Earlier this year, WeSolv founder and CEO Stella Ashaolu was asked during an interview which tech mogul she’d most like to have in her corner: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos.
Understandably, Stella didn’t love the premise of having to choose her hero from one of three white guys (she eventually settled on Bill and added Melinda).
More importantly, Stella didn’t love the fact that three white guys had become “the epitome of tech entrepreneurship and what we look to when we think of what a startup and ultimately, a tech CEO, looks like.”
The lack of diversity among tech companies, startups and VC firms — especially in leadership positions — is well-recognized at this point, as it is in other industries. But the problem isn’t that talented candidates from underrepresented groups don’t exist, it’s that companies aren’t great at finding and hiring them — not to mention keeping, including and promoting the ones they do hire.
Companies need to look at “the methodologies that they’re using to acquire and assess talent and really look objectively into how those are biased,” Stella says.
Wth WeSolv, she’s helping them tackle exactly that challenge.
“Companies do have to be ready to make the changes that bring more diversity,” says Stella.
Stella rolled out WeSolv in early 2017, inspired in part by her own experience navigating consulting firms’ hiring processes as an MBA candidate at USC. When recruiters visited campus, Stella found it difficult to convince them how her experience at an entertainment law firm and as a startup founder gave her skills that transferred to consulting. Instead, they favored applicants with traditional corporate experience.
Stella had more success, however, with case competitions, where she didn’t just have to impress a recruiter by presenting herself a certain way — she could demonstrate her skills in scenarios that actually resembled those she’d encounter on the job.
But even that approach had its flaws — she was only exposed to a handful of competitions through classes and bias still played a role when companies selected winning teams.
WeSolv hopes to address those and other flaws present in traditional hiring processes by “leverag[ing] technology to help MBA job candidates of all backgrounds access meaningful careers and infus[ing] companies with diverse, high-performing talent,” according to its website.
WeSolv makes those connections by designing custom competitions where candidates solve real business challenges faced by their potential employers. Companies then identify top-performers according to WeSolv’s proprietary criteria — developed in partnership with industrial organizational psychologists — which helps reduce bias in the evaluation process.
According to Stella, WeSolv is up to around 2,500 students active on its platform from over 80 participating MBA programs, along with another 30,000 students in its network.
Notably, of those students, she says about 70% are people of color and 50% are women, letting clients draw from a broader pipeline of talent than they might otherwise.
With its platform and student network established, WeSolv’s next challenges are improving its predictive analytics and performance data, as well as automating and scaling a process that, as Stella admits, is fairly hands-on for hiring teams.
While WeSolv is already working with major firms like Salesforce and Discover, its success will depend on continuing to identify and land deals with companies whose leaders have prioritized and allocated resources toward making hiring more inclusive.
Often, executives express a desire to boost representation in their ranks but don’t empower the people and teams who are ultimately tasked with making that happen.
“Companies want to move the needle, but they have to understand that people have to do the work to move the needle and give people the ability to make changes in how they tackle this problem,” Stella says.
If Stella and her team can convince companies to put their money where their mouths are, WeSolv may have a way to help them move that needle.