ZestFinance is trying to increase its employee diversity and the company wants the world to know why.
“You can do this for moral or political correctness, but for us diversity matters because you get more perspective,” said ZestFinance Chief People Officer Sonya Merrill. “With more perspective you get better decisions, which yield better business results.”
The Hollywood firm is a rapidly growing online subprime lender that uses sophisticated computer algorithms to assess borrower risk. As such, the company said it is continually recruiting employees with technical skills. Yet, it has also made its mission to recruit candidates in underrepresented categories such as women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities.
As part of the effort to recruit more women, ZestFinance announced a family-leave policy last month, which includes six months of paid time off for primary caregivers, with an option to work part time for six additional months with full benefits, as well as three months of paid time off for new secondary caregivers.
Women represent 42 percent of ZestFinance’s 100 employees, but the company is aiming to push that number to 50 percent by the end of the year.
“It’s hard enough to find that amazing female engineer in the first place,” said Merrill. “That is where our family-leave policy can be very helpful.”
While many businesses balk at the cost of paid family leave, Merrill said it makes good financial sense.
“The business case should not be around, Oh, my gosh, how much is it going to cost to have this benefit? What companies should ask is: How much is it going to cost us to not have this benefit?” she said. “Recruiting, training and retaining is way more expensive than offering great benefits up front. A lot of companies are shortsighted in how they look at it.”
Still, ZestFinance also acknowledges increasing female representation will be difficult.
“There are fewer female candidates for technical roles,” said Merrill. “Dramatically fewer.”
So instead of looking for women candidates with specific technical skills, such as knowledge of the programming language Ruby, the company looks for candidates with skills in closely related programming languages and the aptitude to learn.
“We’ll teach them Ruby and we’ll expect that they’ll have a three- to four-month learning curve,” said Merrill. “It requires you to change your forecasting and hiring practices a little bit.”
Individuals who are open to developing new skills also fit into ZestFinance’s culture, she said.
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