AI Helps to Overcome Many of the Biases in Hiring, but Doesn’t Replace the Human Factor, Arena’s Norton and Others Tell a Big Crowd at South by Southwest Conference
“Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not, and data can help us navigate away from unconscious biases.”
With that statement during a panel discussion on day 2 of the huge (75,000 attendees) South by Southwest Conference & Festival here, Myra Norton, President and COO of Arena, got to the heart of how artificial intelligence (AI) can help organizations such as health systems, private companies and governments create a more diverse and productive workforce.
The panel, which drew a standing-room-only crowd, was called “AI and the Democratization of Work.” It was moderated by Jacob Hsu, CEO of Catalyte, a predictive analytics company helping to improve diversity in technology companies. Other panelists included Jason Oxman, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, a policy and advocacy group for tech; and Suzy Ryoo, partner at Cross Culture Ventures, which invests in next generation technology and consumer product startups.
Norton noted that people who don’t take advantage of analytics make talent decisions based on remarkably limited information – details of resumes, what college a person went to, personal anecdotal experiences, and conscious or unconscious biases. “As a result, organizations commonly fail to hire, promote or move the person who will be exceptional in the role they need to fill,” she said.
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That shortcoming means that organizations do not thrive as they could, she added. “Some individuals end up in jobs where they are unsatisfied, underutilized and frustrated, while others are blocked from opportunities where they would excel. AI can help to fix this problem by identifying individuals who are likely to be successful in a given role in a given organization, regardless of socioeconomic background, creating a level playing field.”
Oxman said his organization, which promotes fair government policies around technology, has several member companies that are deploying AI software solutions to avoid biases in the hiring process. “I think it’s something we’re going to see a lot more of very soon,” he added.
In response to questions and comments, the panel addressed a number of preconceptions about AI and hiring, such as whether it erases the human factor in hiring and whether algorithms aren’t biased in their own way.
Humans should not be removed from the hiring process, Norton agreed. “People work for people, and you can’t have an algorithm make a hire when a human being will need to onboard, grow and develop that person. Algorithms can augment and refine our judgment and experience as human beings, but they don’t replace them.”
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As for bias, Oxman said that of course AI software is biased, because it is created by people who naturally have biases. And yet algorithms can also help eliminate unconscious biases, such as those against anyone with a criminal record. “When AI can help sift through a diverse pool of future employers in a fair way, I think we will see an enormous shift in the hiring process,” he said.
Norton added: “If we are not mindful of the data that is used in our algorithms, both input data and outcome data, we can amplify or reinforce existing bias in the hiring process. The promise of these tools is great, and with that promise comes enormous responsibility to ethically deploy them. The question should be whether we can do better with these tools than we can with the status quo. Can we build more diverse teams, more productive and thriving organizations and help people find meaningful work more successfully tomorrow than we can today? I believe we can, because I’ve seen that in the work at Arena, and so my relentless pursuit is to continue along that trajectory.”
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