Can A.I. remove human bias from the hiring process?

AI may help organizations overcome unconscious biases in hiring and increase diversity.

Getty Images/Big Think


This series on diversity and inclusion is sponsored by Amway, which supports a prosperous economy through having a diverse workplace. Companies committed to diversity and inclusion are better equipped to innovate and drive performance. For more information, visit amwayglobal.com/our-story.

The world is becoming a more diverse place. And companies that don’t hire employees accordingly will lose out on crucial talent for generations to come. Standing in the way of increased workplace diversity, however, is often the unconscious biases of those doing the hiring.

What is ‘unconscious bias’? It’s any prejudice we have without being aware that we have it. We naturally form stronger bonds, for example, with people who look and act like us, which can gradually create highly homogenous workplaces (see: resume whitening).

But artificial intelligence may be able to see around our biases, so to speak, and help create an employee roster that’s not only more equitable but more talented as well.

Unconscious bias is a workplace hazard

In the book “The Inclusion Element,” authors Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan say that we all have biases we aren't aware of. And these unconscious biases translate into behaviors “that can have big impacts on fairness and inclusiveness.” When biases get embedded systemically into an organization, they can affect its ability to “fully engage its marketplace” and negatively impacts performance. This is especially so if the bias comes from the leader of the group or company.

“Not only does bias result in less than optimal decisions, it also affects performance in a more indirect way,” say Kaplan and Donovan. “A large body of research on the Pygmalion effect and self-fulfilling prophecy has demonstrated that leaders’ perceptions and expectations directly affect the performance of their staff.”

They recommend making biases visible in order to address them and improve the group’s diversity.

How artificial intelligence can help

To increase diversity and get around one of the major obstacles in combating bias - humans, a number of startups have sprung up that attempt to employ artificial intelligence in making hiring decisions. San Francisco-based Mya Systems, for example, created a chatbot named Mya that is used by several large recruitment agencies as the initial step in a job interview, reports Wired. The bot is able to evaluate the educational and professional backgrounds of the candidates as well as their level of interest. It also elaborates on the specifics of the job and answers questions on company policies and culture.

Other AI-based programs like HireVue utilize intelligent video- and text-based software to predict the best performers for each job by focusing on as many as 25,000 data points from video interviews. HireVue is used by companies such as Intel and Nike. Is it good for the potential employees? According to HireVue’s CTO Loren Larsen, by using HireVue, candidates are “getting the same shot regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, employment gaps, or college attended.”

Of course, there are detractors, who warn that AI algorithms are only as unbiased as the people who programmed them. Inevitably, the prejudices of the creators find their way into the data used by the AI as well as its decision-making process.

Still, fighting biases during the hiring stage is a worthwhile effort, especially in light of the fact that trying to change a biased culture that already exists may be a near impossibility, according to a study aptly named “Pointless Diversity Training: Unconscious Bias, New Racism and Agency” from the Queen Mary University of London. Mike Noon, the author of the study, calls unconscious bias training programs a “fashion” that is ”based on unproven suppositions and is unlikely to help eliminate racism in the workplace.” He found that identifying biases does not automatically cause changes in the behavior of managers and employees.

The scientist sees a danger in the fact that unconscious bias training efforts can often be quick and showy fixes for companies rather than “on-going and possibly lengthy process of reflection, discussion and awareness-raising.”  Changing the company’s culture is more than fads that are “suited to a resurgence in behavioural science in an era of big data,” writes Noon.

“Diversity itself does not ensure innovation”

What are the benefits of having a diverse workplace beside being an inclusive place to conduct business?

One argument is that having a diverse group can improve the ability of that group to come up with innovative solutions to work tasks. As write Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor in the introduction to Scott E. Page’s The Diversity Bonus, there is an advantage to be gained in having diverse individuals come together as a team in today’s “highly charged, competitive, fast-changing work settings.” Fluid work environments where people have to deal with an ever-increasing flow of information require more than talented people but an ability for all not to think the same thing, which may prevent success.

“The relevant ability of an individual may not suffice—especially if those in the room share almost the same knowledge and set of approaches to problems that require the flow of all kinds of insights and the application of varied tools,” say Lewis and Canton. “Success may depend on the cognitive diversity that makes for intelligent teams."

As David Livermore sees it in his book Driven by Difference, just having a diverse workplace will not necessarily help the company to perform better. But given the right approach to diversity, it can become a powerful tool in creating innovation. What’s important is to foster the growth of cultural intelligence within your team.

“Diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, “ explains Livermore. “Diversity combined with high cultural intelligence (CQ) does. Cultural intelligence is the capability to function effectively in culturally diverse situations."

--

More From Amway
Related Articles

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
  • Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
  • Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
  • It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast