Checks and Balances: Using AI to Mitigate Bias

Companies can improve their workplace culture by implementing intentional hiring practices that mitigate bias and increase diversity.

Diverse group of people working together.

Unconscious bias is deeply ingrained within the human psyche and arises when a person unknowingly has a positive or negative disposition towards an individual or group. Bias can present itself at the very early stages of the recruitment process. A study analyzing the impact that gender has on hiring found that resumes with male names were 30 percent more likely to be considered “worthy of hire” than resumes with female names. When looking at how discriminatory hiring practices affect people of color, a research study found that 25 percent of Black candidates who used “white-sounding” words on their resumes received a callback compared to 10 percent of applicants who had indicators of their ethnicity within their name.

Hiring practices that allow for bias to seep through have the potential to permeate multiple facets of an organization. Companies can improve their workplace culture by implementing intentional hiring practices that mitigate bias and increase diversity. Enspira proposes a five-step recruitment process that utilizes AI as a supplemental tool to reduce bias and improve diversity hiring.

Step 1: Review Job Description

The job description is a critical component of the hiring process. This is a prospective employee’s first impression of the company and plays a role in creating an inclusive work environment. Research shows that biased language patterns can impact how job seekers react to job listings, ultimately leading to decreased diversity within the workplace.

Before writing the job description, establish the core competencies for the desired role. When crafting the listing, these competencies should be the focus. In addition, to alleviate barriers that may discourage prospective candidates from applying, it is a best practice only to list the essential requirements for the role.

Several artificial intelligence programs can assist recruiters in creating bias-free job descriptions—programs like Textio, Jobvite, and Ongig scan job descriptions to remove language that might contain bias.

Step 2: Assemble DEIB-Trained Hiring Team

A critical component of successful talent acquisition is assembling a team that is ready to approach diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives and hiring practices with an open mind. Shelton Duvall, Talent Acquisition and Diversity & Inclusion leader at Siemens Healthineers, said, “The data is important, but so is the narrative and the mindset. We need a mental balance of both to create the best culture.”

Leesa Hill, senior director of DEIB at Enspira, explains that DEIB should be woven into every aspect of an organization, including the hiring process. She says, “We must quit treating DEIB as a separate piece of the puzzle. It must be built into all HR systems — processes, programs, and policies. If we ever hope to move the needle, bias must be attacked at the root. In the recruiting process, using AI is one small way of getting to that root, but machine learning can’t solve it alone.”

A focus on DEIB does not end with training. Companies must embed their DEIB practices into each step of the hiring process, including the use of AI tools themselves. Once recruiting teams become more aware, they can act as advocates for diversity hiring and promote accountability across the organization.

AI platforms like Diversio can help employers with DEIB initiatives. The tool integrates with a company’s communication platform and flags cultural insensitivity and unconscious bias. Additionally, a social media barometer tracks the company’s mentions to measure its public perception. After this analysis, the software identifies programs and policies from a catalog of more than 1,000 validated solutions to improve diversity and inclusion efforts.

Step 3: Cast a Wide Net

Casting a wide net is crucial to assemble a diverse slate of candidates. In this digital
age, companies can no longer use the lack of diverse applicants as a reason for their lack of diverse hiring. Employers can expand their reach by utilizing targeted ads and job boards. These AI-powered technologies show job seekers geo-targeted openings aligned to their skills, profession, and career goals.

Eightfold’s talent acquisition software makes it easy for employers to cast a wide net and increase diversity. The algorithm uses billions of data points from multiple sources, including career pages, resume databases, job census, and company data. Andrea Shia, head of talent strategy and transformation at Eightfold, explained that the software could break down an applicant’s resume into skills and match them with the skills needed by employers. Additionally, it identifies the adjacent skills of each applicant and fills the talent pool with candidates that may have otherwise been overlooked. Tapping into passive or overlooked talent is a game-changer in a tight talent market.

Step 4: Assemble Diverse Candidate Slates

A study investigating hiring discrimination in U.S. labor markets found that White applicants received three percent more job callbacks than applicants of color. This can partly be attributed to the types of platforms employers use to source talent. Platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed encourage job seekers to list their skills and attributes so recruiters can find them using keyword searches. Research from Talenya shows how this can create an uneven playing field. They found that diverse candidates post 10-17 percent fewer skills on these job sites and write significantly less about themselves. As such, applicants of color rank lower on search engines and are often overlooked.

To mitigate this, companies can use AI talent-sourcing platforms like Plum, Eightfold, and Pymetrics, which utilize games and assessments to measure potential. By identifying soft skills, which are innate tendencies and behaviors that measure potential, AI assessments can help employers make unbiased hiring decisions. CEO and Co-Founder of Plum, Caitlin MacGregor, said that, unlike other talent management platforms that use historical data, Plum uses proven science stemming from decades of industrial and organizational psychology research to identify high-potential talent. “Our data at Plum is based on human potential, transferable soft skills, and putting people in roles where they will thrive. Studies show this data type is four times more predictive of future performance,” said Caitlin. Utilizing Plum’s talent assessment to screen candidates, Scotiabank has effectively eliminated the use of resumes and revolutionized how they attract, hire, and retain talent. This has expanded their talent pool to include more diverse candidates and has raised the hiring of visible minorities to 60 percent.

Step 5: Standardize the Interview Process

Interviews often lack the structure necessary to assess candidates effectively. Enspira recommends creating a standardized interview process to help employers avoid biased hiring decisions. Lizzie Pollock, director of Human Capital at Enspira, explains, “Structuring interviews with a standardized set of questions, based on a consistent set of competencies and criteria, encourage impartial assessment of candidates and prevents bias-informed perceptions from impacting hiring decisions.” To standardize the interview process, employers can utilize a scoring system to assess the job candidate’s education, experience, and work style.

A standardized interview process yields consistent interview experiences for candidates, better communication within hiring teams, and reduced bias overall. AI-powered technology can improve the interview scoring process and help hiring teams focus less on taking notes and more on engaging with candidates.

Aileen Baxter is the Vice President, Head of Enspira Insights at Enspira.