Bias in candidate screening remains a major obstacle to diversity, but AI-enabled technology can help.
By Marta Chmielowicz
The world economy is growing and diversity is growing with it. According to the U.S. Census, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group by 2044—and this will have a major impact on labor market demographics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the percentage of Hispanics in the workforce is expected to almost double by 2060 while the percentage of whites is expected to decrease by nearly 20 percent. In addition, rising labor participation rates among women, increasing numbers of millennials in the workplace, and continued growth of immigration are all making diversity a critical business consideration.
While most employers are already aware of the importance of adopting practices that encourage a diverse and inclusive workplace, many neglect to embed this in their recruitment and sourcing processes. In fact, the Diversity and Inclusion in Recruitment study by Robert Walters indicates that although 85 percent of executives say that improving diversity is a business priority, only 46 percent have programs in place to attract diverse candidates.
Neglecting diversity leads to a missed opportunity for businesses and candidates alike. Adopting a more inclusive recruitment process delivers several benefits that create a major competitive advantage:
- Innovation. Diverse teams bring different perspectives, experiences, and approaches that drive creativity and innovation. “Companies with a diverse workforce benefit from new perspectives in thought, leadership, and processes. The cost of ignoring diversity is the opportunity cost of bringing in someone who thinks differently than others and just may have a revolutionary way of doing things,” says Zach Townsend, HR manager at Verified First.
- Better results. Inclusive teams also create better products, especially in industries that operate internationally and develop products that are used worldwide. Paul Burrin, vice president at Sage Business Cloud People, believes that teams that represent all races, ages, genders, and abilities are more likely to develop products that reflect the diversity of its user base, making products more applicable and accessible across a variety of communities. The technology sector is one such example.
“A team needs to pull from a variety of diverse perspectives and experiences to create and implement technology that will serve a global user base,” he says. “As we find new technologies that disrupt entire industries and change how we go about our every-day lives, diversity within developer teams, labs, and board rooms can help to make sure that the solutions do not inherently underscore biases coded into the technology itself.”
- Collaboration. Encouraging diversity and taking concrete steps to ensure that new hires are evaluated fairly and honestly has a tremendous impact on an organization’s culture. When employees see that they are represented and valued, they become more engaged and committed to their team and the mission and values of their company.
“An inclusive work environment creates unity within an organization because it allows individuals to work together,” says Meeshell Jewell, marketing director at Peopletrail. “Collaboration and diversity thrive in an inclusive work environment because individuals feel safe bringing different perspectives to the table. These different perspectives are necessary in an ever-changing marketplace.”
- Attractive brand. The search for qualified talent in a competitive labor market is a top priority for today’s CEOs and improving diversity can greatly expand the pool of interested candidates. “As markets shift and become more diverse, businesses will benefit from having diversity within them to appeal to these different segment shifts,” Jewell says.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 43 percent of millennials are non-white, making them the most racially diverse generation in American history—and for this segment of the workforce, diverse workplaces are a must. “Investing in a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment assists companies in developing a better recruitment brand profile; this is often a selling point for millennial candidates, many of whom have the modern skills you’re looking for,” says Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at InfoMart Tammy Cohen.
Here are some strategic steps organizations can take to reduce bias during candidate screening and maximize these benefits:
1. Tackle unconscious bias. The first and most critical step to reducing discriminatory practices during the screening process is examining where unconscious bias exists and taking concrete steps to counter it. “Organizations need to face bias head-on and identify where it has manifested in the office. Have the difficult conversations with your teams so that everyone is aware of where unconscious bias can occur in their individual processes. Then, look to artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology advancements to help eliminate those prejudices, while remembering that human resources still has to start with ‘human,’” says Cohen.
According to the survey by Robert Walters, 81 percent of business leaders recognize the potential impact of unconscious bias on their hiring decisions but 42 percent do not have any strategies in place to combat this bias. Burrin believes that providing anti-bias training is a key technique that businesses should consider. “Training HR teams to be mindful of unconscious bias enables them to understand how they can overcome bias and work towards making more objective hiring decisions,” he says. “Companies shouldn’t stop at the HR department: they should make the trainings mandatory for the entire workforce and integrate the lessons into onboarding processes for new team members as well.”
By implementing techniques to reduce unconscious bias, organizations can create a self-fulfilling cycle that continues to promote diversity. According to Burrin, one of the key drivers of unconscious bias is recruiters’ desire to choose job candidates based on similarities they share; so, unconscious bias training can reduce this tendency while simultaneously increasing representation across the team, hindering staff from unintentionally underestimating applicants and eliminating exclusionary hiring practices.
2. Use neutral language in job postings. Companies often blame their lack of diversity on a shortage of qualified candidates—but much of the fault can lie in the way that job postings are written. “For example, words like ‘weaponizing’ might be seen as violent and be less appealing to certain demographics, deterring them from applying. Using words that have a generally appealing tone will reduce bias from the beginning of the hiring process,” Townsend explains.
Organizations can adopt new technology that leverages AI and machine learning to identify and remove this biased language, thus diversifying the pool of interested applicants and improving the chances of hiring minorities. “It’s essential that organizations return to and review job listings to eradicate biases, and AI technology is available to assist in this endeavor; algorithms mask pronouns and names to avoid gender or racial bias. Removing these linguistic indicators will make job openings truly ‘open,’” says Cohen.
3. Focus on skill set. AI also provides a valuable opportunity to automate resume sourcing and exclude identifying information such as names, location, and gender, allowing HR professionals to focus solely on applicants’ skills and experience. “AI can create a non-biased funnel for recruiters. In other words, it can filter through applicants by searching for specific skill sets, experience, and titles. However, the challenge of this would be to create a filtering process that will not eliminate potentially qualified applicants,” Jewell says.
In order to avoid possible mistakes, Jewell believes that AI should never replace recruiters. Instead, companies should take a hybrid approach to hiring that combines AI’s automated time-saving capabilities with the judgment of real people. Cohen says that this could avoid unfair bias when utilizing AI for tasks like background screening where AI might indiscriminately eliminate all candidates with a criminal record. By reviewing these applications on a case-by-case basis, Cohen says that humans could prevent a disparate impact on groups of people with higher conviction rates.
4. Standardize interviews. Even with fair sourcing and recruitment practices, HR professionals need to be mindful of their bias during the interview process. “Once a recruiter finds prospective candidates, they can ensure an inclusive hiring process by standardizing their interview questions,” Burrin suggests. “In order to undermine unconscious biases that can manifest during conversations with candidates, companies should require their teams to ask each candidate the same questions as well as facilitating aptitude and personality tests that better indicate performance.”