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#OpenUpTheWorkforce with Richard Cho, Advisor and Former Chief Recruiting Officer at Gem

Written by Mitra LeBuhn on April 27, 2023
4 min read

Presented by Symba, #OpenUpTheWorkforce interviews feature executives advancing inclusion, diversity, and equity for the future of work. In these short audio-only episodes, we talk with the top about what it takes to develop and implement inclusive processes. 

In this episode of #OpenUpTheWorkforce, Richard Cho, Advisor and former Chief Recruiting Officer at Gem, discusses how it's important to leverage data to understand any biases that may exist in your organization's processes, and more. Listen here.

Cho has been in the recruitment space for the better part of 25 years, starting off on the agency side and then shifting in-house after about 7 years to help build organizations. Over the last 15 years, he’s been at hyper-growth companies like Meta, Dropbox, Robinhood, and most recently Gem.

How do you factor in diversity during a high-growth phase?

Cho shares that it begins with a statement from the founders of the company communicating how diversity is part of the overall culture and identity of the organization, and why it’s important to the business. That ideology serves as the blueprint. Then begins the hard part, ensuring the processes established and data collected demonstrate you are building the diverse workforce defined in that initial identification statement. Track data like gender, race, ethnicity, and other backgrounds to understand progress in DEI goals, or more importantly, how biased some of your business processes might be.

How can leaders collect important diversity data?

Just recently, recruiters had to work around legal limits and manually track demographic data. Around 2 years ago, a tool popped up using AI to infer demographics like gender & race, leveraging machine learning to anonymously track those statistics. That tool went away, but Gem included that in their overall pipeline analytics tool. That has allowed companies like Robinhood to be able to look at the directional effectiveness and the biases that might occur in the hiring process. This is a legally compliant way to track these metrics, keeping them at an arm's length by anonymizing important data so people that are making hiring decisions are not using that to influence their decisions.

What is the role that early career programs play in overall diversity?

Cho shares that diversity should be across the board, not solely a focus on recruiting people with underrepresented backgrounds for your early career programs. “In today's economy, a lot of the hiring cuts have been with sort of early careers so that access becomes even harder. So we all know the reason why every company struggles with diversity is, you know, a combination of, you know, bias processes as well as limited access to especially those that are historically underrepresented. So the best ways companies can turn around and think about early talent is how do I make it easier for early talent to have access to the best opportunities in the world?”

What should companies do to expand the reach of their early career programs?

Open up university programs to not just include the same schools that every company is going to and expand early talent programs to include boot camps and apprenticeships. For example, work with one year internships, like Year Up, that go into low-income communities and train amazing talent to become amazing employees. 

Considering that D&I programs are getting cut, what should companies do so these initiatives don’t disappear altogether?

Cho begins by sharing that no company has figured out a true D&I program, for a number of reasons, but primarily because the programs are an adjunct to the business. They haven’t been made a true part of the company’s DNA. During hyper-growth to publicly traded phases is when DE&I becomes important, which demonstrates it wasn’t integral from the start, and these programs then become expendable. When these programs are cut, it tells the employees that are remaining at these organizations that DE&I may not be as important as it once was or was articulated to be. Cho concludes:

My message really is, reinvest. Like now is the time to really get it right. You now have the time and space to figure out, do we have biased processes in our selection of new employees? Are we promoting, you know, equally across all dimensions of, you know, diversity? What does our executive team look like? What does our board look like? These should not be "feel good" initiatives, these should be part and partial of the true identity of an organization. And if they really meant it, this is the time to invest in that. Not just because you want to get DE&I right? It's because it's gonna make your company better and higher performing, and it's really elevating your DNA and your culture to where you want it to be.

What do leaders need to do to #OpenUpTheWorkforce?

Cho shares his personal experience of the value of vicinity. He compares Tech in the Silicon Valley to a modern day gold rush, and suggests that his proximity to this area provided an access to wealth and opportunity that others did not have. Cho explains, “we really have to think about this notion that there's something off. If the Bureau of Labor Statistics still show labor shortage, and yet, we know in the middle states, in other states or just not in the tech areas, that we have people that are, you know, partially employed or underemployed, you know, there's something wrong here. There's a lot of smart people that should have had the same access that I had. So how do we, how do we cross that divide?

1. Every company that has the ability to hire people should really reinvest in where they go for talent.

2. How do we prepare smart people to transition to jobs that are readily available?

Cho concludes, “It has to be a combination of both federal, state supported programs along with companies really reinvesting and revamping where they go for talent. And that marriage is what's really going to solve this problem.”

If you’re in Tech, stay encouraged.

In certain industries, especially Tech, we’re hearing doom and gloom. But Cho urges resiliance, that he’s seen these swings in the market several times before and each time, companies cut too much and come racing back to hire more. He shares, “This is the perfect time to open up new avenues for talent…if we can get those things right, we will see an amazing turnaround in both innovation and product quality as well as hopefully bettering people's lives across the entire nation.”

About Richard Cho

Richard Cho has expertise in building diverse workforces, hiring, employment branding, recruiting operations and analytics, compensation analysis, stock administration, market analysis, and recruiting systems (ATS, sourcing tools, onboarding). He is a Senior Recruiting Executive with broad industry background. Richard has a successful track record of growing companies from 100's to 1000's in a short period of time. Richard was a speaker at The National Tech Recruiting Conference & Talent42, and is a renowned recruitment thought leader.



You can view other episodes of #OpenUpTheWorkforce here. Are you an executive leader increasing access to jobs and wealth creation? Request to be featured and show us how you #OpenUpTheWorkforce.

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Mitra LeBuhn

Mitra is the Head of Impact and Communications at Symba and leads social impact, PR, and marketing partnerships for the business. She combines a unique background in Global Health and Higher Education, and speaks French. Beyond Symba, Mitra spends her time outdoors, traveling the world and making music.

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