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AI and diversity

There are many apocryphal stories that describe a scary future where algorithms dictate our decisions, states Alex Cresswell, Managing Director (EMEA) at pymetrics. Some of this fear is justified - algorithms present the grave danger of perpetuating existing human biases and inequalities while parading around as fair. But what if they also present a powerful solution for removing our biases?

We all know that human bias exists in the hiring process, and that this disadvantages women and minorities whether in early career or experienced hiring. Recent Facebook, Google and Uber lawsuits belie the consequences of this reality. Technology, on the other hand, is neither good nor bad; it only knows what we teach it. So we shouldn’t be surprised that unchecked technology - created and trained by inherently biased humans - often perpetuates our biases.

The good news is that AI is actually much more powerful than technologies we’ve created in the past. With humans, it’s virtually impossible to truly remove our inherent biases. We have attempted to improve this through unconscious bias training, and while this effort is well-intentioned, it has been shown to be patently ineffective.

While removing bias from a human is close to impossible, removing it from an algorithm is not only possible but already a reality. We can engineer and train algorithms to be bias-free. We can ensure that they treat individuals from every background equally.

How is this possible? Because the output of algorithms can be trained to be replicable and pre-tested to be bias-free. Humans, on the other hand, are both unpredictable and impossible to pre-test.

The potential for AI to promote equality is profound. Yet all we hear about is AI creating evil robot overlords that instigate dystopian futures full of inequity. Why are we so focused on portraying AI as ubiquitously negative? Look around - humanity is doing a fantastic job of perpetuating inequality without robot assistance. Actually, we could really use some AI help!

AI can be an incredibly powerful force for good. Instead of viewing AI as a dystopian overlord, think of it as a bias-reversal mechanism that can undo the powerful biases introduced by even the most well-intentioned humans. This makes it one of our most powerful tools for promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion and we are starting to see this tool being put to good use. pymetrics, Textio, Applied, Talent Sonar are all examples of platforms using technology to reduce bias. Each of these platforms has tangibly improved diversity outcomes for companies, helping them achieve record levels of diversity across gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. 

At pymetrics, we've helped a major financial services company move their gender balance from 25% to 50%. And this is not at the expense of talent prediction; we also improved their quality of hire and retention rates by up to 60%. When our algorithms replaced the resume screen for Unilever’s Global Future Leaders Program this past year, time to hire went down by 75%, hire yield went up by over 100%, and diversity reached record highs across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Blind auditions for orchestras moved the needle in female hiring from 5% to 25%. We currently stand at 5% for many female roles – women CEOs, both Fortune 500 and startups, CTOs, engineers and a whole host of other male-dominated fields. What we need is the ‘blind audition’ for the workplace.

AI can be scary, and when left unchecked it can definitely perpetuate existing disparities. However, if we are intentional about how we design it, AI can be our ultimate tool to create the ‘blind audition’ we have been looking for.


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