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Algorithms and Hashtags: Can We Code Bias Out of Employment Practices?

May 28, 2018

2017 saw a massive wave of discussion and disclosure about sexual harassment and predation in the workplace that led to the downfall of some of the most powerful and respected men in America. As society processes these conversations, rethinking behaviors and adopting new practices, more and more companies and HR departments are looking toward talent analytics as a possible solution.

In a new article in The Economist, Matthew Bishop discusses the implications of seeking algorithms that will eliminate unconscious bias in the workplace, using advanced data analysis and management tools to determine who gets hired, what they are paid, and who gets promoted.

Diversity is a priority. "Diversity" has been a buzzword for years now, but, despite many workplaces increasing diversity efforts and initiatives, the results are less than impressive. For more than 30 years, women have been earning more college degrees than men, and yet 79% of C-suite leaders are still male. We know that diverse companies outperform their competition by as much as 35%, and yet current diversity efforts are stalling and sometimes even sliding backward.

Fairness is crucial. When all employees, not just minorities, perceive the workplace as being unfair, it creates an environment of mistrust that erodes performance, decreases engagement, and increases staff turnover. Employees need to recognize that compensation, promotion, supervision, and recognition are fair and impartial, and employers need to implement fair practices in order to compete in a tough talent market.

Unconscious bias is real. Even when acting with the best intentions of being fair and impartial, ample evidence exists that unconscious biases govern many critical HR functions. While employers can foster greater awareness of biases and actively use diversity programs to create a more inclusive workplace, it is often difficult to identify sources of unconscious bias and compensate accordingly.

How can talent analytics improve these efforts and create more diverse and inclusive work environments?

  • Analyze current workforce for fairness and impartiality. As we saw earlier from Fortune 500, only 3% of companies release their workforce diversity data. One could safely assume that they aren't proud of their talent data, and don't like what it says about their company. However, accurate facts and analysis of the current company climate is the best way to target effective change strategies. It's important to look at diversity on multiple levels, including diverse leadership, pay equity, equal advancement through the ranks, employee reviews, rewards, and incentives, and other diversity measures.
  • Promote unbiased hiring, salaries, and promotions. A talent analytics tool can be adjusted to hide data that may bias evaluations of candidates for hiring or advancement, mitigating unconscious bias and improving fairness in practices.
  • More accurately predict success indicators. The truth is, people aren't very good at predicting the success of a candidate. Current systems of pre-employment tests and screenings have been shown to be largely ineffective at predicting the workplace performance and success of candidates. And part of the reason that these tests are so ineffective is that we actually lack good data about our current, successful employees. More accurate, relevant, useful, current job performance data can lead to more accurate predictions of future success in new candidates.

Creating a more effective, inclusive workplace not only improves profits and performance, but it protects employers from potential scandal and litigation. But we can't achieve true diversity without accurate, meaningful data to drive better employer decisions, and using the power of analytics to measure whether those decisions are fair and impartial. It's never been more important to harness and leverage talent analytics to strengthen hiring practices, improve engagement, and ensure that your company is delivering on a commitment to diversity. Contact us for more information on how the latest technology improves diversity practices and delivers results.

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