Technology

Ensuring Equity in the Digital Age

By Cynthia Ring

Sep. 4, 2019

Human resources professionals balance a number of time-intensive tasks, including managing their own teams, employees and prospective employees. When internal crises arise or quick hires must be made, time is of the essence. But the recruiting and hiring process can be extremely tedious for even the most seasoned HR professional.

Integrating new technology into the HR suite of tools can help create efficiencies and reduce the burden felt by members of the HR team, particularly when it comes to hiring. Advancements in AI promise to save time and automate processes such as sifting through résumés, but it’s important to consider the unintended impacts of this technology. In the immediate future, AI can be scary to workers as they fear for the security of their jobs. Longer term, this technology could hinder progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, as they may be biased due to the general profile of those involved with the technology’s development.

According to a study from Princeton University, AI has the ability to learn human bias and can in turn project biases onto potential job candidates based on race and gender. While these biases can be corrected, steps need to be in place for HR professionals to make sure the recruiting process is fair and balanced. Many AI programs have been formulated through a predominantly male lens, leading to programming that asserts the unconscious bias of its creators into real-world applications.

Unconscious and Conscious Bias in Machine Learning

Using artificial intelligence in job selection practices means allowing machines to cull through résumés and text, including social media posts, shared by numerous candidates of all races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. AI is programmed to rank certain terms highly and get rid of candidates that don’t fit specific job criteria.

Also read: The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace

As certain candidates are chosen from the pool of preselected options, the machine will learn to be biased against candidates who don’t match previously selected choices. A study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that when machines were presented with language that was linguistically different from standard English, the effectiveness of the machine’s algorithm significantly decreased. Similarly, the aforementioned Princeton study revealed that AI often associated women with roles in the arts and humanities, as well as the home, while men were associated with math and engineering.

While there are ways to counteract these developing biases, AI left unchecked can have detrimental effects to the overall diversity and equity of the hiring process, teams and ultimately the workforce at large.

Using AI to Complement Hiring Practices

HR teams should look at AI as a tool to help them find the best, most well-rounded talent. Machine learning processes should not take over the role of the hiring team. In fact, the hiring team should have constant access to the output of data and algorithms as candidates are being appraised.

Looking out for flaws in algorithms and understanding why certain people are chosen versus others will allow HR to be in full control of who is chosen for the interview process. Allowing the process to become completely digitized takes away the ability for hiring managers to see the full picture of potential employees.

It is important to remember that AI is not a panacea. It should be a strategic complement to the human aspects of the process, including the one element that will likely always rest with people — deciding to make the hire. Before considering a vendor solution or the implementation of AI into the hiring processes, HR teams should outline and understand the role of the hiring manager and recruiter as they relate to identifying trends and measures for success and bias.

Also read: Meet Your New Colleague: Artificial Intelligence

Measuring success of the hiring practices, reviewing for hiring trends and understanding bias must be a discipline retained that will serve to benefit long-term objectives of an efficient and equitable hiring process.

Benefits of a Well Run AI and HR plan

When digital hiring and HR actions are working in tandem with HR teams the benefits are immeasurable. Oftentimes HR professionals are on small teams, and in many cases they are a team of one. Utilizing machine learning practices to help sift through copious amounts of incoming data can allow HR to focus on other company needs that may be overlooked due to time constraints. AI that is implemented consciously and undergoes frequent human oversight will lead to decreases in workplace and hiring barriers. With this efficiency and newfound freedom, HR professionals can fully realize their company’s potential and ultimately build a diverse and multifaceted workforce.

Cynthia Ring is chief people officer at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare where she serves to champion a people and business Strategy.

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