Implicit bias, Starbucks and AI

Some of the more interesting articles on these issues over the past few weeks:

Take the horribly complex and difficult task of hiring new employees, make it less transparent, more confusing and remove all accountability. Sound good to you? Of course it does not, but that’s the path many employers are taking by adopting artificial intelligence in the hiring process.

Companies across the nation are now using some rudimentary artificial intelligence, or AI, systems to screen out applicants before interviews commence and for the interviews themselves. As a Guardian article from March explained, many of these companies are having people interview in front of a camera that is connected to AI that analyzes their facial expressions, their voice and more. One of the top recruiting companies doing this, Hirevue, has large customers like Hilton and Unilever. Their AI scores people using thousands of data points and compares it to the scores of the best current employees.

But that can be unintentionally problematic. As Recode pointed out, because most programmers are white men, these AI are actually often trained using white male faces and male voices. That can lead to misperceptions of black faces or female voices, which can lead to the AI making negative judgments about those people. The results could trend sexist or racist, but the employer who is using this AI would be able to shift the blame to a supposedly neutral technology.

Other companies have people do their first interview with an AI chatbot. One popular AI that does this is called Mya, which promises a 70 percent decrease in hiring time. Any number of questions these chatbots could ask could be proxies for race, gender or other factors.

An algorithm that judges resumes or powers a chatbot might factor in how far away someone lives from the office, which may have to do with historically racist housing laws. In that case, the black applicant who lives in the predominantly black neighborhood far away from the office gets rejected. Xerox actually encountered that exact problem years ago.

“You can fire a racist HR person, you might not ever find out your AI has been producing racist or sexist results.”

“If you use data that reflects existing and historical bias, and you ask a mathematical tool to make predictions based on that data, the predictions will reflect that bias,” Rachel Goodman, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, told The Daily Beast. It’s nearly impossible to make an algorithm that won’t produce some kind of bias, because almost every data point that can be connected to another factor like someone’s race or gender. We’ve seen this happening when algorithms are used to determine prison sentences and parole in our justice system.

Source: Your Next Job Interview Could Be with a Racist Bot

Starbucks implicit bias training:

On whether people can learn about their implicit bias and retrain their brains to see others differently, McGill Johnson says it’s possible, but not when it’s done over a short period of time.

“It’s taken centuries for our brains to create these negative schemas about particular groups of people that have been marginalized in society,” she says. “And so it will take a really concerted, intentional effort to develop the counter-stereotypes that are required to move them out of our brains and replace them with others.”

At the workshops she runs, McGill Johnson says she starts with the idea that most people believe that they are fundamentally fair and believe in the egalitarian of all races and genders.

It’s when behaviors such as those that led to the arrest of the two men in Philadelphia arise that people can’t account for the disparity in outcomes between what they say they believe and how they react.

McGill Johnson says that raises the question that maybe the way people practice fairness is flawed.

“We’ve been taught to be colorblind. We’ve been taught that we can be objective when it comes to evaluating people, and the science suggests that sometimes our values aren’t sufficient for us to actually practice those pieces because our brains see race very quickly,” she says.

And what contributes to how brains process race and other identifiers is based on just about every other experience a person has had, watched or read.

“We develop, derive bias from just seeing certain pairings of words together over time. And those bits of information help us navigate our unconscious processes,” she says.

This means that in order to address people’s implicit bias, a lot of fundamental processes in the brain have to be changed.

While Starbucks is addressing a flaw in the company’s previous training, McGill Johnson says it will take more than one afternoon to completely address implicit bias.

“I think at best it will spark curiosity and an awareness that biases do not make us bad people — they actually make us human — but that we do have a capacity to override them,” she says. “And it’s really important for us to build in systems and practices that help us do that.”

Source: A Lesson In How To Overcome Implicit Bias 

Let me be clear. I believe that most Americans today really don’t consciously subscribe to racism or most other overtly bigoted beliefs. Even still, African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes. Women earn less than what men earn for the same work. LGBT youth are disproportionately more likely to be homeless. Unemployment rates for black and Latino Americans are almost double those for whites. If we’re no longer, by and large, overtly bigoted, how do these blatant injustices persist?

A large body of research assigns some of the blame to our unconscious biases—or, as the academic community calls them, “implicit biases”—the attitudes and misperceptions that are baked into our minds due to systemic racism and pervasive stereotyping across society. As products of a sexist society, we all have a bias in favor of men and masculinity and against women and femininity. As products of a racist society, we all have a bias for white people and against people of color. As products of a classist society, we all have a bias for rich people and against poor people. And so on. We don’t consciously hold these beliefs; they’re like deep-down reflexes we’ve habituated to over time. They’re encoded in our brains and, in turn, they play out in ways that then reinforce society-wide bias.

Source: ‘Implicit Bias’ Is Very Real and It Infects Every One of Us: Sally Kohn 

Starbucks plans to hire 1,000 refugees in Canada

Corporate leadership:

Starbucks, the Seattle-based global coffee chain, has announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees around the world, including 1,000 in Canada over five years.

Wednesday’s announcement followed outgoing Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz’s earlier defiance and criticisms of U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel bans against Muslim-majority countries and suspension of refugee programs.

In response to the new administration’s executive orders, Schultz reaffirmed the company’s values by committing to hire refugees, “building bridges, not walls, with Mexico,” and supporting undocumented youth and former U.S. president Barack Obama’s affordable health care plan.

“We see the role Canada plays in accepting refugees. These newcomers need jobs to resettle successfully. We believe in their potential. They have tremendous skills to contribute to our company and to our country,” said Luisa Girotto, Starbucks Canada’s vice-president, public affairs.

“All they need is the first opportunity to kick-start a new life in Canada. We have thousands of jobs to fill and enough opportunity for every segment in society.”

Girotto said the company will work with Hire Immigrants — an agency out of Ryerson University that supports best practices to integrate newcomer workers — to recruit, train and retain refugee employees through its local community networks in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.

The refugee hiring initiative will build on Starbucks’ Opportunity Youth program, which focuses on training and hiring young people as a response to high youth unemployment.

Mark Patterson, executive director of Hire Immigrants, said he was not surprised when approached by Starbucks to be a partner of the refugee employment initiative.

“Here is a company that understands the diverse population it serves. Diversity is part of its values. We hope we can get the message out to show the economic values of being diverse and inclusive, and to spur other employers to do the same,” said Patterson.

Yusra Zein-Alabdin, whose family came to Canada last July via Turkey under the Syrian refugee resettlement program, said social and professional networks are a key to securing employment.

“It is not easy to go out and ask someone if they have an available job,” said the mother of two, who has a degree in English literature and used to teach English to impoverished children back home.

“We were not welcomed in Turkey. I’m surprised and very happy that not only the Canadian government wants to help refugees, but everyone, businesses and employers also want to help us.”

Like New York-based Chobani yogurt, which was attacked on social media by Trump supporters for hiring refugees, Schultz’s refugee hiring speech also drew threats of boycotts against the coffee chain by anti-immigrant groups.

Ontario independent Senator Ratna Omidvar, who founded the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said the conversation in the United States on refugees is very different from Canada’s.

“When the community flourishes, the company flourishes. Here we have an enlightened employer, Starbucks, taking a positive stand, saying we need to build bridges, not walls,” said Omidvar. “The company may have to take a risk, but it is a statement that many would agree with.”

Starbucks has more than 1,300 outlets and 19,000 employees in Canada. Staff who work a minimum of 20 hours a week are eligible for medical and dental care, as well as up to $5,000 a year in mental health support and tuition reimbursements.

Source: Starbucks plans to hire 1,000 refugees in Canada | Toronto Star

Starbucks faces backlash over CEO’s vow to hire thousands of refugees

Not necessarily surprising but not clear whether those more opposed to the hiring of refugees were regular Starbucks customers (the “latte sipping elites” as some would portray them) or the broader population:

Starbucks Corp.’s vow to hire thousands of refugees after President Donald Trump’s first executive order that temporarily banned travel from seven mostly-Muslim nations appears to be hurting customer sentiment of the coffee chain.

Trump supporters have used Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to call for a boycott since Jan. 29, when Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz vowed to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in the countries where it does business.

Schultz in a letter to employees said the promise of the American Dream was “being called into question” and that “the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack.”

YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks consumers’ sentiment toward companies and their willingness to purchase from those brands, noted that the data around this boycott is different because both measures are declining.

Starbucks’ consumer perception levels took an immediate hit as measured by YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score, falling by two-thirds between Jan. 29 and Feb. 13, and have not recovered.

Starbucks Buzz score fell to four from 12 during that time. Such scores can range from 100 to -100 and are compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.

Immediate drop

Prior to Schultz’s refugee comments, 30 per cent of consumers said they would consider buying from Starbucks the next time they made a coffee purchase, that fell to a low of 24 per cent and now stands at 26 per cent, according to a YouGov spokesman.

“Consumer perception dropped almost immediately,” said YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli, who added that the statistically significant drop in purchase consideration data showed that consumers became less keen to buy from Starbucks.

“That would indicate the announcement has had a negative impact on Starbucks, and might indicate a negative impact on sales in the near term,” he said.

Marzilli noted that the Starbucks holiday “red cup” controversy from November 2015 corresponded with an even larger drop in perception, but no real impact on purchase consideration scores.

Support for rival urged

Among other things, boycott supporters are urging like-minded friends to support Starbucks rival Dunkin’ Donuts . Representatives from Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts declined to comment on the surveys and the boycott’s impact on sales.

Source: Starbucks faces backlash over CEO’s vow to hire thousands of refugees – Business – CBC News

Why we can’t run from Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign

Although over-taken by Starbucks decision to cancel the campaign, good piece by Tabitha Southey on the Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign:

As for the rather precious outcry that people are just trying to get their coffee, and so this is hardly the place for this kind of thing, you can still just get a coffee – but let’s not ignore the long and raucous tradition of discussing politics, philosophy and current affairs in coffee houses.

Coffee houses were once predominantly about discourse and debate and, yes, they too had owners who made money – yet still managed to be hotbeds of sedition. Cheer up, grumpy radicals, the French and American revolutions were both plotted in the Starbucks of their day.

I know that, when I walk down a street in New York with my wonderful sister-in-law, who is black, we’re walking on different streets. I know, of course, that racism is entrenched and systemic – and that I benefit from it every day.

No one’s suggesting that it is a little personal “issue” that can be solved by coffee talks, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of small stories, of moments of connection, to provoke change.

Small stories are how we organize our world, and I find I can’t laugh for long at anything that encourages us to glimpse down the other’s road.

Why we can’t run from Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign – The Globe and Mail.