Technology has transformed our lives in many positive ways. A global community who declare themselves as citizens of the world are beginning to think differently and redefine the future of work. In the UK commuting costs the typical commuter £37,399 over a lifetime, according to Lloyds Bank and there is an increasing awareness that our trip to the office each day is also bad for the planet.
Traditionally, recruitment consisted of accessing a small talent pool restricted by its city limits. However, start-ups are already building businesses with 100% remote distributed teams and cherry-picking the best talent from thousands of qualified applicants who are scattered across the globe.
In an always-online digital world, adhering to old-school 9-5 office hours is a luxury that few businesses can afford. But having employees in different time zones can work to your advantage by ensuring that your company is working around the clock to serve a 24/7 connected audience. Unsurprisingly, Upwork's 'Future Workforce Report' revealed that 73% of companies would have remote employees by the year 2028.
Human recruiters wading through a pile of similar CVs and online profiles, searching for the right candidate located within a few miles of the office, is no longer cutting it. With vast amounts of data from an ever-increasing global talent pool, recruiters are turning to a form of artificial intelligence (AI) called machine learning (ML) in particular to transform the recruitment process.
These special ML algorithms do all the heavy lifting, automatically searching through any number of job applications to find the ideal candidates. Despite starting out with honourable intentions, this approach is also responsible for creating a range of new problems that exacerbate our inherent biases.
Amazon hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it was forced to scrap a secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women. But was it the tech, or were humans to blame? The disturbing outcome was actually the result of failings on both sides.
“AI today is nothing more than clever programming and smart technology. It has a long way to go before it can accurately and fairly interpret the many nuances of human nature.”
- Dr DEAN ANTHONY GRATTON - a technology futurist & columnist
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as building an engine that will automatically select the best five CVs from several hundred. If you feed a machine with ten years of applicant data that is full of masculine language, should we really be so surprised at the results it delivers?
The issue of discrimination is not just gender related but also spans across racial bias. In a recently published report by AI Now Institute, it states:
The diversity problem is not just about women. It’s about gender, race, and most fundamentally, about power. It affects how AI companies work, what products get built, who they are designed to serve, and who benefits from their development.
The state of racial diversity in AI is even worse. Only 2.5% of Google’s full-time workers are black, and 3.6% latinx, with black workers having the highest attrition rate of all racial categories. Facebook isn’t much better: the company reported that with 4% black workers and 5% ‘Hispanic’ workers in 2018, the company’s diversity is improving. Microsoft reflects similar levels as Facebook, with 4% black workers, and 6% Latinx workers. Machine vision researcher and co-founder of Black in AI, Timnit Gebru, said that when she first attended the preeminent machine learning conference NeurIPS in 2016, she was one of six black people – out of 8,500 attendees. “We are in a diversity crisis for AI,” Gebru explains. “In addition to having technical conversations, conversations about law, conversations about ethics, we need to have conversations about diversity in AI. This needs to be treated as something that’s extremely urgent.”
However, eradicating gender and racial bias is just the beginning and we need to protect the more positive elements of the human condition.
Neurodiversity highlights how we all associate differently. This is something that employers should embrace more. Stifling diversity of thought in the workplace is counterproductive, not to mention unethical.
“Recruiting is meant to be a people business. When the people in recruiting don’t add value, don’t treat another being like a human; when such a large majority of recruiters don’t care or are just clueless, then you’re opening the door to change and disruption.”
- Rob McIntosh, Analyst at ERE.
While early uses of this technology have unwittingly caused issues, we do have an opportunity to reinvent the entire recruitment process and build a fairer and more inclusive workplace that is fit for a digital age. This report by McKinsey warns that human judgement is still needed to ensure AI-supported decision making is fair.
Most would agree that it's too early to trust any AI system to make a hiring decision on its own. But it does highlight how the solution to the problem will require both human employees and AI working together with a unified hybrid approach needed to finally eradicate bias from the workplace.
Trust and transparency are rapidly becoming the new currency in recruitment. Every candidate is now empowered to visit a peer-to-peer website for honest insights.
These two aspects are main considerations when it comes to CSR in recruitment. When an enterprise is seen as ethical, it retains more talent and finds it easier to acquire new talent. The landscape of priorities of job-seekers has changed drastically. Salary is no longer the top concern as studies show. According to a 2014 survey by Nielsen, 67% of respondents preferred to work for a socially responsible company, and a survey by Deloitte highlights, 50% of millennials want to work for a company with ethical practices.
We widely accept that technology has transformed how we purchase products and services. But it is also reshaping our expectations in so many other aspects of our lives, even removing the lines that separated B2B and B2C. As we become more tech-savvy, informed, and educated, we are creating a new world of work on our terms. Employers must wake up to this change.
“AI Goes Beyond Keywords: most search and discovery solutions can only find candidates that use the same words you use when you write the job description. If you say Marketing Manager, you'll get people who use that term. But you might miss the perfect candidate who happens to have the right skills but a different job title and maybe a less traditional career path. AI uses data clustering techniques to create job clusters so you can identify these alternative skills and titles.”
- Jerry Thurber, Innotrieve
Recruitment is faced with a challenge to deliver a new candidate experience that aligns with this digital economy. But in a rush to do so, many are guilty of neglecting to look beyond their immediate future and the implications of their actions.
There is an increasing awareness that every business must have a workforce that is as diverse as the audience that it serves. Our reaction to stock photography of middle-aged men in white shirts shaking hands in a boardroom is a reminder of just how far we have progressed as a society. But we need to be careful that we don't unwittingly make the same mistakes again.
Although most businesses begin with the best intentions, there is something uncomfortable about using algorithms to test problem-solving skills, how candidates respond to stress, and how creative they are.
There is an argument that in its current form, businesses should not let AI choose the next candidate. However, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing affair, and a talent acquisition drama can be avoided with some good old fashioned common sense.
Emerging technologies can help companies of all sizes obtain a competitive edge in every aspect of their business. When it comes to HR and recruitment, we need to remember the ethics and responsibility of doing so and never lose sight of the impacts AI potentially has on the human side of digital transformation.
“AI recruiting software will even learn what messaging used by the recruiter yielded the highest response with candidates. It will then automate these behaviours allowing recruiters to spend time on what matters most, relationships and revenue.”
In today's digital economy, with a much more mobile workforce, AI can help greatly by cutting back repetitive and mundane administrative tasks and speed up the whole recruitment process. However, it's only by combining the best of humans and technology that we can genuinely progress forward and eliminate these biases from talent acquisition.