Leadership for a New Age

Can AI help us overcome bias in the workplace?

Posted Mar 04, 2021

Today's guest blogger is Brian Wallace, president of NowSourcing.

Deep down, most people mean well. We start companies, go into management positions, and hire those around us that “make the most sense.” This, however, is often a flawed approach. The wildest part of this statement is that while we think we may be doing the right thing—a specific type of bias clouds our vision: unconscious bias.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

We can pretend that we are unbiased, but this is a simple denial of truth: we often cannot see the bias that lies just beneath the surface. Unconscious bias is rampant in many decisions that we make in the workplace: many minorities suffer in the hiring process—often without hiring managers and recruiters consciously realizing what is happening right before them.

What can we do to take bias out of the loop? Artificial intelligence can level the playing field by taking out racial identifiers such as a person's name and profile picture and instead stacking up experience and skills prior to the first wave of selecting potential candidates for a position.

Does Artificial Intelligence Really Fix the Situation?

Yes, it can—but if the data provided is biased, the results will be as well. Creating unbiased AI starts with unbiased data. While you might be skeptical at first about having a computer do the thinking for you, consider some of the pieces of information that trips up hiring managers when it comes to their own bias.

Names: What’s in a name, you might think? Quite a bit. Believe it or not, there have been studies in which minorities that “whiten” their names are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews.

Address: An employer might make assumptions about you based on the address you listed on your resume.

Photo: This is a clear signal to the unconscious bias within our minds—if a person doesn’t look like you.

Imagine instead of receiving a resume with identifying information such as name, address (yes, even a candidate’s address might trigger some unconscious bias about that individual), and a LinkedIn profile, that you would get a more simple list of skills and job performance. At some point, of course, you’ll need to bring the candidate in for an interview. At the point of an initial candidate screening with identifying information removed, the hiring manager would then get to see the person’s full information.

What You Can do to Prevent Bias in Your Organization

First, stop pretending that it doesn’t exist. If everyone on your team looks like you, thinks like you, and (in some cases) is related to you, you’re lacking a lot of key diversity that your organization could benefit from. In the words of Vildan Stidham, the divisional VP of global talent acquisition at Abbott: “D&I can bring innovation, creative thinking, and different perspectives that are essential in our growing businesses.” 

In Conclusion

It’s time for us to embrace the diversity that will help all find the way forward. Artificial intelligence can help us get there to finally have everyone have a seat at the table.