Helen McGuire (CEO) and Hayley Bakker (CFO)

Helen McGuire (CEO) and Hayley Bakker (CFO) came together in 2020 to set up their successful venture Diversely – a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)-specific platform that enables businesses to deliver an inclusive hiring experience through AI-driven recruitment tools and deep data insights.

The award-winning D&I technology of Diversely was subsequently bought over by the UK’s largest software provider, The Access Group, for an undisclosed sum early this month.

Diversely served clients globally across both in-house and recruitment sectors, having initially raised over half a million US dollars in funding.

Diversely will now be exclusively available as part of The Access Group’s Volcanic solutions in order to create inclusive online recruitment experiences. Volcanic solutions will give recruitment agencies much-needed visibility of D&I data and the tools they need to remove bias from the candidate attraction and selection process.

This acquisition represents a landmark move in the DE&I space, with Diversely being the first technology platform of its kind to be acquired by a larger technology group.  Launched with a vision to level the playing field for candidates through the invention of inclusive recruitment tools and deep data insights, the platform has amassed a large industry following and been recognised with awards for innovation, most recently winning DE&I Solution of the Year at the UK’s TIARA Tech Star Awards in June 2023.

Not only did Helen and Hayley build a tech marvel platform, but they went on create an exclusive ecosystem that caters to the workforce industry.

Following the acquisition of their successful venture, Women Icons Network (WIN) reached out to these amazing achievers to understand their thought process behind setting up a successful tech platform. Excerpts:

WIN: From founding Hopscotch to the acquisition of your yet another platform – Diversely – by the Access Group, it’s been a long journey. What changing trends have you seen in workplace diversity, globally through tech?

Helen McGuire

Helen: I founded Hopscotch back in 2015 in the Middle East and the first question I had from a prospect was, rather memorably, ‘But why would I want to hire women in the first place’?   This was – let’s not forget – pre-#metoo, pre-#blacklivesmatter, and at a time when Diversity and Inclusion weren’t even considered an industry, let alone a career choice, in most places in the world!  Solving the problem in MENA and APAC was in its infancy and though there were laws and targets in place – mainly around gender parity – there was very little on-ground action in the private sector to make this happen and absolutely no tech at all in existence!

Fast forward to 2021 and the number of those with D&I in their title had jumped by 60% over 12 months according to LI research.  Flexible working had become ‘the norm’ thanks to the pandemic and the global furore surrounding George Floyd had propelled racial inequality into the foreground.  It was around this time that the number of solutions in the tech (and no-tech!) space to solve for D&I started to ramp up.  Diversely was founded in early 2020 as a scalable tech answer to the many problems I saw NOT being solved whilst running Hopscotch, but others were quick to follow and we saw many a platform that had not been built for D&I being swiftly adapted for that purpose – some successfully, others less so.

D&I was suddenly a recognized industry and profession and had the HR tools – and myriad consultancies – to support it.  In 2022, we created this Guide to The New World of D&I Tech in order to help practitioners make positive choices around the tech that could help them achieve their goals across the hiring journey – counting multiple solutions that had sprung up across multiple touch points. The space has absolutely matured – as have the attitudes around D&I – but there is still a long way to go to make these approaches an expected part of every recruiter’s day-to-day activity.

WIN: Raising USD550k from investors internationally and being acquired by Access Group, was indeed quite an achievement of that vision in under four years. Can you elaborate on the experience?

Helen: We’d always known on starting Diversely that finding funding in order to build the tech was going to be key.  We started early – even before we’d built the platform, we were winning awards for innovation for our vision and creating marketing materials, messaging, and digital content in order to post out on LinkedIn, to our networks and educate followers about what we were trying to achieve.

It was that network – plus some family and friends – that got us started with the fundraiser and we executed two pre-seed rounds, attracting investors that had never met us in person to invest in our vision and plan.

We were also accepted onto multiple accelerators – Antler, Workplace Accelerator, and the London Mayor’s Business Growth Programme – all of which helped us grow through mentorship, access to resources, and understanding how the funding ecosystem worked, as well as introductions to key players.

The funding went to supporting the build of the platform, hiring of key team members, and of course supporting our marketing activities in order to start building a sales pipeline, but it also brought us important investors from our industry that made vital intros and helped us break into the market.  That plus our valuable partnerships created as we grew were the key to achieving our vision in a short space of time and building a business that was a highly attractive acquisition prospect.

WIN: Besides being a landmark move in the DE&I space, with Diversely being the first technology platform of its kind to be acquired by a larger group globally, what does this acquisition mean for Diversely?

Helen: It’s a huge win-win all around.  Our vision for Diversely was to become the gold standard D&I tech platform globally – the go-to for D&I data and inclusive hiring practices to reduce biases and improve workplace diversity.  Our mission was to get this tech into the hands of as many hiring professionals as we could.  This acquisition means that both of these purposes are achieved at a speed and scale we could never have thought possible a few years ago!

The technology will form part of some of the largest, most popular recruitment solutions on the market – first, through Access Volcanic and then through Vincere, followed by further integrations over time.  D&I will become quite a simple day-to-day platform for those users, meaning fair candidate journeys and a reduction in human biases towards under-represented groups.

Finally, the acquisition has meant that our team has a home as part of one of the world’s largest software companies and we – as founders – still play a part in our platform’s journey.

WIN: What was the driving force behind your decision to turn into an entrepreneur?

Hayley Bakker

Hayley: It was always going to be my path!  I come from a fairly long line of entrepreneurs and 90% of my close family members are also entrepreneurs – let’s say I picked up a lot from osmosis.  For me, it was about falling in love with a problem, something that came along when I had my first daughter back in 2014 and quickly realized how many women in my circles were being excluded from the workforce due to a lack of understanding of their need for flexibility.  My first business, Hopscotch, was born a year or so later and grew across the Middle East and Asia over the following four years.  That business built on my skills as a communications professional, using PR, digital content, broadcast, advertising, social media, partnerships, and events to grow my brand.  On that journey, I learned sales, key business, and even some technical skills to keep going!

WIN: What were the important factors that kept you going?

Hayley: The people we surrounded ourselves with is partly what kept us going – taking advice from those who’d done something similar, getting a hand up when we were knocked back, and finding answers fast to things we’d never encountered before.  Some of those things included selling to large corporates, tackling TPRMs, hiring for various roles like sales or customer success, and – of course – building the technology!

The other thing was each other.  As equal co-founders with quite different focuses in the business, if one was having a bad time of it the other would generally have enough in the tank to help!  There was nothing easy about the journey, especially having zero blueprint or similar business to learn from in the market, so internal support was very important.

But in the end, it’s up to you to keep going.  You HAVE to fall in love with the problem and be prepared to do anything – including letting go of solutions you may already have developed – to solve it.  That’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you pulling those rabbits out of hats that will ensure you’re moving forward.

WIN: How would you define success?

Hayley: Doing what you said you were going to do – finding a way – but ultimately being at peace with any decisions you’ve taken on that journey to make it work for you.

Across the eight years I’ve been working on this problem I’ve had three children and moved countries twice – I’ve had to factor my babies, their journeys and my role in the family as very much a part of growing the businesses.  I knew for me staying at home full time would never be the answer, but equally that I needed to be flexible and ensure I could be there for important moments. Entrepreneurship suited me in that respect and has meant I can role model being a successful woman for my children as they’ve grown up. It’s something I’d call a blended success on both fronts!

WIN: What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

Hayley: Don’t feel you have to have it all figured out to start – starting IS figuring it out and NOBODY has all the answers.  Find the problem you want to solve, do your due diligence to ensure there is a genuine need for that solution, and start networking with those in a similar space.  There will be many people offering you advice, be choosy about what you take and always go with your gut feel – you need to become the expert in your field and that won’t happen by copying everyone else.  Have faith in your approach – ultimately the execution is where you win and that comes down to you.  Finally, don’t be afraid of competition – it’s a good sign that there is a healthy market need and will keep you on your toes.