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Augmented Writing Technology Boosts Diversity Initiatives

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​John Graham Jr. wasn't satisfied with how his company's job ads communicated with candidates. But rather than simply implore his recruiters to begin crafting more persuasive posts, the senior manager of global employer brand and recruitment marketing at biotechnology firm Amgen instead took a science-based approach to the challenge. He adopted augmented writing technology.

Augmented writing technology uses vast collections of data points to help users predict how audiences will respond to their messages. For recruiting, machine intelligence identifies patterns in language and the real-world hiring outcomes from prior job posts or recruiting e-mails to help authors choose language proven to appeal to their target audiences.

Experts say success with the technology in recruiting is prompting companies to look for ways to use it in other areas of HR and across the enterprise: an e-mail trying to convince a boss of a new idea, an announcement from HR leaders to the workforce about policy changes, or a manual to help customers solve problems.

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Supporting Diversity Initiatives

One of Graham's goals was to create more gender-neutral job descriptions to appeal to women as well as to men. An analysis of Amgen's job ads in comparison to its closest competitors' showed some of its recruiting language skewed more masculine than intended, he said.

"One of the words that stuck out was 'absolute,' which the analysis showed we used 175 times more than our next closest competitor in our job posts," he said. Statistically, according to Textio, more men apply to jobs with the word "absolute" in the job ad. "That [ad] skewed toward men and immediately gave us perspective on other words we might change to ensure our job descriptions were more gender-neutral," Graham said.

Graham partnered with Amgen's chief information officer Mike Zahigian, who also wanted to bring more diverse talent into the company's information systems department, to co-fund the investment in an augmented writing platform. The tool was deployed to the company intranet for enterprisewide access, Graham said, and while recruiters, sourcers and hiring managers have been its biggest early users, others have expressed interest in the technology.

Creating a shared document library of high-performing job ads and recruiting e-mails has led to new efficiencies, Graham said. "Instead of having to fish for a job description on a hiring manager's laptop, people can go into the shared library and find examples already proven to have worked well in the past," he said. "That gives them a good foundation to start with, rather than having to begin from scratch with each new job description or recruiting mail."

McDonald's has also recently invested in augmented writing as part of a broader strategy to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. The company announced a partnership with augmented writing provider Textio in March.

"The augmented writing platform will give us the insights to know, in real time, whether the language we are using is attracting the most qualified and diverse candidates we can," said Joshua Secrest, senior director of global talent attraction at McDonald's.

The investment is part of a push to improve the representation of women in the company and achieve gender equality in career advancement. According to a company statement, women hold 30 percent of the officer positions at McDonald's and 41 percent of staff positions at the director level and above. The goal of the initiative is to make the representation of women at every level in McDonald's equal to—or better than—the representation of women in the general workforce.

Actions taken to accomplish that will include using gender-neutral job descriptions, increasing diverse candidate slates and interview panels, purchasing tools that use artificial intelligence to root out bias from the candidate-selection process, and reviewing high-potential talent pools to promote gender balance and help accelerate careers through executive mentoring and sponsorship.

Beyond Gender Neutrality

TalVista is another company that offers augmented writing technology. The San Diego-based talent acquisition platform has a job description "optimizer" to identify problematic terms in descriptions and replace them with more inclusive language. Elaine Orler, co-founder and chairwoman of TalVista, said the optimizer goes beyond creating gender-neutral job descriptions to suggest language that's inclusive of race, ethnicity and disabilities. The technology calculates a score that adds points for content that will attract a broader pool of applicants and subtracts for content likely to alienate some applicants.

"It's been built and tested by clients over the past four years," she said. "It identifies words that are detractors and suggests alternative language proven to be more inclusive." Clients who've used the tool report a 30 percent increase in diverse candidates expressing interest in jobs, according to TalVista research.

Providers of augmented writing platforms say the biggest benefit of the technology is adding more science to the art of communication. "What the technology can do is take you beyond guessing about the impact certain words or phrases will have on intended audiences to essentially knowing, because of the vast amounts of aggregated data showing how language worked with audiences in the past," said Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio. "Companies increasingly understand it can be expensive to get their words wrong."

Textio's clients are data exchange partners, meaning they send data back to the vendor on how their augmented writing initiatives perform in terms of response rates, time to fill open jobs and other key metrics. "That exchange of millions of data points helps us continuously learn and improve our predictive engine," Snyder said.

Graham said augmented writing has sold itself with his recruiting team. "There is no shortage of exciting new technologies I can bring in, but getting people to use them always is the challenge," he said. "There wasn't any arm-twisting needed because the word of mouth on it was immediately strong. Our team has been able to quickly see the difference in the quality and broader appeal of job descriptions and recruiting mail from using the technology."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.


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