The Use of Artificial Intelligence to Minimize HR Bias (part 1)

Note: this is part one of two posts on hose artificial intelligence can be used to reduce bias in various Human Resources processes. This article was co-written by Bernadette Smith and Rhodes Perry.

When a workforce is diverse, that talent has a broader understanding of the needs of their diverse clients. Naturally, when an organization better understands the needs of its target market, they can better innovate their products and services – and that leads to an increase in revenue.

According to management consulting company McKinsey & Co, companies that exhibit gender and ethnic diversity are, respectively, 15 percent and 35 percent more likely to perform better than those that don't. Their research shows that organizations with more racial and gender diversity also have better sales revenue, more customers, and higher profits.

Unfortunately, all of us, even the most well-meaning people in Human Resources, are guilty of bias, which negatively affects the creation of a diverse and inclusive workforce. You may have heard the story of a man named Jose, who was having no luck on his job applications. He began applying with the name “Joe” instead, and suddenly started receiving calls.

This bias, called unconscious bias, is so subtle that most of us don’t notice it or catch ourselves. Here are some other common ways this can play out in HR:

•       Geography bias (eg: local job candidates receiving preference over non-local job candidates)

•       Gender bias (eg: women are given fewer opportunities than men if they have kids then but then are disliked when they are not seen as nurturing)

•       Appraisal bias (eg: when the manager compares an employee’s performance to other employees instead of the company standard)

•       Association bias (eg: favoring those who went to the same college, are members of the same organization or association, etc) 

The great news is that technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), offers clients solutions to minimize bias and therefore create a more diverse workforce – and as a result increase revenue. In fact, AI is currently being used within human resources processes to:

·      Set hiring priorities (eg: prioritize what positions need to be filled first)

·      Suggest hiring trends

·      Neutralize resume screening (eg: remove certain affiliations, remove geography)

·      Standardize job descriptions (eg: trigger alerts when gendered words such as the masculine word “competitive” are used in job descriptions)

·      Assess leaders and potential leaders (eg: identify employees for internal promotions)

·      Improve employee retention (eg: suggest which employees are retainable)

·      Standardize employee assessments (eg: customize and automate appraisal templates)

·      Synthesize performance review data (eg: suggest specific actions per employee as area for improvement)

·      Synthesize exit interview data and provide insights on why employees leave

While AI can help reduce unconscious bias and lead to a more diverse workforce, it’s not a panacea. Simply put, AI demands all of us humans to distill the data it uses in its analysis.

In its current form, AI is simply an extension of our existing culture, which is riddled with biases and stereotypes. This means, that as we program AI, and as AI learns from us through our words, data sets, and programming, we run the risk of having machine learning perpetuate our culture’s biases. For example, Google’s translation software converts gender-inclusive pronouns from several languages into male pronouns (he/him, his) when talking about medical doctors, and female pronouns (she, her, hers) when talking about nurses, perpetuating gender-based stereotypes

This built-in bias can show up in a number of ways in AI HR technology. For example, if only one employee is providing evaluation data that is used to set the standard for performance reviews, then there are not enough perspectives to establish balance and generate non-biased datasets. When a team of people is conducting interviews, they often do not use standardized questions. This can also skew the datasets because there is not enough consistency in the responses to generate unbiased data.  

When the datasets have a low volume of responses, they also are inherently more biased because there aren’t as many varied possibilities. Even a company like Walmart, which hires over 1,000 people per day, doesn’t generate a massive supply of data. One thousand people per day is child’s play for machine learning and the results again, can perpetuate any biases that are unconsciously built into the company’s processes.

In part two, we’ll address solutions that can improve AI’s reliability in reducing bias.

Best Practices for LGBTQ Inclusive Meetings and Events

Photo by Lori Tenney

Photo by Lori Tenney

Last week I spoke at the Meeting Planners International wonderful event, World Education Congress. You can read the article here. I spoke about the increasing gender diversity within workforces, and how that can significantly impact meetings and events - even non-LGBTQ events. Every event will have some LGBTQ attendees and it's important to aware of how this can impact your event.

Here are 5 best practices to create LGBTQ-inclusive meetings and events:

Train your front line employees to understand the fluidity of gender, remove gendered language from greetings, and serve guests whose presentation might not match their ID. For some specific tips, check out this blog post, A Person Walks into a Store...

Include pronoun identification as part of the event registration process and show pronouns on name badges, or offer as stickers at the registration desk. You can see an example from a recent Google event in the image above. Singular pronouns are no longer just he or she. Many people are identifying with the pronoun, "they." Read this post for more specific tips on using "they." 

Update your forms to include ‘Other’ as a third gender option, and gender neutral honorifics (such as Mx). Many companies are now understanding that great customer service starts with great policies that provide diverse gender options on forms. Check out this post for more specifics on how to do this and this one on gender neutral honorifics.

Allow guests to choose the restroom of their actual gender identity and create at least one gender- neutral restroom in the event space. This could mean re-branding multi-stall or single stall restrooms as gender neutral. Check out this post for some creative options.

Promote your destination, property, and/or event as an LGBTQ-welcoming space by including the community in marketing images, and using inclusive language. This means showing real life photos of real life LGBTQ folks in marketing, not just cheesy stock photos. This also means showing the diversity of the LGBTQ community in imagery, not just gay men or lesbians. Ft. Lauderdale is an excellent case study in attracting transgender travelers and events to the city.

The bottom line is to lead with inclusivity and brand loyalty and repeat attendees will follow!

For more information on any of these topics, contact us today!


5 Things Every Organization Can Learn from What Happened at Starbucks

By now, you’ve likely heard the story about two black men who were arrested for trespassing at a Starbucks in Philadelphia while merely waiting for a friend (who arrived at the same time as the police). The whole thing was captured on video and there were nationwide outrage and protests.

There are always lessons to learn from incidents like this, and I’m the person who looks for the silver lining. Let’s break down some of the teachable moments:

1.    The front line matters. John Timmerman, former VP of Operations for Ritz-Carlton, once said, “At the end of the day, our bottom line is in the hands of our front line.” He’s right; the front line is where the rubber meets the road. Starbucks was reminded of this the hard way. Their front line employees did not receive unconscious bias training; a manager made a critical mistake, and their bottom line will be affected to the tune of at least $8 million. How does your organization show your front line that they are valuable?

2.    Diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts often don’t trickle down. Starbucks is widely recognized as a great place for partners to work. The company has a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy, a highly diverse workforce, a 100% score on the Corporate Equality Index, and a bunch of Employee Resource Groups. The company should be applauded, however, there was a huge gap in that the corporate D&I initiatives (including D&I training for senior leaders) don’t trickle down to the local stores. What is your organization doing to ensure that your D&I initiatives reach all levels of the organization?

3.    Unconscious bias is alive and well. Most people don’t intend to offend; we do by accident. In fact, many scientists tell us our primal brains automatically label people, things, and situations as a way to organize and recall information quickly and instinctively. The same part of our brain that labels knives as sharp also labels people. That’s the heart of unconscious bias (aka implicit bias). We all do it – but who wants to be labeled (and therefore stereotyped)? Not me.

The problem is that sometimes our unconscious slips out because we haven’t taken the time to pause, think through a situation, and respond rationally. That’s what happened at Starbucks. That’s also what happened at IHOP and Old Navy and countless other organizations. What is your organization doing to ensure your team members understand the repercussions of unconscious bias?

4.    Training is typically reactive, not proactive. Just 5 days after the incident, Starbucks announced that all 8000 corporate stores in the U.S. will close the afternoon of May 29 for mandatory racial bias training. The training is in reaction to this incident. But the issue could have been prevented if Starbucks was proactive, if new hire orientation included comprehensive inclusion-nudge based anti-bias training (and not just racial bias). 

All industries can learn from this, and while the standards and requirements for anti-harassment training vary state by state, a proactive approach helps an organization become defensible from future liability. What is your organization doing to proactively train team members at all levels?

5.    Recovery matters. Although Starbucks’ initial apology was widely panned as weak, their CEO later made two subsequent apologies and personally traveled to Philadelphia and met with the gentlemen who were arrested. Then, of course, they announced the May 29 training, a significant investment in recovery. Not surprisingly, their quick recovery has caused their stock to remain relatively stable since the incident. All of the stores I’ve walked by in the days since are as busy as ever. Does your organization have a plan to manage public relations in the event of a bias-related incident?

The lessons here all come down to being proactive. While we can’t plan for every situation, organizations can use this incident as motivation to establish a comprehensive D&I strategy that reaches all levels of the organization, including the front line and the shop floor.


The Transgender Style Guide

The Radical Copyeditors produced an excellent "Transgender Style Guide" for writers. It truly does an outstanding job of illustrating appropriate use of terminology as well as excellent recommendations around the use of names and pronouns.

The Style Guide answers questions such as:

  • How do I describe someone who is transgender?
  • What does gender nonconforming mean?
  • What pronoun should I use when describing someone who is transgender?

and also digs into explanations of relationships to body, anatomy, birth sex and more. 

This is an outstanding resource for all of us, writers or not, to better understand how to communicate the diversity of our team members and guests.