Beware of Automated Hiring It won’t end employment discrimination. In fact, it could make it worse.

Some interesting ideas to reduce the risks of bias and discrimination:

Algorithms make many important decisions for us, like our creditworthiness, best romantic prospects and whether we are qualified for a job. Employers are increasingly turning to automated hiring platforms, believing they’re both more convenient and less biased than humans. However, as I describe in a new paper, this is misguided.

In the past, a job applicant could walk into a clothing store, fill out an application, and even hand it straight to the hiring manager. Nowadays, her application must make it through an obstacle course of online hiring algorithms before it might be considered. This is especially true for low-wage and hourly workers.

The situation applies to white-collar jobs too. People applying to be summer interns and first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs have their résumés digitally scanned for keywords that can predict success at the company. And the company has now embracedautomated interviewing.

Automated hiring can create a closed loop system. Advertisements created by algorithms encourage certain people to send in their résumés. After the résumés have undergone automated culling, a lucky few are hired and then subjected to automated evaluation, the results of which are looped back to establish criteria for future job advertisements and selections. This system operates with no transparency or accountability built in to check that the criteria are fair to all job applicants.

Bias creeps into reference checks, so is it time to ditch them?

Hadn’t thought of this aspect of bias in reference checks. When hiring in government, I was always conscious of the selection bias in the references submitted – people generally do not submit negative references! When asked if I was willing to be a reference, I would flag if I had any issues that I would have to include in the reference:

As much as we’d like to think we’ve refined the hiring process over the years to carefully select the best candidate for the job, bias still creeps in.

Candidates who come from privileged backgrounds are more able to source impressive, well-connected referrers and this perpetuates the cycle of privilege. While the referrer’s reputation and personal clout make up one aspect of the recommendation, what they actually say – the content – completes the picture.

Research shows gender bias even invades in the content of recommendations. In this study female applicants for post-doctoral research positions in the field of geoscience were only half as likely as their male counterparts to receive excellent (as opposed to just good) endorsements from their referees. Since it’s unlikely that of the 1,200 recommendation letters analysed, female candidates were less excellent than the male candidates, it means something else is going on.

A result like this may be explained by the gender role conforming adjectives that are used to describe female versus male applicants. Women are more likely to be observed and described as “nurturing” and “helpful”, whereas men are attributed with stronger, more competence-based words like “confident” and “ambitious”. This can, in turn, lead to stronger recommendations for male candidates.

Worryingly, in another study similar patterns emerged in the way black versus white, and female versus male, medical students were described in performance evaluations. These were used as input to select residents.

In both cases the members of minority groups were described using less impressive words (like “competent” versus “exceptional”), a pattern that was observed even after controlling for licensing examination scores, an objective measure of competence.

Recommendations aren’t good predictors of performance

Let’s put the concerns about bias aside for a moment while we examine an even bigger question: are recommendations actually helpful, valid indicators of future job performance or are they based on outdated traditions that we keep enforcing?

Even back in the 90s, researchers were trying to alert hiring managers to the ineffectiveness of this as a tool, noting some major problems.

The first problem is leniency, referees are allowed to be chosen by the candidate and tend to be overly positive. The second is too little knowledge of the applicant, as referees are unlikely to see all aspects of a prospective employees’ work and personal character.

Reliability is another problem. It turns out there is higher agreement between two letters written by the same referee for different candidates, than there is for two letters (written by two different referees) for the same candidate!

There is evidence that people behave in different ways when they are in different situations at work, which would reasonably lead to different recommendations from various referees. However, the fact that there is more consistency between what referees say about different candidates than between what different referees say about the same candidate remains a problem.

The alternatives to the referee

There are a few initiatives that are currently being used as alternatives to standard recruitment processes. One example is gamification – where candidates play spatial awareness or other job-relevant games to demonstrate their competence. For example, Deloitte has teamed up with software developer, Arctic Shores, for a fresh take on recruitment in an attempt to move away from the more traditional methods of recruitment.

However, gamification is not without its flaws – these methods would certainly favour individuals who are more experienced with certain kinds of video games, and gamers are more likely to be male. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 for recruiters who are introducing bias through a process designed to try to eliminate bias.

If companies are serious about overcoming potential bias in recruitment and selection processes, they should consider addressing gender, racial, economic and other forms of inequality. One way to do this is through broadening the recruitment pool by making sure the language they use in position descriptions and jobs ads is more inclusive. Employers can indicate flexible work options are available and make the decision to choose the minority candidates when they are equally qualified as other candidates.

Another option is to increase the diversity of the selection committee to add some new perspectives to previously homogeneous committees. Diverse selectors are more likely to speak up about and consider the importance of hiring more diverse candidates.

Job seekers could even try running a letter of reference through software, such as Textio, that reports gender bias in pieces of text and provides gender-neutral alternatives. But just as crucial is the need for human resources departments to start looking for more accurate mechanisms to evaluate candidates’ competencies.

via Bias creeps into reference checks, so is it time to ditch them?

Why diversity never comes to some workplaces

Interesting study showing the effect referrals have on recruitment – not what you think:

Striving for greater diversity in the workplace – be it gender, race, age or experience levels among employees – is a long sought-after goal by business leaders looking for a competitive advantage.

Several studies show that companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to outperform others in the field. So, with so much on the line, why do so many firms still struggle with a lack of gender, race or age diversity within their ranks?

Brian Rubineau, of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, and Roberto Fernandez of MIT Sloan in Massachusetts tackled that question in a recent study examining the role of recruitment techniques in workplace make-up and how employers can influence the process to ensure greater diversity.

Specifically, the study, published in Organizational Science, looked at word-of mouth recruiting, the most common way for organizations to fill jobs.

Using mathematical modelling, the researchers challenge a long-held belief that the referral method serves to preserve and, often, worsen job segregation. The theory, based on previous research, posits that people are most likely to recommend others who are most like themselves.

Women, for example, tend to reach out to women in their networks, and men do likewise. The same is thought to be true across other demographics, including age, experience, religion or ethnicity, says Dr. Rubineau, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour.

But the researchers found that workplace segregation actually has less to do with who is making the referral than it does with how often a referral is being made by a particular individual or group.

Unchecked, members of even the smallest groups will, over time, dominate. All it takes is for its members to be more active than other groups in recruiting from within their own community network.

“If you have a group that is referring at a higher rate than other groups, then that group is – over time – going to become the majority, no matter how small it was to start with,” says Dr. Rubineau.

Dr. Rubineau says employers can use the study findings to their advantage. By tracking referral patterns, organizations can map hiring trends and determine whether word-of-mouth recruiting is helping or hurting diversity goals. They can also urge underrepresented groups to be more active in suggesting prospective employees.

“Organizations can’t realistically eliminate word-of-mouth recruitment because it is such a dominate tool,” says Dr. Rubineau.

Source: Why diversity never comes to some workplaces – The Globe and Mail

Could a ‘blind recruitment’ policy make Canada less racist?

Good debate and discussion to have, given work by Oreopoulos and others demonstrating hiring bias:

What’s in a name? More than you may think. Removing names from job applications — a process known as blind recruitment — can actually curb both overt racism and unconscious bias.

And at least one MP thinks that Canada should adopt the policy.

Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen made that statement after CBC Marketplaceinvestigated how race and culture influences how companies treat shoppers, apartment-hunters and job-seekers across Canada.

Hussen stood in Parliament Wednesday to suggest that the federal government follow Britain’s lead to better ensure our government ranks reflect the people they serve.

“We must ensure our public service adopts name-blind recruitment,” the newly elected MP said. “I rise today to bring attention to an idea that will assist in our fight to end discrimination and attain real equality in our country.

“It is crucial that Canadians who have got the grades, skills, and the determination succeed.”

Britain adopted a blind-recruitment policy for its civil service in October 2015 after a number of organizations found the practice worthwhile.

While visible minorities make up almost 20 per cent of Canada’s population, the civil service is less diverse at only 14 per cent, according to 2013 data.

The months-long Marketplace investigation looked at blind recruitment and how bias affects how we’re treated and how we treat one another, including why we intervene — or don’t — to defend a stranger.

‘It’s had a huge impact’

When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra began to audition musicians blindly in 1980, putting them behind a screen, the result was profound.

While the hiring committee could hear an applicant’s performance, they not see what he or she looked like. They even put down a carpet so high heels couldn’t be heard.

Now the orchestra — which was made up almost entirely of white men in the 1970s — is almost half female and much more diverse.

“It’s had a huge impact from the beginning, when screens came in,” says David Kent, the TSO’s principal timpanist and personnel manager.

Source: Could a ‘blind recruitment’ policy make Canada less racist? – Canada – CBC News

Blind Auditions Could Give Employers A Better Hiring Sense

One way to address the biases in the hiring processes, whether diversity or background related (see earlier How an ethnic-sounding name may affect the job hunt regarding evidence of bias):

Typically, a hiring manager posts an opening, describes the ideal candidate and resumes come flooding in. After doing some interviews, the manager has to make a gut decision: Who is the best person for the job?

Research shows that more often than not, managers pick someone whose background is similar to theirs.

But, Vujosevic says, “There is definitely room to improve how we view talent, how we screen talent, how we engage with talent and how we end up interviewing talent.”

By “talent,” he means all the gifted young people he knew that weren’t getting job interviews at technology companies because they didn’t fit a certain idea of what a good job candidate looks like. They didn’t graduate from college, they taught themselves to code or they had a strong accent.

Vujosevic thinks he knows how to get around this problem with a completely different way of looking at hiring. He thought these unconventional applicants could get interviews if there was a way to show what they could do without revealing who they were.

So he created a website called GapJumpers where employers post a job along with some sort of challenge, like: Create a Web page or write a social media strategy. To apply for the job, you just take on the challenge.

“Right now, we are able to do blind auditions for software engineering roles, design roles, marketing roles, communication roles and allow candidates that might on paper not be a good fit, prove that they actually are,” he says.

He compares it to his favorite singing competition, NBC’s The Voice. Four celebrity judges sit in red super villain chairs with their backs turned to the stage. And then, someone sings. The judges hit a button and turn their chairs around. That’s the first time they see who’s performing, but they’ve already decided “I pick you for my team.” It’s a blind audition.

And that’s kind of how GapJumpers works.

Jeremiah Reyes is in charge of hiring at Dolby Laboratories. He wanted to spend less time sorting through applications and getting more qualified candidates, including people with nontraditional backgrounds.

Recently, a Dolby hiring manager was shocked to discover his favorite candidate came from a community college.

“The one that we did select, even in our debrief he basically said, ‘Wow, I think if I just saw his resume on my desk, I don’t know if I would have selected him,’ ” Reyes says. “It was one of those ‘aha’ moments for him that this is a really interesting tool.”

Blind Auditions Could Give Employers A Better Hiring Sense : All Tech Considered : NPR.

Bias-Free Hiring: Interview questions not to ask

An interesting but somewhat frustrating checklist of what to ask and what not to ask in interviewing candidates, as bias-free as possible. All too familiar to those of us in government, where the guidelines below are followed religiously and yet are deeply unsatisfying given the over-scripting that occurs. Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes less so:

  • Use the job description to identify the essential skills and abilities needed for the job. Determine which of these skills and abilities are best assessed through a written or practical test, through an interview, and from reference checks. From there, interview questions should be developed and clearly linked to the skills and abilities needed to do the job.
  • Develop the responses which you will look for in the candidates’ responses.
  • Attach a score to each question.
  • Use an interview panel when interviewing. Require each interviewer to write down each candidates’ responses to each question.
  • Ask each candidate the same questions.
  • After each interview, have the interview panel discuss the candidate’s responses and come to an agreed score for each question.

Bias-Free Hiring: Interview questions not to ask.