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Nadia Fischer on Innovating Inclusion in the Workplace

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Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Nadia Fischer on Innovating Inclusion in the Workplace

In this interview, we’re thrilled to present Nadia Fischer, the inspiring CEO and Co-founder of Witty Works, alongside her fellow Co-founder and CTO, Lukas Kahwe Smith. Together, they are at the forefront of transforming workplace communication, making it more inclusive and diverse through their innovative browser extension, Witty. Nadia’s vision and leadership, combined with Lukas’s technical expertise, have propelled Witty into a key player in the tech industry, committed to promoting inclusivity through language. Join us as we explore their journey, challenges, and the impact of their groundbreaking work.

Join us as we delve into the journey, challenges, and aspirations of Nadia Fischer and her trailblazing venture, Witty.

Nadia Fischer and Lukas Kahwe Smith

Genesis of Witty Works

SBS – What inspired the creation of Witty Works?

Nadia – It was my personal experience, or, rather, two personal experiences. I speak four languages and realized how much culture comes with the language. In order to understand a culture, you actually have to speak a language. The other experience was that for 14 years, I’ve been working in the IT area or tech branch, and I saw the lack of diversity. I think that’s worrying because if we don’t see all the perspectives, we may not create the right solutions, and we also forget about many needs that are out there. Sometimes, when I see what’s being built in Silicon Valley, even in Europe — it’s like the millionth fintech company — when so many needs out there are not being catered to.

What I first did were diversity trainings with companies. What I saw as problematic is that when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we’re always about fixing the people who have the problem (for example, the people of color or women) instead of saying it’s the companies who have to change. I did those diversity trainings and saw it didn’t work because it’s like a one-off, and people quickly forget what they’ve learned. Coming from tech myself, I said, “Why don’t we build software that can solve this problem?” We combined it with language because we knew that with language, we could transport that inclusive culture. That’s how we got to the idea of Witty.

Overcoming Early Hurdles

SBS – Can you give us examples of obstacles you faced in the first stages of creating Witty?

Nadia – Well, you could call this an obstacle: We first had to prove ourselves to the companies that would spend money on this. We did it stepwise. First, I did the work manually. I started to write inclusively for different companies, and I saw they were ready to pay. Then the question was: Are they also ready to pay if they buy software and have to do it by themselves? We’ve proven that with a minimal viable product, and only then did we decide to try to find investors and build the final solution. I guess some other startups are much faster, but here, it took us quite a while to make sure that we could prove the business case.

SBS – How much time did it take?

Nadia – I did the manual work in 2019, and we built the MVP in 2020. Then, in 2021, we could prove that the business case is working. That’s when we went into a funding round. We started building the final solution in 2021 and finished it in mid-2023, more or less, and we have been selling it since then.

Strategic Planning and Funding

SBS – Do you think someone who wants to start a similar business should check the idea and write everything down before asking for funding?

Nadia – The problem is that if you are in a very new field (like we are), there is no solution like this. No investor is going to invest in you if you cannot prove some kind of traction already. However, it also depends a lot on the subject matter and the person. For example, we know that men get financed much more easily than women. Female startuppers have to prove much more that they’re investment-worthy than male startuppers.

I would also say it’s easier to get funding if you are, for example, in a product that is generally already accepted and the market needs it, for example, a new CRM. If you find a certain edge to a new CRM, it may also be easier than if you take a totally new subject.

We still had to do a lot of awareness work with the investors. We even had to first explain to them that diversity and inclusion is a market and that companies do spend money on this.

I can’t say you should have everything ready in the beginning, but it definitely helps you to give you more assurance in what you’re doing, and it makes the funding rounds easier if you can prove the business case. 

Witty.works team
Witty Team

Tackling Bias in Language

SBS – How does the Witty extension identify and address biases in language? 

Nadia – Everyone’s currently talking about language AI and stuff. So, Witty is not a generative language AI, but we could say it’s a kind of augmented intelligence. Its basis is very “stupid.” It’s like a big database of vocabulary that we know is biased. How do we know that?

Firstly, there were studies that were done by Harvard or the Technical University of Munich, which showed that certain words, for example, do not attract women.

Secondly, we made our own group studies and focus group studies with Generation Z, and we tested them on what words and phrases they didn’t like. So, for example, Generation Z is much more socialized already on authenticity, and all very exaggerated and over-the-top statements like “We are number one” and “We’re the best in the market” don’t appeal to them so much.

Thirdly, we worked together with associations specialized in a certain diversity dimension. For example, in the language of LGBT, we worked together with experts who are LGBT themselves, and that helped us to build that language or that vocabulary. The same is true with people with disabilities. We didn’t do that ourselves.

So, you’ve got this big vocabulary, and it’s very easy to detect a word in a thread sentence in our database. The algorithm also needs to understand in which context that word is mentioned because it’s not like grammar, where you have wrong or right. It totally depends on the context. One word can be really discriminatory in one context, but in another, it may be totally fine. Take the word “independent,” for example. If you’re saying, “We are an independent company,” like a legally independent company, it’s not problematic at all. But if you are saying you are a person who works independently, it’s problematic because you imagine the person working all on their own — and it deters many talents.

This is what we solved with artificial intelligence. We used natural language processing to understand the words in context. But in the end, it’s not generative because, as a person, you are still writing everything yourself, and the algorithm just helps you to detect things you wouldn’t have detected yourself and then gives you alternatives to how you could write it differently. Otherwise, it takes you a lot of time to find synonyms and how you should write those words differently. That’s why we call it augmented intelligence.

Witty’s Impact on HR Processes

SBS – What impact does Witty have on the productivity and efficiency of HR?

Nadia – Very good, actually! For example, if you’re using Witty in order to be faster and more inclusive when you write job descriptions, we see a big productivity boost.

When companies without inclusive language write in a conventional manner, it may take them about 30 minutes to write that job ad. When they decide to use inclusive language but do it manually, it suddenly takes them 90 minutes because they have to review it, see where the problems are, and then find the synonyms, which takes a long time. With Witty, you can bring that back down to 35 minutes! In general, manually writing employer branding content takes a lot of time, and you’re also always feeling unsure of your word choice.

Now, when it comes to other impacts, what we see in HR or companies in general when they introduce Witty not only to talent acquisition but, for example, also to communication, PR, leadership communication, and so forth, they see that it has an impact on behavior as well. When you’re writing with Witty, and you see underlined terms, and you’re changing them to more inclusive ones, little explanations tell you where this bias comes from. This is a learning effect: Receiving these explanations repetitively suddenly makes you aware of your own biases. You realize you weren’t aware you had this bias, or you weren’t even aware there was bias in there.

As we can see in bigger companies like Publicis Media or Deutsche Bahn, this impacts people. In real life, they’re suddenly becoming more aware of their behavior. When they go into a meeting where they don’t know the people, suddenly they think, “Maybe this person is gay, and maybe this person is a father who raises his children on his own,” and they start being more aware and thinking more about people’s backgrounds. This makes a company more inclusive in general. Again, language builds culture, right? It’s not just one business goal you want to reach but a whole cultural change you’re managing with Witty. 

Broad Applications Across Industries

SBS – Do you think that Witty has also been beneficial in diverse sectors like marketing, customer service, or internal communications? 

Nadia – Our goal is for Witty to be used everywhere in the company. If you’re writing more inclusively, you’re making sure that you’re not excluding anyone in your communication. For example, this happens to me quite often as a customer — I’m being referred to as a Mr. in emails, which hurts me. It’s also great when the leadership starts using Witty because they can say, “I’m using Witty. I’m being a role model.” It is important for us to be diverse and inclusive. I even show it with my language, and then people realize we (or they) mean it really seriously.

Success Stories

SBS – Do you have some success stories when Witty helped with diversity and improved organizational inclusivity? 

Nadia – We have several ones, and in the different use cases. For example, Publicis Media, a marketing agency, uses Witty internally, and it’s also used by advertising consultants when they’re writing for their customers because they want to make sure they are pioneers in inclusive language for their customers. That was their first goal. But then, when they saw the impact I was talking about, they became more aware of bias. Suddenly, people were thinking they were being more mindful of their environment. That was very nice! The CEO told us, “It’s weird; people are more mindful about all these different diversity types.”

Another example we have is Infineon, which uses Witty for recruiting and gets more diverse applications. There are also others, and this is a general experience for all companies who use Witty in recruiting: When before they maybe got 5% to 10% of applications from diverse talent, they now get about 30% of applications from diverse talent (three times more than before Witty).

We also have companies who used to do diversity trainings, frontal trainings, or unconscious bias trainings, and then they realized (before we knew them) it didn’t work. It’s really interesting when you’ve done such diversity training, but you’ve forgotten about it two days later. The fact is also that much of the stuff we do is very unconscious. It’s unconscious bias, and that’s not something you can teach in an afternoon. Then, they purchased Witty to have a more sustainable effect, which worked nicely. In a middle-sized organization, it saves about 300,000 per year. Instead of sending everyone through diversity training, which doesn’t have an effect, they’d rather use Witty, and that saves a lot of money.

Shaping Organizational Cultures

SBS – How do you think technologies like Witty could shape companies’ cultures within organizations in the future?

Nadia – I think they will, especially in the dawn of language AI being used everywhere. We tested ChatGPT on its inclusivity, and we were actually quite astonished and disappointed that ChatGPT cannot write inclusively. It does catch the most important discriminatory phrases or words like the n-word, but as soon as it gets to the more unconscious stuff, it doesn’t work because it derives from human content.

We call Witty an AI whisperer. You can use ChatGPT to write your text because it’s faster but then monitor it afterward with Witty on top. Make sure you’re rereading the text produced by ChatGPT, but then you’ll also control it for its inclusivity with Witty. That’s where we see quite a boost for a tool like ours.

Another boost, naturally, is law. This new law has already been enforced for larger organizations, and by 2025, it will envelop mid-sized organizations, too. It’s the EU’s ESG directive that requires companies to report on sustainability and diversity. One of the reports you must do is how many women and people with disabilities are in your management. So, if you have to report about it and reach a certain percentage, you have to do something to ensure it. That’s where we see Witty coming into play. It helps organizations reach these goals more easily.

User Feedback and Perspectives

SBS – What kind of feedback did you get from the users (that doesn’t have to be organizations or companies)?

Nadia – One that I mentioned was the productivity that the users have seen. They say, “Now, I’m finally much faster. I know I have to do it because it’s important to my company and myself, but now it’s not such a big burden anymore.” I think it’s really sad if inclusive language becomes a burden, but I understand doing it manually is a burden. It is very complicated. With Witty, it becomes fun because you’re learning on the go.

Another thing we had as feedback was that people felt more assured that they were not doing the wrong thing anymore. Because it is so complicated and because linguistic developments are so quick, you’re always wondering if you can still say something or whether it’s problematic. There, Witty gives you the assurance. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what our linguists are doing — they do the work for you and ensure you’re not falling into traps.

Future Developments and Features

SBS – What features are in the works for Witty, and what can we expect next?

Nadia – Well, what’s going to come, and it’s just about to be released, is the Microsoft Word plugin. Witty works on all web-based applications, and now we’re launching the Microsoft Word plugin. The next one will be the Outlook plugin. Something on our roadmap is also French because Witty works in English and German, but now we’re working with Adecco France to develop French. Spanish is the fourth language we plan to go for! 

Stay connected and engaged with Witty Works’ innovative journey in promoting inclusivity through language by following their social media platforms. You can find insightful updates, discussions, and community engagement on LinkedIn (and their LinkedIn community group), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.


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Nadia Fischer on Innovating Inclusion in the Workplace