Head of UK & International Expansions at Alva Labs Dhevesh Mewawalla explains how rethinking traditional hiring leads to better workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Diversity is the outcome when you offer equal opportunities and create an inclusive process, according to Dhevesh Mewawalla.
“There’s much buzz around diversity, and I’m all for it, but in my view, the idea that it’s some kind of goal you would get by putting numbers against it is fundamentally flawed,” he says. “You’ve got to put some building blocks before you get to that stage and think about it more holistically.”
Mewawalla is Head of UK & International Expansions at Alva Labs, a digital hiring platform that supports ”putting those building blocks first”, starting with equal opportunity. Headquartered in Stockholm, the company provides recruiters and hiring teams with objective data and insights to make better hiring decisions.
Starting with psychometric assessments, Alva Labs strengthened its offering last year by acquiring coding test start-up DevSkills which evaluates the technical competence of developers and is designed to reduce bias in hiring. Alva Labs and DevSkills are aligned in prioritising candidate experience with market-leading assessment quality.
The psychometric assessments are based on scientific research. He explains: “We will not create an assessment just for the sake of it; we make sure there’s scientific validity towards it. We leverage the five-factor model (often referred to as the Big Five), further divided into three key sub-traits that allow us to measure 15 unique data points of personality.” Adjustments have been made to ensure the tests are accessible to neurodiverse applicants.
Results will show how well a candidate is suited to a particular role. Highlighting the value of this process, Mewawalla gives an example of how the assessment would prove his unsuitability for a customer service position. “Anyone who knows me will confirm that I would be terrible at the job because my natural traits lean towards disagreeableness – forthright and sceptical,” he says candidly. “It’s nothing to do with my experience; it’s just that it would be so different from my natural state of personality it would make me unhappy.”
Following the assessment, the next stage is to validate whether the individual is ready to do the job by looking at their CV and learning more about their experience through a structured interview, covering issues such as communication, conflict management and problem-solving. Finally, there’s the case study tailored to the particular job. For example, if the job is in marketing, the candidate would be asked to propose an idea for a campaign.
“We’ve tried to create an end-to-end process to say, ‘I wouldn’t ask you to hire a doctor just because they have a great personality’,” Mewawalla explains. “They need to have the qualifications. That’s similar in the tech world. You might have entry-level people you can train, but you still need them to have a basic understanding of the work. The DevSkills acquisition focuses on creating a repository of those case studies that engineering managers or Chief Technology Officers can use.
“Recruiters can help them with all sorts of candidates, but they have to validate that they know what they’re doing, typically done by bringing someone into the office for multiple hours. So, we’re trying to simplify that by having all the pieces in one place, how you shortlist, how you run structured interviews. Experience is still very important; we’re saying we need to tailor it based on what matters for a role instead of using it as a starting point for everything.”
He accepts that psychometrics have had negative associations in the past when they were considered to be a means of keeping people out. Also, candidates tended to be kept in the dark about the results.
The Alva approach ensures that all candidates get the same results as the hiring manager. “The only difference is the hiring manager gets to apply a lens on that profile based on the role fit,” says Mewawalla.
“But we give all the data on the personality and cognitive ability profiles back to the candidate. This includes where they sit on the personality distribution, their motivating factors, strengths and challenges, and what cultures and roles would better fit. That means there’s less risk of burnout and mental health conditions because you’re trying to do something vastly different to what you believe in and who you are.”
In a way, this was his own experience. Growing up in Mumbai, he had little idea of what he wanted to do, so at his father’s behest he ended up getting a degree as a Chartered Accountant. “I hated everything about accounting,” he recalls. “Luckily, I found banking and was involved in finance and strategy, which was more holistic and stimulating.”
After a couple of years with Citibank in India, Mewawalla spent the next seven years working for them in London, where he was involved in helping small and medium-sized companies to scale internationally. But, while banking made him financially independent, he realised it wasn’t his calling. So, he took a short sabbatical and volunteered with the social mobility charity CareerReady, helping 16–18-year-olds from less privileged backgrounds to access the workplace.
Finding the right place
Attending the One Young World conference in 2019 gave me cause for more introspection. He recalls: “I looked at all the things wrong with the world and what I could influence. As an immigrant, I felt we needed to change how we view society and education and what equal opportunities look like.”
Mewawalla’s career changed direction when he was introduced to Alva Labs by a friend and was eventually approached to help the company launch in the UK. “I was ecstatic; it was exactly where I wanted to be,” he says. “The motivation came from having a bigger purpose and working to solve a massive social problem. We are not a charity, we will make money, but we want to do it the right way and enable change.
“We focus on the quality of hire to help companies find the best fit for their purpose, whether to make a profit or a social impact. People being a company’s greatest asset is not entirely true – they can be a liability if they’re in the wrong place.
In most organisations, 5% of the population contributes to 26% of the productivity. There is a clear correlation and the multiplier effect you get with high performers who are in the right place – not because they’re good at everything – but fit the mission, culture and position and really embrace it.”
Mewawalla accepts that many organisations are still stuck in the traditional way of hiring and is regularly asked which other big UK companies are using the Alva Labs recruitment tool rather than taking the maverick path. He believes that success breeds success, and the team is building social proof to spread the word, citing the example of a customer who said using Alva Labs has led to more robust and objective hiring. In particular, recruiting candidates from non-traditional backgrounds without a formal education who have proved to be the best performers, repeatedly.
Significantly, he believes that, although it is possible and necessary to reduce bias, hiring could never be totally bias-free because “no matter where you go, there will be different kinds of biases that you create. What’s changing is a movement towards creating more representation and helping people from different backgrounds into the workplace and positions of power.
“We don’t want representation for the sake of it; we need to complement it with some competence, the skill that they bring to the table. That balance has been tricky to strike. There are different ways to approach the problem; platforms that do situation-based assessments, platforms that can create tests for anything you can think of or platforms that do video interviews first; each will trigger its own set of biases.
“If we’re able to acknowledge that the traditional way is not going to give us the outcome, then that’s the starting point. And finding what works with your organisation is important. But if you don’t have an inclusive process while bringing different people into the room, don’t make them comfortable or give them an environment in which to flourish, you’re not going to reach your Diversity goals anyway.”