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Censia Inc. with their Talent Intelligence Technology is using Machine Learning to Derive Actionable Insights and enable Recruiters to make Data-Driven People Decisions

Joanna Riley

Co-Founder and CEO

Censia Inc.

Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine

Published – April 12, 2021

CEOCFO: Ms. Riley, big and bold on the Censia, Inc homepage is, “Powering data driven people decisions.” How are you doing that? What does that mean at Censia?

Ms. Riley: Censia believes that bias in hiring decisions affects billions of people around the world and keeps them from job opportunities that they qualify for. Not only that, but it is significantly impacting organizations’ bottom line. One of the reasons that this problem exists is that data on people is unintelligent and unstructured. Anyone can post anything about themselves online, and no two online profiles are written using the same words or structure. It’s challenging for people to make sense of all the people data out there, and most talent search technologies don't do a great job either.

We power data-driven people decisions by taking all of that data, cleaning and organizing it, and then using machine learning to derive actionable insights. This allows companies to make data-driven people decisions based on the most complete and correct data available and not on an inefficient keyword search or a personal filter. Our Talent Intelligence technology and data allow talent teams to make decisions that are less biased, less subjective, less manual, and more intelligent. It enables them to identify the skills and capabilities they need quickly and to instantly identify the people who have them.

CEOCFO: Are we talking about biases that people know they have or underlying biases that people may not realize exist in their own minds, or maybe both?

Ms. Riley: That is a great question! It can be both, but the bias happens due to an overload of data in most cases. Applications and talent data have increased exponentially over the years. Recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing a resumé. It is natural for a brain to start tuning out information and looking for people similar to those who already work in the company. This is called affinity bias, and it’s a significant impediment to diversity and capabilities-based hiring. There is an enormous amount of talent data hiring teams can look at: professional networks, resumé databases, local and federal registration boards, as well as things like patent databases and events databases. All of this information is messy and unstructured, and it’s incredibly cumbersome to review. And that is when the brain creates filters as a way to drown out the noise. These filers may be as simple as a school or a company name, or as insidious gender, age, ethnicity, and race.

CEOCFO: How does your solution work? How would someone use Censia?

Ms. Riley: We are a Talent Intelligence Platform, and we help organizations find, develop and retain the best talent in the world. We do that with the application of AI and machine learning so that organizations can make much better decisions around every aspect of their people decisions. The people decisions include who to hire, who to promote, who to move internally in the organization, where we put the offices. Censia has taken the world of people data and all the various places that this data sits combined it, cleaned it, structured it, contextualized it, and then derived intelligence from it.

Let’s use Checkr as an example. The fact that a person has worked at Checkr may not mean much right off the bat, but what Censia knows is that they are in HR technology and software. Censia also knows that this person was at the organization during a critical time of growth, surging from $100 million in valuation to multiple billions of dollars in four years. Censia also understands not just what the person did but how they fit into the organization, including seniority. Titles can be deceiving. Let’s say you’re looking at a Vice President at Bank of America – there are many vice presidents in that organization. But at Checkr, there are very few, and it’s a huge deal. Understanding context is really helpful when evaluating people’s backgrounds.  

But that’s the big picture. The real transformation is that which happens in organizations using talent intelligence. We help the organization make better recruiting decisions by automating sourcing, screening, and candidate rediscovery. Overall, we reduce time spent on these tasks by up to 90% by delivering a slate of candidates that is highly qualified and fairly evaluated, allowing recruiters to spend valuable time connecting with people and building relationships. On average, our customers see a threefold increase in diversity, and sleep soundly at night knowing they have a built-in OFCCP compliance tool.

We also allow companies to make the most of their talent data. Most companies have data, but they don’t have the tools to gain insight from it, so promotions are dependent on relationships and, all too often, biased opinions. With Censia, those recommendations are made based on data, and recruiters can also use it to figure out which skills a person can learn to fill the roles.

CEOCFO: When a company engages you to help them, what are they supplying, other than saying, “We want someone for XYZ job? Might they weigh certain things differently than others or is it more that they are going to trust you because you know what you are doing and so you can figure out what they need?

Ms. Riley: Many times, organizations have a general understanding of what they need. Still, it's almost impossible for recruiters to know all the skills required for the variety of jobs out there. For example, there are over two billion skills globally, and about twelve hundred are relevant for AI and data science. Each of those has different weightings of relevance or importance depending on the type of role. So, you'll need different skills depending on what type of data scientist you are looking for. Sometimes, a job description is going to give you a tiny fraction of the knowledge you need to make the right decision. Censia clusters all of that knowledge, so even when a job description is not comprehensive enough, Censia can infer what skills are needed and find the people who have them.  We know all the types of skills, how they relate, and which are necessary for an individual to succeed in that role.

This is important in diversity hiring. Women put forty percent fewer skills on their resumes and profiles than men. They are equally as capable and qualified as men, but because they don't list those skills and variations, recruiters overlook them. A woman may only put "enterprise sales" on her profile, whereas a male would expand that and put enterprise sales, B2B sales, corporate sales, business to business sales, and other variations of that skill.

Another thing that happens is that women of color are less likely to be promoted, and therefore, for the remainder of their career, they don't have the qualifying title they need to move up the corporate ladder. Censia looks at their skills and capabilities rather than their titles, leveling the playing field for women held back by the broken rung phenomena.

CEOCFO: Are organizations that are looking to hire recognizing the need for something better? Do they realize it even exists or is it more that recruiters might be happy to find out about Censia? Also, do recruiters perhaps have some trepidation that they will not be needed if more can be done with AI?

Ms. Riley: That is a great question. First of all, I think that recruiters have much power because they are the conduit through which great talent comes into an organization and leaves an organization. At the same time, if you ask any CEO in the world what their most important asset is, they will say that it is their talent.

By nature, the people that are the conduits of that talent are influential. Unfortunately, because of the technology currently available, they spend most of their days doing unproductive, manual work. This is a waste of recruiting power. They should use their human skills, such as spending their time interviewing great candidates, understanding how they fit inside an organization, and understanding their strength and future potential.

Do I believe that AI is going to disrupt people? No, I don’t. AI will let people do much more valuable, critical, and fulfilling work and create greater prosperity for organizations.  

You asked if organizations are aware that they need this technology. They are. The global pandemic has accelerated our digital transformation and ushered in the fourth Industrial Revolution. This is a critical time for the worldwide workforce. Technology and automation will take eighty-five million jobs, but they are also creating ninety-seven million jobs. As it stands now, we don’t have enough graduates with the skills of the future, and organizations need to invest in upskilling their talent. They need to evaluate their current talent, discover what skills they can learn, and create a culture of continuous learning that will allow their workforce to keep pace with the changes that lie ahead. The failure to do so will result in $8.5 of unrealized annual revenue. The companies who are aware of this know that they need our technology.


CEOCFO: How do you reach out to potential clients?

Ms. Riley: Most companies and enterprises do not want more technology. They have tool fatigue. Many companies try to sell them new systems, but most enterprises have systems they live and breathe in and are not willing to change. This includes SAP SuccessFactors, Workday, Oracle, or companies such as Greenhouse and PhenomPeople. We understood that these companies don’t need new technology but more functionality. So we asked ourselves: “How can we extend and enhance their systems?”

Creating integrations that achieve this has opened many doors for us. Companies hear about us and can purchase the software through their sales rep for their primary system. We do a lot of partner marketing to help organizations understand that we can optimize their talent acquisition technology and talent management technology to make it faster and better and deliver a tangible ROI to their organization.

CEOCFO: You have several different solutions. Would you just touch on what they are, what is getting most traction and what are people are not recognizing yet as important?

Ms. Riley: Our Talent Intelligence platform covers all the different aspects of HR. Censia’s Talent Acquisition Intelligence helps talent teams be more efficient, make better, more data-driven decisions, saving time and money while improving candidate quality. Recruiters can do all of this by logging into their systems. They instantly receive a ranked slate of candidates, which identifies people who have applied before and matches them to new opportunities.  

Censia Workforce Intelligence gives HR teams the power to look at talent trends and ask big picture questions, such as “who is taking our talent?” and “how do we compare to our competitors in certain skills or diversity?” With Workforce Intelligence, they can pull real-time reports comparing skills, diversity, and even geographic insights and identify skills gaps and competitive trends. It allows them to decide which departments to ramp up, what skills to train for, and which competitors pose the biggest threat. It also identifies flight risks.

CEOCFO: Where or how does personality come into play? Is there a way to assess with Censia?

Ms. Riley: I touched on the future's critical skills earlier, and what we've thought of as "personality" comes into play here. There are two essential skill types in the future of work: technical skills and interpersonal skills. The former is pretty self-explanatory: technology design, use, and monitoring. The second category is more interesting. The World Economic Forum's 2020 Future of Work report identified these skills as critical thinking, active learning, resilience, personal skills, and cultural skills, to name a few. These are things that were traditionally associated with personality but can be taught.

Censia partners with soft skills assessors and collects data on both hard and soft skills. You really can't assess a candidate unless you understand both of these. Once you know them, you can anticipate if this person will be good with clients or data, better at problem-solving or innovation. Censia also reveals things like loyalty, which some companies value a broad range of experience moreover. In short, we give companies all the insight they might be able to get with the most seasoned recruiters after doing a deep dive.

CEOCFO: Why choose Censia?

Ms. Riley: We solve a challenging problem and ensure that every organization has access to the world’s best talent. There is so much great talent in the world that is being overlooked. This stifles their careers and the economy as a whole. We empower all teams with the best people, data, and insights to move from slow, subject decisions to finding the best talent for their organizations and doing the work they are passionate about in a much more intelligent way.

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“Do I believe that AI is going to disrupt people? No, I don’t. AI will let people do much more valuable, critical, and fulfilling work and create greater prosperity for organizations.”
Joanna Riley