Can Technology End Unconscious Recruiting Bias?

Can HR technology and chatbots remove unconscious bias in recruiting? I’m telling you there’s a chance.

Let’s start with this one fact: Most of us really, really like ourselves. A lot. We usually believe the way we do things is pretty spot on. I mean, my mother swears you have to rotate the old ice in your icemaker once a month, or every Coke Zero will have the funk of forty thousand years; me, not so much.

It’s a similar situation in the adventure we call hiring. We like to hire people who are like us. All things being equal, given three equally qualified candidates, the “emo-ist-of-emo” manager will likely lean toward hiring the really smart guy whose clothing palette consists of dark grey, charcoal, slate, and outer-space black. In a similar vein, a gruff-but-lovable leader will want to select a team of gruff-but-loveable Wilford Brimleys.

There’s nothing wrong with that kind of selection—until we look around and see a sea of… us! We realize we have a workforce devoid of real authenticity, innovation, or new ideas. This hurts our diversity efforts.

Want proof? According to the Harvard Business Review, some 4.5 percent of the CEOs of large U.S. companies are named David—surpassing the 4.1 percent of CEOs who are women. Roughly 85 percent of board members and executives are white men, despite the considerable resources devoted to diversity efforts.

At the 2018 HR Technology Conference, I attended a session that shared tools that may actually support the two “human elements” that workplaces need help with:

  • Bringing focused attention to candidate/employee needs.
  • Curbing bias.

I attended an session titled “Using Technology to Improve Hiring, Remove Unconscious Bias and Build the Best Team,” presented by Jennifer Cambern, Chief Product Owner and Vice President of Product Management at ADP, and Irma Long, VP of Talent Aquisition at the Follett Higher Education Group. Cambern and Long shared how Follett used ADP’s talent acquisition platform (including ADP’s data analytics tools) to “embrace innovation and improve greater hiring diversity by enabling blind skill and resume review capabilities.”

ADP and Follett are two juggernaut companies with a lot of resources. However, bigger doesn’t always mean that facilitating change (especially regarding recruiting, engagement or cultural transformation) is easier; often, it can be harder. (Follett, a provider of school library management system software, employs 13,000 regular employees and 24,000 temporary workers; try turning that steamliner around.)

Follett’s human capital challenges were typical: finding skilled talent, creating a “we vs. me” culture, and retaining great performers. Particularly, they had to reduce bias in their recruiting process in order to boost compliance and the standardization of consistent practices. It also allowed them to make smarter hiring choices and improve candidate experience.

Once Follet completed a study on the impacts of unconsious bias in its decision-making, it implemented two new tools to help; these included a data analytics “word cloud” and a chatbot.

The “word cloud” scanned résumés for keywords that matched job requirements, and, using that data, created a visual map of the best matches. These keyword matches were presented before the sharing of any personal candidate information (i.e., résumés, names, prior experience). From there, the recruiter could click on that “word” and see which résumés were the best matches. This “visual search” proved much more effective in helping eliminate bias than just scanning résumés manually.

Follet’s chatbot, meanwhile, was a virtual assistant that assisted candidates with FAQs and interview scheduling; it also conducted pre-screening. The company let applicants know they were interacting with a piece of software as opposed to a real human being. The chatbot answered 107,000 questions during beta testing; the top three questions were:

  • What is the company culture like?
  • What will I get if I come to work for Follet?
  • Why should I chose Follet over other companies?

For anyone who believes that culture and purpose have become central concerns of job candidates, this data is certainly compelling. If eliminating unconscious bias is core to your hiring strategy, you might want to also check out Follett’s career portal, which boasts some nice features.

ADP also had stats to share. Companies that focus on reducing recruiting bias:

  • Are 45 percent more likely to grow market share.
  • Have a 42 percent increase in applicants.
  • 56 percent (of survey-takers) agree diversity drives innovation.
  • Show 33 percent higher profitability performance.

While technology isn’t an instant cure-all for every hiring-diversity issue, it’s a powerful start.

Dawn Burke is a veteran HR leader, speaker, and fast food connoisseur. For more posts, check out her blog at DawnHBurke.com.

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