Throughout this book, we’ve been talking about the benefits of a single platform for various areas of talent intelligence, and DEI is no exception. Closed, siloed systems lead to closed, limited thinking that limits an organization’s potential to attain its DEI objectives.
8 Tips for Using Tech to Boost DEI
Use one platform for DEI-based recruitment strategies.
Create a candidate-focused career site.
Prevent bias during screening and interviews.
Use bias-free algorithms.
Leverage DEI analytics.
Provide self-service talent management for existing employees.
Rethink your performance review process.
Offer internal career pathing for managers.
Without the right platform, DEI strategies can take on an optional, non-central role in any organization’s current and future direction. Here’s what we recommend instead.
Use One Platform for DEI-based Recruitment Strategies
The CHROs in our network have told us they need a customizable, scalable way to target diverse candidates. As you build out a recruiting strategy, creating candidate lists without reference to factors like age, gender, ethnicity, veteran status and disability status is one must.
Getting beyond hiring quotas by having a talent intelligence platform that relies on capability matching first, without regard to any potential biasing factors, is another. Generating candidate lists based solely on skills can also help with hiring compliance requirements in specific regions and nations.
Create a Candidate-Focused Career Site
Most candidate experiences, from the very first moment, harm under-represented groups. Job descriptions often use biased language that can especially discourage women and older candidates. Organizations can fix this problem by reconfiguring their career sites to focus on candidate needs first. If every candidate is encouraged to apply for the job that best suits their potential, that experience will overcome much of the self-selection bias we see.
When your candidate comes to the career site, they should see information personalized for them. The most important question any career site visitor has is: what jobs are available for me? In a candidate-focused career site, your available jobs are ranked for the individual candidate and they can see exactly why they are a match (in other words, their skills and experiences that make the job a compelling option for them, and the reasons why they are a strong candidate for your organization).
The act of showing a candidate how they are a great fit for a job reduces self-selection bias because candidates have varying degrees of risk tolerance, and encouragement reduces the sense of risk.
This seems obvious, but your career site’s application process should be as fast and easy as possible. If it isn’t, you may unknowingly eliminate busy parents and older workers from consideration. Understand that if you insist that candidates prove their interest by filling out long forms, providing unique cover letters and question answers, and taking assessment tests, your selection process is inherently biased against those who don’t have the time or ability to do these things.
Prevent Bias During Screening and Interviews
The hiring process is naturally prone to bias. Recruiters and hiring managers see a candidate’s personal characteristics, such as their perceived gender, ethnicity, age and educational credentials, and make selection decisions based on these factors rather than on each person’s potential to succeed. The result is reduced diversity.
No one does this on purpose. These biases are almost always unintentional. It’s just hard for all of us, as human beings, to separate out all the factors that go into our decision making, even if we know intellectually that some factors shouldn’t matter.
So once candidates are in front of hiring managers, organizations need to do everything possible to prevent bias in candidate selection. At the initial stages, the best strategy is candidate masking. Candidate masking involves blocking unconscious bias by removing all potential pieces of bias — including ethnicity and gender — from resumes so only objective data points remain.
In an article for Forbes, Ted Sergott explained how it works:
An organization runs a job description through its AI platform, and the algorithm will suggest alternatives to biased, gendered, or off-putting language, helping to develop a more balanced job description. Then, when a resume is submitted, the technology strips out elements that might create bias — name, pronouns, photos, address, educational institutions, extracurricular activities, etc. Leading-edge technologies will then use AI to match candidates to the job and create a forced rank list of candidates based on skills and experience. Essentially, it provides hiring managers with an unbiased look at how candidates rank based on objective criteria.
You might be thinking that candidate masking can only help so much. After all, won’t the hiring manager eventually find out who the candidate is, and judge their personal characteristics then? This is indeed true, and it’s the reason candidate masking isn’t the only strategy we suggest here.
Use Bias-Free Algorithms
Bias-free algorithms are another key to succeeding with DEI strategies. Equal opportunity algorithms identify unwanted trends in source data to deliver less biased predictions, explain how the algorithm arrived at the predictions, and illustrate to decision-makers how predictions are independent of potentially biased source data.
Here’s an example. If most scientists in a company are men, and most of the applications are from men, being a man still does not make someone a better scientist. Equal opportunity algorithms make sure that candidate recommendations do not consider gender as a qualification.
Not only does this technology sharply reduce hiring bias, but it also increases inclusiveness after an employee is hired because everyone comes in on a level playing field based on their skills and capabilities rather than their pedigree. All employees have the same shot at promotions and networking and mentorship opportunities.
Leverage DEI Analytics
DEI analytics finds biases in hiring and also measures the impact of equity policies. These programs show the hiring funnel for each stage and for each diversity category, detecting statistically significant biases.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. Suppose, for example, that 10 percent of all applicants are members of an under-represented group. This suggests that 10 percent of all hires should also be members of this group, but that’s approximate. If 9 percent of hires are members of this group, that might be due to chance.
If it’s only 5 percent, however, perhaps there is a problem, and an analytics program would flag that 5 percent is very different from 10 percent. In other words, DEI analytics tells you if your hiring outcome is different from what would likely occur due to random chance. It’s then up to you to investigate where and why this discrepancy is occurring. Maybe there is a step in the hiring process that turns away a specific group of candidates.
For instance, an assessment process may not be accessible enough and therefore adversely impacts candidates living with disabilities. In many cases, the cause is a human making biased decisions. Hopefully, this person just needs awareness and training, but you may need to remove them from a hiring role.
The other side of DEI analytics involves equity policies. We gave the example of a company that has 10 percent of applicants from an under-represented group and assumed that means approximately 10 percent of hires will identify as members of this group—if the hiring process is unbiased. But what if the broader goal of preventing bias demands a different target? Perhaps this group represents 20 percent of the community, and individuals identifying with this group have faced historical disadvantages in applying for a job at the company.
Isn’t it only fair that the company makes 20 percent of hires from members of this group? In this situation, the company may pursue an equity policy to actively increase the share of applications from this group. A policy like this may be called affirmative action.
Now, we can’t tell you what (if any) affirmative action policies are right for your organization. You’d have to consider your local laws, the history of your organization and your society, the expectations of your workforce and your customers and other relevant factors. But we will say that whatever you do, you need to know if your equity policy is having the intended effect or not. DEI analytics programs can track the effect of equity policies and reveal whether they are doing their job.
Let’s compare the importance of measuring equity policies to a familiar subject: vaccine clinical trials. A vaccine must be carefully tested for safety and for efficacy. If you have a new vaccine, just because you think it’s going to work based on a computer analysis, and just because you have a logical argument, doesn’t mean people will trust it. You need the stats to back you up. You need to prove that the vaccine does what it’s supposed to do, and nothing serious that it’s not supposed to do.
Equity policies must be tested in a similar way. Using DEI analytics, you can find and remove biases that still exist, and lay the foundation for greater fairness in your organization.
Offer Self-Service Talent Management to Employees
Talent management services can include several components that we’ve already discussed such as upskilling and mobility opportunities. You may define the services that you offer your employees differently. Regardless of how you structure talent management, placing a talent intelligence platform behind your talent management services will create an inclusive basis for those services.
With a skills-based approach to talent management, the standard for career advancement becomes what each employee can do, not who they are.
Here’s why that’s so important. With a skills-based approach to talent management, the standard for career advancement becomes what each employee can do, not who they are. Self-service for talent management allows each employee to explore and make career moves on their own time, without the pressure of a performance review or an HR meeting. Both skills and self-service create a transparent career experience. Every employee finds the available options and knows that the same options are available to others. Each employee sees how the organization will make decisions. When employees can understand how a decision such as promotion is made, they gain confidence in the process.
Finally, your platform should be equally accessible to all employees. Employees with social advantages can’t work around it. Mentors can’t choose who to coach based on their biases. Important projects can’t be staffed at happy hour or by people in the office versus those who work remotely.
Revisit Your Performance Review Process
Traditional performance reviews can be problematic from a bias standpoint, and the less standardized they are, the greater the potential for misuse.
“When we write particular performance reviews now, we consider if there are words that we’re using in reviews that may trigger sensitivity,” Jolen Anderson at BNY Mellon told us at our recent Cultivate conference. “For instance, if we’re using the word ‘aggressive’ in a review, is that delivering a message that we want? We prefer managers to be more specific about the exact feedback they’re trying to get across to an individual.”
Offer Inclusive Career Pathing
Recruiting needs to be balanced with an effective inclusion program to keep a diverse slate of talent in your organization. As much as seminars and training can help, they ignore the big challenge of keeping people long enough to advance in the company.
On the internal hiring manager side, talent intelligence platforms provide the same background information about every candidate, because after all, no employee should feel that someone else has more opportunities because they went to the same university as the CEO.
With the right technology supporting DEI throughout the employee lifecycle, your organization can change its entire mindset around careers. Employees will see the presence of opportunity and fair outcomes in action. In time, the expectation of facing bias will be replaced by an expectation of full participation. When this change is achieved, we believe the result will be real inclusion.
Excerpted with permission from Deep Talent: How To Transform Your Organization and Empower Your Employees Through AI, by Kamal Ahluwalia, Ashutosh Garg and Alexandra Levit, published by Kogan Page.