The machine will see you now: AI a boon for job hunters
By anonymising a candidate’s gender, social and educational characteristics, artificial intelligence can help firms weed out bias
When the boss of a pharmaceuticals firm scribbled “heels, red lipstick, good” on the CV of a woman he appointed as his PA, it was a summation that would come back to haunt him.
Lucia Pagliarone found her annotated CV lying on a desk and it would provide compelling evidence when she took her boss to a tribunal on the grounds of sex discrimination. She won the case, but it is a stark reminder of how hiring decisions can be influenced by factors beyond skills and aptitude, with the fallout having serious repercussions.
Being swayed by a candidate’s appearance is nothing new; but in a post-Weinstein, “#MeToo” climate of heightened sensitivities around discrimination, tackling bias in recruitment has become big business, and increasingly robots are being called upon to restore objectivity.
Fuelled by the new breed of artificial intelligence (AI) applications, technology that can bypass physical attributes and analyse candidate data at speed without emotion or prejudice is gaining traction.Of the 1,200 hiring professionals surveyed by recruitment firm Korn Ferry, almost two-thirds say AI has changed the way the process is carried out, and believe the technology attracts higher-calibre candidates.
“It’s not surprising that algorithms are becoming very attractive to eradicate the risk of bias and take the decision out of the hands of an interviewer,” says Emma O’Leary, a consultant with Manchester-based employment law firm Elas.
“Human bias is often subconscious, but subconscious discrimination is still discrimination. In an ideal world, managers should have robust equality and diversity training to overcome sexist or racist views, but clearly such bias is still prevalent.”If notions of being grilled by R2D2 at a desk come to mind, the reality is a bit different. The most common iterations are automation tools, typically deployed to filter out unconscious bias in the early stages of the hiring process.By anonymising a candidate’s gender, social and educational characteristics, they help to create a level playing field, while predictive analytics can assess cultural or technical fit against a specified set of criteria and anticipate the likelihood of success in the role.As well as helping to distinguish people, AI can profitably target those perhaps normally deterred from applying. For example, concerned by the lack of women responding to its data scientist vacancies, cyber security firm Panaseer turned to the predictive algorithms of Textio. This uses machine learning to identify gender-biased language in job descriptions and suggest linguistic tweaks.
“It highlighted how some of the wording in our job posts, such as ‘ambitious’, ‘tackle’ and ‘driven’, was typically associated with masculine traits, which was actually creating a subconscious bias,” said chief scientist Mike MacIntyre. “Alternatives were recommended to make the descriptions more inclusive and appealing to women.”
The simple amendment led to a 60% uplift in female candidates and an all-female shortlist for one of its most recent positions.Using AI to do the legwork before reverting to the human touch in the final stages remains a default approach for those who still feel there is a role for emotional intelligence in the hiring process. However, for Gareth Jones, chief operating officer of recruitment specialist Headstart, it is a compromise that means companies are ultimately falling at the final hurdle.
He said: “Unfortunately, humans are inherently biased. So no matter how much technology you build into the hiring funnel, if at some point you have a human interaction face to face, the danger of bias creeps in.”
But if the answer is to remove human intervention completely, it seems most UK businesses are not ready for that leap of faith.While almost two-thirds of respondents surveyed by CRM developer Pegasystems expect the use of AI to conduct interviews and shortlist candidates to be standard practice in the next decade, only 30% believe an algorithm will be making the final hiring decisions.
Start-up Cognisess has developed AI-powered software that is designed to emulate an interview. The machine learning assesses candidates across a number of performance areas, while the video element films them responding to a set of questions which are then reviewed by a robot primed to analyse the minutiae of facial expressions frame by frame.
If a company requires passion and enthusiasm for a customer-facing sales role, it will home in on the level of positivity and expressiveness of the person. A fake smile will not cut it.
“The machine can detect micro expressions,” explains Boris Altemeyer, the firm’s chief scientific officer. “These emotions show on the face for only a fraction of a second.”One client, Intercontinental Hotels Group, has increased the diversity in its hiring and saved a quarter of a million pounds in the assessment process.
“Technically, this system can recruit in its entirety, but we would never advocate removing people completely from the process. If you think about humans reviewing 60 or more video interviews a day and still being absolutely unbiased or as sharp as when they watched the first one that would be a tall order for anyone, so it’s about getting as much of the purist data to them, so they make the best decisions.”
For the time being at least, the human recruiter is still hired.
– © The Sunday Telegraph