Tech companies have recently come under scrutiny for a lack of diversity in their recruiting processes. According to a recent report from Recode, women hold just 30 percent of leadership roles and less than 27 percent of technical roles—an average based on data from Google, Facebook, Twitter and other top tech companies.
As human resources departments work to address this hiring bias—often due to unconscious bias—artificial intelligence recruiting tools seem like a perfect solution. AI for HR promises to eliminate bias in the hiring process by making decisions based on data, not personal opinions or predilections.
Of course, overcoming bias is not that easy. While AI recruiting tools can be asked to turn a "blind eye" to things like race, gender and socioeconomic background when considering new candidates, it cannot eliminate bias that's already present in the data. "Since AI builds on history, it's pretty difficult to ask it to tell you about the space of no-history. That's where much of bias lives. It exists in the people who didn't even bother to apply and the people who weren't chosen, says John Sumser, principal analyst at HRExaminer.
The good news, though, is that it can reveal that bias and help companies make real progress toward fair hiring and equality.
Understanding Data Bias
According to a study out of Northeastern University, employers are more likely to hire candidates they'd ultimately be friends with. Did the hiring manager attend the alma mater of a candidate? Grow up in the same town? Know one of the candidate's references personally? If the answer is to yes to these questions and others, a manager is more likely to hire the candidate.
While AI doesn't look for friends when it's crawling resumes, that doesn't mean it's not set up for bias.
"There's a great question there about how much bias is built into the data," says Jana Eggers, founder and CEO of Boston-based AI company, Nara Logics. "These people were successful because they were hired. Well, how many people would have been successful that weren't hired?"
According to a study from researchers at Princeton University and the University of Bath, in crawling human data, AI learns human bias—the same way a child might. The study looked at an artificial intelligence process called word embeddings which, put simply, allows AI to correlate other commonly associated words to create a definition with more context and accuracy.
The problem is, social constructions of words typically contain bias. The study found"female" and "woman" were "closely associated with arts and humanities occupations and with the home," while male and man were "closer to maths and engineering professions." What's more, European names were closely associated with positive words, while African American names mapped to "unpleasant" words.
AI needs to understand what people mean when they write or say things to be effective. How do we help AI do as we say, not as we do?
Catching and Correcting
The first step, according to Eggers, is using AI recruiting tools to identify where things like race, gender or other inherent biases influence hiring decisions.
Just because we remove race from current data, for example, doesn't mean that previous data didn't impact the way the AI learned to make decisions. Rather than scrubbing this data from the system entirely, Jana advises learning from it. "When did you do better with diversity, and how can you highlight those decisions and promote them more in your network?" Eggers says.
Data ethics researcher Sandra Wachter says once we discover bias in algorithms, it's also easier to counteract than bias in humans. "At least with algorithms, we can potentially know when the algorithm is biased," she told The Guardian. "Humans, for example, could lie about the reasons they did not hire someone. In contrast, we do not expect algorithms to lie or deceive us."
Using AI as a Tool
AI presents both opportunities and challenges, so companies should think of the technology as a tool for HR departments—not a replacement for HR managers. "AI is not magic," Eggers says.
For example, current AI tools can't comprehend complex concepts, such as personality traits, that are essential to the hiring process. What makes someone a happy person, for example, may fall on a very wide spectrum. Companies should be careful to avoid relying too much on AI to hire for qualities that, at least for now, are hard to quantify.
"AIs are really just another kind of employee. Learning to manage, direct, train, supervise and maintain them is something we are going to learn a lot about," says Sumser.
Rather than being a decision-making engine, AI can help companies understand their biases and work to counteract them, while also discovering promising indicators in potential candidates. Used effectively, it's a tool that promises to help HR professionals do their jobs faster and more effectively—and over time, more objectively, too.
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4 Ways to Expand Your Social Media Recruiting Strategy
Social media is ubiquitous, and companies are using it in many different and innovative ways for enhancing their sales, marketing and customer services. So why is it then that many HR departments still fail to see social media as more than a job board? Outside of the office, the same HR people happily engage with friends on Facebook, share news and ideas on Twitter, look at pictures on Instagram and send snaps on Snapchat. But when they put their work hat on they seemingly forget why they use social in the way they (and hundreds of millions of other users) do every day, and resort back to just posting jobs (in a boring way) on social media! Of course there is nothing wrong with job posting, and it's often an effective approach to reaching an audience, but not all of the time. According to LinkedIn, only 12 percent of the working population are actively seeking new employment. So, if all you do is post jobs on your LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook page, you are consciously ignoring the other 88 percent of the working population who might be interested in hearing more about your company in general. Creating and sharing interesting content about your company such as employee stories or volunteer days help bring your employer brand to life. It might even trigger people to reach out to you and find out more about your job opportunities. In truth, mixing up your social media feeds with a variety of content will provide more depth and candidate engagement. Here are four ways to expand your social media strategy and engage with new potential candidates. 1) Candidate Sourcing With people using an average of more than five social networks, sourcing talent via social media makes absolute sense. Branch out from just using LinkedIn and look to sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to search for and engage with prospective talent. Try search tools like Followerwonk to search Twitter bios for keywords and job titles, a clever Chrome browser extension called Intelligence Search that easily searches Facebook and using the search bar at the top of Google+. They will help you identify new talent. If you are looking to build social media pipelines then try Hello Talent. It is a great free tool that allows you to build talent pipelines from many different social networks by using a browser extension. 2) Competitor Monitoring Social media is a fantastic source of information and data. By using tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can monitor the social media activity of your competitors. Both of these tools allow you to set up search columns, where you can enter things like keywords, hashtags, Twitter names and track when any of these are mentioned on sites such as Twitter. You can use the interact or use the insights accordingly. 3) Resources for Candidates Consider your Facebook page (or Twitter channel) as a real-time customer services channel for you to engage and communicate with both new and existing candidates in the recruitment process. Provide links to your social media pages to candidates at all stages in the process and encourage them to visit the pages and ask questions about any part of the process. You can also share useful information about working for the company, including locations, employees and other relevant news. 4) Live Recruitment Events Not everyone can attend the many recruitment events happening every month. But by using social media like Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram and Snapchat, you can easily provide live commentary for these events you attend or host. Real-time video via Facebook Live and interaction via Twitter chats are superb examples of ways to regularly engage with a live audience of potential candidates. With social media firmly established in our working lives, I question how much more evidence HR departments will need to fully embrace this "new" form of candidate engagement. Photo: Twenty20
Cartoon Coffee Break: Unconventional Recruiting
Editor's Note: This post is part of our "Cartoon Coffee Break" series. While we take talent management seriously, we also know it's important to have a good laugh. Check back every two weeks for a new ReWork cartoon. Missed the Recruiting Trends conference? From the state of recruiting automation adoption, to the role that the human element still plays in recruiting, our recap covers everything you need to know. Header photo: Creative Commons
The Latest Office Benefit Is Tackling Student Debt
Modern companies are more than just employers — increasingly, they are also gyms, cafeterias and even laundromats. As perks like yoga class, free lunch and complimentary dry cleaning become the norm, companies continue to push the boundaries on ways to attract and retain top talent by providing much more than a paycheck to employees. The latest in the slew of new workplace benefits? Student loan assistance. In April, Chegg partnered with Tuition.io to give full-time employees extra cash for student loan reduction. Then in September, consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced it would provide up to $1,200 to help employees pay off loans annually. As a benefit, student loan assistance programs are certainly still in their infancy— one survey found that only 3 percent of companies offer such a benefit. But experts say that may soon change as companies seek to differentiate themselves in a competitive hiring environment. "We think student loan benefits are poised to be the next big benefit; similar to what 401(k) matching was when it was first introduced," says Dana Rosenberg, who leads employer and affinity group partnerships at Earnest, a lender that offers student loan refinancing and works with companies to create loan pay-down programs. The Burden of Student Debt Such programs could be extremely attractive to debt-laden Millennials. Around 40 million Americans collectively carry $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and the graduating class of 2015 was the most indebted class in history with an average debt of $35,000 (a superlative they won't hold for long come May 2016.) For employers looking to adjust benefits to correspond to the changing demographics of their employee base, student loan programs hit the mark. "In 2016, our employees will be 80 percent millennials, and we also hire close to 11,000 employees directly out of school each year," says Terri McClements, Washington Metro managing partner of PwC. With student debt often preventing young people from participating in 401(k) plans and reaching traditional life milestones, the benefit could potentially make a large impact on employees' financial and personal well-being. A study from the American Student Association found that 73 percent of people with student loans reported putting off saving for retirement or other investments due to their debt, 75 percent reported delaying a home purchase and 27 percent reported it was difficult to buy daily necessities. "Student loans can be a very stressful thing to deal with, so if we can give our employees peace of mind, that's great," says Caroline Gennaro, corporate communications manager at Chegg. The Allure for Employers Student debt assistance programs aren't just attractive to employees, either. Rosenberg says there are significant benefits for the organizations that offer them as well. "Employers that offer programs to help their employees get out from under their debt load are seeing big benefits: increased retention, more competitive recruiting and, perhaps most importantly, happier employees who have additional cash flow to put towards their life goals," Rosenberg explains. Rosenberg says happier employees are more engaged employees, who tend to be more productive. Studies show that companies with high employee engagement experience lower turnover and have double the rate of organizational success than their less-engaged counterparts. Student loan benefit programs may also lead to a more diverse workforce, attracting employees whose financial backgrounds meant they had to take on more debt for their education. "Diversity and inclusion are also very important to us, so the ability to offer this benefit can help minorities who come out of school with a higher debt burden," says McClements. A Promising Response Companies say the response to their student loan assistance programs have been overwhelmingly positive. Chegg has had more than 80 people sign up since they started their program this summer, and they've already eliminated roughly 86 years of collective loan repayments for their employees. Companies are also finding these programs are a way to differentiate themselves from organizations that may offer more generic benefits. "As a company in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are always looking to attract the best and brightest in the industry, and this benefit is a big draw," says Gennaro. Photo: Shutterstock