, that doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to take on a similar role at another company.

Joonko is part of a growing trend that sees technology playing a key role in human resource management. According to ResearchandMarkets, a data company, the human resources (HR) technology market was valued at nearly $29 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach nearly $49 billion by 2027.

Additionally, an HR Tech survey by PwC consultants shows that 19% of respondents said diversity, equity and inclusion was one of the biggest human capital challenges facing their organization. .

“Our entire portfolio and our businesses around the world are hyper-focused on building and sustaining a diverse workforce because that leads to better culture and better returns,” said Liad Agmon , managing director of Insight Partners, which invested in the startup. “Joonko has the team, the product and the vision to help businesses get there faster,” he said in the statement.

Based in New York, Joonko also has an R&D center in Israel and employs 36 people. The funding will help the startup expand its New York team and boost marketing and sales to grow its US business, Joonko CEO Raz said in an interview.

Internationalization is definitely “one of our steps to take in the next two to three years,” Raz said.

But, for now, the focus is on the US market. “We’re trying to stay very, very focused on the US market because there’s so much more to cover there.”


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