How and when technology can help reduce hidden bias in hiring

Posted September 12, 2017 by


Technology can help facilitate the awareness of hidden bias, but the tools themselves are not the solution. We spoke with two talent acquisition and workforce planning experts to discuss recruitment technology. Our conversation went far beyond the tools available for recruiters.

Bruce Soltys is the Head of Talent Acquisition Sourcing Strategies at Travelers, and Janine Truitt is the Chief Innovations Officer at Talent Think Innovations. They are both members of our Panel of Experts.

Watch our discussion here, or read the takeaways in the blog below. 


Watch part 1 of our conversation about tools to make the recruitment and selection process more efficient and candidate-friendly.

When interviewing candidates outside the U.S., use video platforms but be flexible

“The prevalence of video platforms focusing on the interview process specifically has come a long way in assisting companies who hire internationally cut costs,” says Truitt, for example from not having to fly candidates in for interviews. In this case, it is especially important to be transparent about your expectations around the hiring process upfront. That way, “the candidate is given the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Hiring, although similar many places, can look vastly different depending on what part of the world the candidate is coming from.” Don’t expect your international candidates to know the unwritten rules that many American candidates understand inherently.

Global employers who recruit internationally need to remember what language they present upfront to their international candidates. Have someone evaluate how accurate your ATS is translating your recruiting documents, website, and resumes too, because accurate translations will create a better experience for the recruiter and the candidate.

“Outside of technology, it requires a lot of flexibility on your part,” says Truitt. “Sometimes we have the general consensus that because we do certain things a certain way here in the U.S., that translates well across the globe. In some ways, yes, you have [businesses based in other] countries that are ‘Americanized’. But many more businesses have their own way in which they do things to acquire talent. So you have to flexible.” Adjust your hours, she suggests, to account for the time differences, or accept that there may be several conversations required, particularly if there’s a language barrier

When hiring internatinally“Even if your company doesn’t hire in global locations and is not sponsoring candidates,” says Soltys, you may still need a video platform like this because you might receive applications from college students who are currently studying abroad. And Soltys is noticing that students are becoming more familiar with those tools. “We’re seeing colleges really start to educate their students on how to use video, whether it’s live or prerecorded.”

Can technology help recruit more diversity and reduce hidden bias?

I put this open-ended question to Truitt and Soltys to see where they would take it. For anyone hoping that a new problem-solving tech startup will help you hire diverse candidates and hire more inclusively, the old advice remains: technology can’t solve this; people do. Our two experts’ responses fall into several main points:

Use technology, but recruiters ultimately need to do their job as humans.  “The good thing is, you can put checks and balances in your system to ensure that recruiters and other hiring staff process each hire equitably,” says Truitt. “Using technology democratizes the hiring process to an extent, but there is still ample room for biases if companies aren’t careful,” says Truitt.

Technology is a facilitator of democratizing the hiring process, but it isn’t a means of recruiting more diverse candidates necessarily. The recruitment of diverse candidates is completely on the organization and all its moving parts to build relationships in the various communities.

“Approaching this with a diversity-in-a-box solution is a bit of a slippery slope,” says Soltys. “I’m a big proponent of diversity recruitment happening locally. It doesn’t happen ‘just in time’,” but with a continuous and long-term effort. “You should always be out there sourcing and engaging folks” because when opportunities open up, you want to have built up a diverse pool of candidates over time.

There are good tools, but Soltys suggests that recruiters look at how those tools fit into their local efforts. Local populations and availability of diversity will vary from region to region, and also vary with the function they are recruiting for.

Have your ATS weed out information… or not? Some organizations have their ATS remove names from resumes. But the name is just the beginning. Soltys says, “We often think of bias as being gender or race or ethnicity based.  But at the college level, there’s a lot of bias about certain schools. For example, if you went to a certain university it must mean you’re a better student than individual that went to a different university.”

Soltys says he knows about companies that will even take the major off a student’s resume, so “you know you’re focusing on the experience that person brings to the table.”

Truitt has seen candidates get weeded out, for example, based solely on their zip code. You could solve that by removing the zip code, but she and Soltys agree that at some point, given so many layers and opportunities for bias, you’ll be left with no resumes or just a few words on each. So recruiters, in the end, have to do their job.

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Get out from behind your desk to recruit diversity“Diversity and inclusion almost always gets a bad rap, in terms of it just becoming an extra compliance item,” says Truitt, who has seen organizations address this question the wrong way. Many organizations, she says, look at their numbers and their deficits in particular groups, and assume that “if I just hire a few people in each of those groups, then we’re good, and I can go back to doing what I did before. Right?” That’s not a strategy, says Truitt, who wishes more organizations would value relationships more than the source of hire.

Pair online work with offline. Go meet people, and meet them where they are. Understand what their barriers are against them being employed. And you need to start to chip away at those barriers as the employer. That’s what talent acquisition is.

Find your first steps. A lot of companies have implemented unconscious bias training, which Soltys says is the first step because it increases awareness of the topic.

For Truitt, “the training is almost too late.” She is very fond of organizations that take a stronger look at their recruitment department in the first place and having difficult discussions about what biases the interview process—and the interviewers—may hold. Because ultimately, she says, “that’s what’s going to play out in your recruitment pool. I’ve seen where the wrong people have been on talent acquisition teams and how that adversely impacts certain groups based on what their biases are.”

Talk to hiring managers about hidden biasTrain and discuss with managers… and question their access. Many times, says Soltys, “it comes down to training your managers.” Those are the decision makers on the record, and they need to be at the table with talent acquisition. Often, this doesn’t get enough attention, adds Truitt. Talent acquisition isn’t self-governed, and may times, despite our best intentions, TA leaders cannot make a good decision because of other managers’ biases.

Teams need to have some really difficult conversations about this to discover what biases really look like. And while organizations have started driving those conversations, Truitt doesn’t believe it’s been happening enough. However, given the news and current events, perhaps employers are starting to see just how urgent this is.

One of the ways that companies can mitigate bias with technology is being careful in how you configure it, says Truitt, for the people who will be using it. That is, make sure you are careful about the permissions you give to your recruiters and the permissions you give to hiring managers. “That’s a very basic way of solving for some ways that people go root out [a candidate]. You can kind of stop them dead in their tracks at a certain point” so they can go no further in the system with the applications.

“At the end of the day, technology is a complement to the recruiting process. It’s not a quick solve,” says Soltys. Your ATS, for example, can allow you to drill down into your recruiting funnel and analyze who drops out or who is rejected—and see trends as they relate to diversity and bias—but that’s not a solution to hiring more diversity. It is a tool to help recruiters become more aware, and move to a real solution.

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