HR Tech Number of the Day: Hiring bias 

A new study finds that a majority of firms, though desperate to hire, are rejecting viable job candidates early in the process.
By: | September 10, 2021

Companies that use applicant tracking systems to manage the job application pipeline and recruiting management/marketing systems for supporting and automating work for recruiters are inadvertently preventing viable candidates from finding work at their companies, according to new research from Harvard Business School and Accenture.

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The study finds that, despite an organization’s eagerness to hire amid the pandemic-induced “Great Resignation,” more than 90% of employers surveyed said their companies use recruiting management/marketing systems to initially filter or rank potential middle-skills (94%) and high-skills (92%) candidates. 

And although these AI-powered systems are designed—by focusing on job applications with very specific parameters —to help HR leaders and recruiters find potential job candidates, more often than not, they reject job applications submitted by hidden workers, the portion of the workforce with blue-collar skills, little higher education, gaps in employment, or skill sets that often use different terms to describe their experience. These differences, however, do not mean these candidates are unqualified for the jobs.

What it means to HR leaders

These survey results shine a light on the inherent biases in the hiring process—not on a problem with leveraging AI or any other HR technology, says George LaRocque, founder of WorkTech. “There is an opportunity here for HR and talent acquisition leaders to lead their organizations to both more effective and fair hiring practices,” he says. “Before AI or any matching technology can be used for good, it’s going to require HR to take a long look at fundamental processes and components in the hiring process—things like job description language and hiring-team training.”

In the wake of the #MeToo and the Stop Asian Hate movements and the murder of George Floyd, HR leaders have taken steps to address bias issues, he says. This includes growing awareness among HR executives that they might be losing opportunities to hire perfectly good candidates because of the unintentional biases that have been entered into the systems. 

“Most of the HR leaders I consult with are focused on improving their hiring to be more effective, fair and equitable. This is a primary driver today in recruiting,” says LaRorocque, who adds that more than half of the employers his firm consults with are replacing or adding new recruiting technology. “One of the primary requirements for the recruiting tech is to provide better search and matching of candidates to jobs.” 

So how can HR leaders do better?

Technologies that automatically search for candidates and match them to job requisitions vary in their methods. That said, 100% of these systems draw from existing data and processes, says LaRocque. This includes language and concepts presented in job descriptions, policies that have rigid educational or experience requirements, and automations that base target candidate profiles on data from existing hiring decisions.

“Employers should take a long look at their job descriptions, job requirements policies and how their tech is being set up to filter candidates while adopting a mindset of ‘widening’ the funnel and including more candidates versus vetting candidates out of the process,” he says. “They would also be well-advised to consider new targeted recruiting applications that help ensure more inclusive hiring practices.”


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Phil Albinus is HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children. He can be reached at palbinus@lrp.com and followed on Twitter @philalbinus.