By Nader Sleiman, Analyst
‘Could AI decide your job fate?’ recently led my LinkedIn homepage in the News and Views section. The storyline included a link to an article in The Telegraph entitled ‘AI used for first time in job interviews in UK to find best applicants’. As the article went into detail on how AI would be introduced into recruitment practices, and the positive and negative impacts it might have, the ethics behind introducing this technology in selection were put in question. Despite our fascination with introducing technology to the workplace, there are points when one must pause and reflect on when and how technology is used and whether this use is adding value. I hope that what follows serves as an eye-opener regarding what AI means for recruitment today, and why it is still too early for this tool to be adopted for the purpose of assessing people’s candidacy.
Is AI in recruitment simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
The Telegraph article introduced both sides of the argument: the side presenting a positive view of AI in recruitment, and the side that saw the flaws AI demonstrated in this area only in 2018 when Amazon shut down their recruitment AI project for racial and gender bias. Technology has grown to play a crucial role for HR processes. Information systems such as Workday, Oracle’s Taleo, and SAP’s SuccessFactors have facilitated the automated side of HR, paving the way for a focus on process improvement. Even AI offers recruiters great benefits, such as facial recognition that detects candidates’ emotional state and body language during recorded interviews to identify personal characteristics and quality of information delivery. Similarly to its simpler predecessors, AI reduces time spent on HR procedures and allows recruitment professionals more time to focus on developing the process. This technology also could contribute to reducing subjectivity, as well, but it is yet to achieve this level of advancement.
Adopting AI remains a questionable approach to recruitment, largely because of its history of bias. Dr. Muneera Bano of Swinburne University of Technology points out that AI’s gender bias is the result of historical gender discrepancy in cyber content. As AI gathers information, the biases expressed by human beings are integrated into AI’s assessments, threatening the chances of women being fairly assessed. Joy Buolamwini’s research found that IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon’s AI recruitment systems failed to even identify the gender of famous African American women, such as Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Oprah Winfrey. The result, therefore, is an AI preference for male candidates over female candidates in the assessment, which could lead to dismissing qualified female candidates of colour solely on the basis of race or gender.
Reflecting on Interviews as a Selection Tool
Although automation is without doubt a key part of the future of work, the automation of HR professionals’ selection practices, particularly the practice of interviewing itself, must be re-evaluated.
The predictive validity of interviews, in their various types, has been discussed and questioned by HR researchers for decades. This is only partly because of the possible subjectivity of the interviewer, but it is also because of the differences that may appear in performance from the same person under varying circumstances. Numerous circumstantial variables can affect a candidate’s performance in interviews, making this selection technique less representative of candidates’ skills. For that reason, businesses need to focus on more than just the technological aspect of the future of work, as the process itself could be flawed to begin with. In other words, introducing technology to a flawed process, whose flaw has little to do with its use of technology or lack thereof, cannot improve it.
As automation and technological changes make their way further into the way we operate as organisations, we must never forget to question and improve the core of how we do things. The most important element will always be the human resource. If you would like to discuss recruitment practices and how technology can currently contribute to selection practices, please feel free to send me an email.
 Dastin, Jeffrey (Oct 10, 2018). Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women. Reuters.
 Burbeck, E. (1988). Predictive Validity of the Recruit Selection Interview. The Police Journal, 61(4), 304–311.
We are surrounded by pro-diversity messages today – from the #MeToo campaign, to the controversial Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner – diversity, and the lack of it, penetrates every aspect of society.
We find here at HSM, that workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is often the most pressing challenge for many HR executives, and it’s no surprise given that there are only 25 female Fortune 500 CEOs and three black Fortune 500 CEOs, and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment. Many organisations are trying to amend these inequalities not only because it has become socially unacceptable, but also because it has been evidenced that a diverse workforce can greatly benefit an organisation’s bottom line.
For example McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry competitors. This clearly has huge appeal for organisations, yet there remains a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity efforts today. In this post I will focus on how often well-intentioned organisations are unaware of how to make the leap from the rhetoric of aspirational diversity agendas, to creating a reality of a company culture that is truly diverse and inclusive.
One way in which companies try to incorporate a pro-diversity message within their organisation’s culture and values is by including diversity or equal employer opportunity (EEO) statements, or by creating lengthy and comprehensive D&I policies. It is sometimes assumed that by creating these statements or policies, they will automatically attract a more diverse applicant pool of talent, and thus a more diverse workforce, allowing them to benefit from all of the advantages of diverse workforces. However, research has shown that EEO and diversity statements are ineffective in bringing about actual change. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed that although 97% of companies have diversity programs or statements in place, only 25% of employees from diverse groups believe that they have personally benefited from these initiatives.
So where can we go from here? Evidently employers still have a long way to go in fully addressing discrimination in organisations. Eliminating discrimination and working towards inclusivity needs to be made a regular part of the conversation in order to become a reality. For example, it could be a good starting point to ask employees what they think inclusion means, to ask them to share their experiences of feeling excluded, and to co-create with their employers the actions that would make the company more inclusive. The ideas and actions that come from these conversations can help bring your policy to life, as they truly come from the heart of your organisation and your people, those who will ultimately be responsible for implementing it.
This is something we have enabled clients to do, using our Collaboration Jams. These online, crowdsourced conversations enable thousands of employees to connect in a many-to-many conversation around the most pressing issues. Combined with expert facilitation, they make even the most sensitive topics safe to explore and provide leaders and HR teams with evidence-based solutions. Get in touch to find out more about how you can empower your employees to convert your diversity rhetoric into a reality.
By Amanda Fajak, Executive Director at Walking the Talk
20 years ago I published an article looking at the link between power, gender and the likelihood of promotion. In that research I uncovered an important finding. Women were associated with emotion and emotion was a characteristic that was not associated with strong leadership. Inversely, men were associated with assertiveness, a characteristic that was associated with strong leadership.
This finding has been reiterated many times over the years with the general consensus being that men are traditionally associated with aggression, risk taking, decisive behaviour and autonomy (what are called agentic qualities) – what have historically been viewed as valuable leadership skills – whereas women are traditionally associated with being kind, caring, humble and relational (what are called communal qualities) – historically less valued leadership skills. These stereotypes of men and women have resulted in historic streaming of men and women into different careers (very broadly in 1998 this meant men traditionally in finance and business and women in nursing and teaching).
Fast forward to 2018 and I was curious as to what has changed. When you look into our business press, there is still evidence of the male hero leader – with the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zukerberg being credited with single handedly changing our lives. However there are also strong women leaders and influencers making the headlines – Michelle Obama, Angela Merkl, Mary Barra (GE), Indra Nooyi (Pepsico), Carolyn McCall (ITV), Theresa May to name a few.
Interestingly, research from as recently as 10 years ago showed that despite an increasing number of women in more powerful roles, women had started to see an association between feminine and leadership characteristics, but men had not.
The latest research by Eagly – who has polled views on gender stereotyping since 1946 – delivered good and bad news. Over time, men have increasingly been seen as more agentic (aggressive, decisive, etc). Over time women have been increasingly seen as more intelligent and competent than men but the stereotype of women being more communal has also increased.
These sorts of findings are a source of frustration to many. On the surface it would appear that we haven’t made much progress in breaking down stereotypes. This is only 1 lens, if we broaden out our perspective another picture might be emerging.
Recent research conducted by Walking the Talk showed that investment professionals are less likely to invest in organisations that are aggressive, overconfident, overly hierarchical – organisations that have more agentic qualities.
Similarly, recent research by the Centre for Creative Leadership listed the following 10 characteristics to be associated with leaders: Honesty; Ability to delegate; Communication; Sense of humour; Confidence; Commitment; Positive attitude; Creativity; Ability to inspire; Intuition. These are more communal qualities.
In the same vein the latest thinking about the leaders that create psychological safety – a critical underpinning to organisation health – includes modesty; humility; openness; supportiveness; inclusive decision making; acknowledging others; emotional intelligence; and accessibility – more communal qualities.
If we look at changing perceptions about leadership it is evident that we are starting to see a significant shift in terms of what good leadership looks like. Could it be that although stereotypes about women have not changed, society has come to a point where it is starting to recognise that feminine characteristics are what it takes for strong leadership?
 Fajak, A. & Haslam, A. (1998). Gender solidarity in hierarchical organizations. British Journal of Social Psychology. 37, 73-94.
 Eagly, A.H.. Wood, W. & Diekman, A.B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes and H.M. Trautner (Eds.). The developmental social psychology of gender (pp.123-174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
 Duehr, E. & Bono. J. (2006). Men, women, and managers: are stereotypes finally changing? Personnel Psychology, 59, 815-846.
Applying for jobs can be a nerve-wracking experience, as competition is high and a step toward to your career goals hangs in the balance. My assumption was that all candidates shared this same trepidation, but research from 2014 has revealed that men are far less cautious than women in this regard and will tend to apply for a role if they meet around 60% of the job requirements, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.[i] Why does this disparity exist, and why aren’t more women applying for roles within their reach?
One argument is that the language used within job adverts themselves dissuades certain genders from applying. For example, women are more likely to be deterred by adverts requesting individuals able to ‘manage’ rather than ‘develop’ teams, whereas men tend to prefer jobs requesting ‘competitive’ rather than ‘supportive’ candidates. Words such as these, imbued with gender connotations, are surprisingly prevalent. The technology company, Textio carried out research in 2016 to flag gendered language and found that the average job advert contains twice as many ‘masculine’ phrases as ‘feminine’ ones.[ii] A similar study by recruitment services company, Total Jobs discovered that, within the 77,000 job adverts included in their study, 478,175 words carried gender bias; an average of six male-coded or female-coded words per advert.[iii] The use of gendered language can pose a significant problem, as it can signal to potential candidates that they don’t – and won’t – belong.
Simple alterations can make a huge difference. Atlassian, an Australian software company, hired 80% more women into technical roles within two years by changing the wording of its job adverts, demonstrating the extensive effect of language.[iv] Paying close attention to the language used will be critical for companies wanting to grow the size of their talent pool, as ZipRecruiter proved when it discovered that gender neutral adverts receive up to 42% more applications than more biased ones.[v]
And yet, there are some points of contention that arise when asking organisations to change their wording. Firstly, in some cases, specific words are necessary. For example, positions in investment banking demand a level of competition and fearlessness, and failing to include these elements in a job description may mean that a new employee is unprepared for the realities of the role. Secondly, changing the language in adverts does not attempt to address the underlying social issues concerning why certain characteristics are perceived as either masculine or feminine in the first place. Removing gendered words from job descriptions does not necessarily remove the biases associated with them. However, despite these concerns, crafting gender neutral job adverts is an expression of a firm’s commitment to inclusion; and this must be seen as a step in the right direction.
Some state that the 60%/100% disparity is not evidence of a language problem but of a “confidence gap” between men and women.[vi] They argue that women are less confident in their own abilities, whereas men are more self-assured and tend to take a more “cavalier” approach to applications.[vii] This may be true of certain individuals but it seems both unfair and unlikely to assume that all men and women fit this stereotype. In fact, researchers at the Harvard Business Review have dubbed the confidence gap a “myth”, suggesting that women are not deterred from job applications because they lack confidence but because they do not want to waste time and energy applying to a role they are not adequately equipped to perform.[viii] Which instead raises the question: why are men applying for jobs that they aren’t qualified for? And, do the men that start in these roles find themselves out of their depth? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps what this disparity actually shows is that more men have simply seen these job adverts for what they really are: wish lists.
A lack of female applicants signals the need for a wider change in how job adverts are understood.
Lengthy bullet-pointed lists of job requirements can trick applicants into thinking that each point is vital when, in reality, recruiters write lists of ideal attributes rather than strict, unyielding lists of absolute necessities. Limiting the number of words in your job adverts will make it far easier for candidates to realise that they meet the requirements, while also reducing the risk of including gendered language. As more people feel both able and inspired to apply, recruiters may find that individuals with transferrable skills can bring something unexpected to the organisation and take the role in a new and exciting direction. Furthermore, recent research on job descriptions has shown that providing people with a rigid list of tasks does not encourage them to push boundaries and innovate. Looser listings encourage opportunities for creativity and demonstrate that your organisation has space for people to be ambitious and to craft their own work and career path.[ix] Let all of your applicants feel 100% ready to take on a role they can help to shape.
To talk more about inclusion at work, drop me an email at email@example.com.
“If you work hard you will succeed. If you really want to achieve your dreams, it’s in your hands.”
We are all familiar with variations on these thoughts, and the idea that individualism and hard work will win out in the end is a truism that many people take on faith. Organisations often construct their recruitment processes with the idea that society is meritocratic – believing that those high-potential hires have succeeded due to their work ethic and skills alone.
Despite this, research has shown that it is often those from affluent backgrounds who land the best jobs. Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds manage to break into a professional career, they face an earnings penalty compared to colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.[i] Despite having the same education attainment, role and experience as their more privileged colleagues, those from poorer backgrounds are paid an average of £2,242 (seven per cent) less.[ii] Women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings. Those from poorer backgrounds in some cases also exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’ and were less likely to ask for pay rises. This is a challenge that organisations are increasingly waking up to. Competition for talent and the need for diversity of thought mean that organisations will lose out commercially if they do not have a cross-section of employees that reflect wider society.
So how can companies improve their diversity and foster inclusiveness around social mobility? Here are three insights from our research:
- Look for unintended biases in the recruitment process – Could your recruitment approach be filtering out applicants from less advantaged backgrounds? Some organisations, such as EY, are experimenting with relaxing their hiring criteria, or implementing ‘blind’ CVs in recruitment, so that details on university or education are hidden.[iii] Advances in predicative talent analytics may also enable organisations to identify promising talent from a larger pool than they might traditionally consider, basing hiring on data rather than intuition.[iv]
- Sense-check the gap between the rhetoric and reality – Organisations may think they have the practices and processes in place to increase their social diversity, but if people at all levels of the organisation are unware of them, or don’t use them, there will be no shift in culture or behaviour.
- Identify a priority area and experiment – Companies often think that moving the needle on diversity means making large-scale changes across several areas. Our research and work on our own I&D Framework has shown that a tailored and focused approach is often more effective. Start by identifying what your organisation does well, and where it is weaker. Selecting key areas allows companies to monitor and measure new interventions to understand the real impact and the changes that take place.
Keeping these insights in mind will help ensure your organisation builds a diverse, inclusive culture.
Interested in creating an I&D strategy that is ready to enable action within your organisation and truly shift the needle on I&D read our complimentary Insights Report on Inclusion and Diversity here: http://bit.ly/IandD-MovingTheNeedle
Or for more information about our I&D research, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 02077591852
[i] Rivera, L. (2015). Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton University Press
[ii] Friedman, S., Laurison, D., and Macmillan, L. (2017). Social Mobility, The Class Pay Gap and Intergenerational Worklessness: New Insights From The Labour Force Survey.
[iii] EY drives social mobility by removing academic entry criteria http://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/17-02-02-ey-drives-social-mobility-by-removing-academic-entry-criteria
[iv] (2017) FoW Report on Shifting Identities