Written by Nathan Hewitt

The importance of avoiding algorithmic bias

HireVue, an AI-driven recruitment company, has recently been taken to the US Federal Trade Commission with a prominent rights group claiming unfair and deceptive trade practices in HireVue’s use of face-scanning technology to assess job candidates’ “employability”.

It’s just the latest concerning story around the use of AI in HR practices, and it would seem quite reasonable to sit on the side of extreme caution.

In HireVue’s case, they claim to use AI to analyse video interviews to ascertain from data points like a person’s speaking voice and facial movements, about things such as their willingness to learn, and personal ‘stability’.

One of the most compelling projects to expose the flaws in this sort biometric screening is Melbourne University’s Biometric Mirror, which uses AI to display people’s personality traits and physical attractiveness based solely on a photo of their face.

Beyond being just a little insulted by its assumptions, Biometric Mirror highlights the potential real-world consequences of algorithmic biases which are justifiable concerns for our time.

Where we land up though, is that AI is tarnished with a broad brush as the source of this amplification of bias, which essentially is what both HireVue and Biometric Mirror are doing, whether HireVue admits it or not.

Depending on which media you read, technology, and specifically AI, will create or destroy thousands of jobs. However, there is no doubt it is already radically changing many, as well as how we apply and hire for them.

The issue here is that AI is not the problem, and in fact when it comes to hiring specifically, AI is the only reliable way we ever have of removing bias in recruiting. It’s important we understand the implications of fearing this technology, which ultimately will result in a massive lost opportunity for us to improve the livelihoods of many.

In the case of HireVue, using video is an obvious problem as a data source for reasons around race and gender and their associated biases, but you might be surprised to know that CV’s are just as bad and in much broader use by many organisations as a first parse for algorithms to assess a candidate’s suitability.

Recently, Amazon analysed 10 years of CV data to build a predictive model to help filter through hundreds of thousands of applications to work at the company. The sample group was mostly male, so the model built off this training data naturally ended up mirroring that sample group, which meant it preferred male CVs to female CVs.

My company, Sapia, has done its own research and recently analysed ~13,000 CVs received over a 5 year period, all for similar roles for a large sales-led organisation, and found that it’s unscientific to use CV data to choose good job candidates.

What CVs do have going for them is that they are text based – this is an important distinction as text as a data source for AI  is understandable and transparent.

What we need to make sure though is that this data is free from historical bias – for it to be “clean” or come from a neutral point of input. Can such a platform exist? I believe it can, and I believe it can change what is to be truly ‘humane’ when hiring, and I’m not just talking about removing age, name and gender from CV’s – that isn’t enough in itself.

At Sapia, working with dozens of companies across the world to help blind screen thousands of candidates, we know that it’s the behaviours and values of a potential co-worker that will influence their performance and tenure. Values, such as commitment and attitudes are invisible in a CV. We use text-based questions to understand motivations and behaviour in a way that we’ve proven removes bias amplification.

We’ve had 60-year-olds successfully apply and be hired by large corporations, who would admit that these stellar candidates might otherwise have been overlooked. We’ve seen introverts become star sales people – a trend we are now picking up across other successful candidates.

So let’s try to look beyond the headline, which naturally attracts attention when it paints AI as the bogeyman.

Algorithms can be tested for bias and can be trained to remove bias, where humans, truthfully can’t be.

We have this once-in-a-millennium opportunity to extend and enable better, fairer thinking through careful and conscious AI-assisted decisions. Let’s not blow it through our own bias against the very technology that can enable this change.


How Iceland won best in-house innovation in recruitment

We’re thrilled to announce that along with our customer Iceland Foods, we won the award for Best In-House Innovation in Recruitment at the 2021 Recruiter Awards in London.

Established in 2002, the Recruiter Awards gala is the UK’s largest event for the entire recruitment community recognising outstanding achievements by agencies and in-house recruiters.

The award recognises the partnership between  Iceland and Sapia that saved their store leaders 24,000 hours a year by implementing transformational change – during a pandemic.

Iceland receives a high volume of applicants – more than 120,000 per month – and faced a crisis in 2020: increased trade and Covid-19 absence meant that surge hiring needed to be automated, without losing the personal touch.

Automation was critical to increase the time store managers had to trade in their stores.

It had to be a simple solution that store managers would understand quickly and trust. The candidate experience had to be fast, inclusive and human. 

The tool needed to work for the candidate market which is as diverse as the general population. The team settled on Smart Interviewer as their solution of choice. 

Candidates have reacted well to the technology, with 99% positive sentiment towards the process  and 77% of candidates more likely to  recommend Iceland as an employer of choice.

There was 5x payback in four months, giving back 8,000 hours to the business and costing less than £1 per applicant.

On top of this there was zero gender and race bias, ensuring people hires are as diverse as the applicant group.

The Judges comments were that: “ this simple, straightforward submission ticked every box by demonstrating the contribution the recruitment function played to the success of their overall business. They also clearly demonstrated thoughtful consideration to the fact that many candidates would be applying for jobs at Iceland following the decimation of their previous career paths, for example, aviation industry employees.”

Read the case study of Iceland and Sapia innovated during the pandemic here.

Read Online

Fairness Comes When You Replace Humans With Machines 

In an earlier blog, we talked about HR’s role in managing business risk. Today we turn our focus on one risk area that occupies CHRO’s, CEOs and Boards- the risk presented by bias and how to maximise fairness by removing bias. 

Despite all the attention generated by International Women’s Day year a few months back and year on year, and myriad other initiatives, Boards, CEO’s and CHRO’s know that bias goes beyond gender and fixing it requires more than a training session or two. 

Humans are full of bias and none of us like admitting that.

Most of us would not even know when are being biased…

‘I just had a feeling he wasn’t going to be any good’

‘he just wasn’t a good culture fit’

‘she just doesn’t have the requisite experience’ 

‘we had such an awesome interview, we could have chatted forever we had so much in common ‘

Bias in recruitment is even less measured and reported on than quality of hire.

It starts with having the data. The data revolution has been happening for decades in every other function but where is the data around recruitment?

  • Do you know if there is bias in screening? hiring? promotion?
  • Do the leaders and Board know those stats?
  • When you run your 5000 graduate applicants through a personality assessment do you probe HR on what the success profile is that is defining screening criteria?
  • Is that profile preferring a certain type (eg over-indexed to qualities like drive, initiative, agility) or does it balance out hiring to include some of those all-important cultural traits like empathy and humility? 
  • Is your hiring profile going to give you more ‘Satya’s’ or more ‘Travis’s’? 

More on bias measurement later…

How can bias be removed from people decisions?

Daniel Kahneman, Psychologist & Nobel Laureate, has this to say about managing bias in human decision-making. 

“When making decisions, think of options as if they were candidates. Break them up into dimensions and evaluate each dimension separately. Then – delay forming an intuition too quickly. Instead, focus on the separate points, and when you have the full profile, then you can develop your intuition.”  

Regarded as the father of behavioural economics, after 5 decades of research he has concluded that the research is unequivocal: When it comes to decision-making, algorithms are superior to people

For further reading on how AI can remove bias in recruitment, download our whitepaper here.

Read Online

Top 3 recruitment trends for 2020

The must-know trends for smart HR professionals in 2020

Automation and AI, ‘soft’ skills and candidate experience are top-of-mind for HR practitioners. As candidates, hiring managers and recruiters come to expect more from the recruitment experience, savvy organisations are leveraging technology to deliver their talent management strategy. Below are 3 recruitment trends HR professionals should follow to remain competitive in 2020.

1. Employers are prioritising the candidate experience

In an increasingly competitive market for talent, organisations need to create beautiful recruitment experiences that turn top candidates into employees.

The working landscape is changing: Gen Z are entering the workforce and millennials are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. They have grown up with technology and expect a seamless, tech-enabled recruitment journey. Mobile plays a key role in effective recruitment strategies. 46% of Gen Z and 38% of employed millennials have applied for a job via a mobile device, and candidates read 98% of text messages – compared to just 22% of emails.

Gerard Ward is no stranger to creating a great candidate experience. As the CEO of video interviewing platform Vieple and co-founder of psychometric assessment platform Testgrid, he’s seen how leading organisations use technology to craft candidate journeys.

“Candidates expect to have a great experience. When we try to buy something online, if the experience is not mobile optimised it turns us off,” says Ward. “Candidates expect the same consumer-level experience across the board from every organisation. A mobile-optimised experience has got to be at the front of an organisation’s recruitment model.”

Employers that are able to create an exceptional candidate to employee experience have their pick of talent. People who are satisfied with their candidate experience are 38% more likely to accept a job offer. An astounding 87% of candidates say a great recruitment experience can change their mind about a company. Also, 83% of talent say a negative interview experience can change their mind about a role/company they liked.

2. Organisations are hiring for soft skills

Organisations are shifting their focus to hire for soft skills as a number of factors converge to drive demand for agile, collaborative thinkers.

It’s been debated how appropriate the term ‘soft skills’ is to refer to crucial attributes like collaboration, agility and communication. Some propose a move to calling them ‘essential skills’, while researchers at Deloitte, prefer ‘skills of the heart’.

Faced with a national skills shortage that’s predicted to grow to 29 million skills in deficit by 2030, soft skills are the currency of the future. In fact, two-thirds of jobs created in the next ten years are expected to be strongly reliant on skills like communication and empathy.

Candidates who exhibit essential skills are being hired into flexible organisational structures – rather than a specific team. In an age of automation, where 25-46% of current work activities in Australia could be automated in the next decade, the role you hire into may not exist in a year. Flexible, agile workers will be able to upskill and cross-functionally move into new and emerging roles in response to industry disruption.

Ward observers there’s one major barrier to hiring for soft skills: hiring managers themselves. “Hiring managers want candidates from the right unis, with the right test scores and degrees,” he says. “Recruiters need to educate hiring managers. Additionally, they need to bring them on the journey about why it’s okay to bring talent in from different industries and backgrounds.”

3. AI matures – but still has a way to go

With up to 46% of current work activities in Australia under threat of automation in the next decade, there’s clearly some anxiety about the future of work. But rather than seeing that as a threat to our jobs, researchers at McKinsey go as far as to say this will “help drive a renaissance in productivity, personal income and economic growth.”

Despite the great promise of AI, 23% of HR professionals surveyed in recent IBM research were concerned that AI in HR could perpetuate or even increase biases in hiring and talent development. While AI does not bring biases to the candidate screening process, this does not mean it makes wholly unbiased decisions. AI is still reliant on the programming choices of the people building it, as well as biases that exist in the datasets it’s modelled on. If carefully designed, AI can reduce overt and unconscious biases in the recruitment process.

AI can be leveraged throughout the candidate journey to free HR teams from tedious, manual processes and enhance the candidate experience.

Join the conversation

To keep up to date on all things “Hiring with Ai” subscribe to our blog!

Finally, you can try out Sapia’s Chat Interview right now, or leave us your details here to get a personalised demo.

Read Online