Improving Diversity Through Tech

HR technology vendors are adopting artificial intelligence and other new tools to help organizations deal with the seemingly intractable problem of improving workforce diversity and inclusiveness.

Panelists address ways HR technology can foster greater diversity. (Photo courtesy of Heather Bussing)

Both established technology vendors and start-ups have launched AI and machine learning-powered features or services that bolster customers’ efforts to be more inclusive, including masking job candidates’ gender, making language of job ads gender-neutral, and uncovering pay gaps, according to company representatives speaking at a panel titled “How HR Technology Can Foster a More Diverse, Inclusive Workplace,” held Tuesday in advance of the annual HR Tech Conference.

The advances arrive as companies in and outside the technology industry have come under pressure for failing to hire, retain and promote more women and people of color. They also come as protracted low unemployment has made it harder for companies to fill talent pipelines using traditional methods.

Circumstances are motivating companies to do better. “They get it’s an economic imperative. They’re reading the research. They get it’s not an option, it’s a reality,” said Patti Fletcher SAP/SuccessFactors’ leadership futurist for solution management.

Unconscious biases affect how companies approach recruiting or hiring. At any given moment, any one person’s thought process is affected by 150 of them, Fletcher said. But it’s asking a lot to expect people to account for unconscious bias without some type of reinforcement as back up, or what she called “rules without tools.”

To get around that, SAP/SuccessFactors identified nine key decision points where unconscious bias can affect a manager’s thinking about hiring, promotions and other key points in the talent lifecycle. The company used AI and machine learning to build decision-interruption nudges into its technology to make managers more aware of actions they’re taking.

Textio’s AI-based augmented writing program helps recruiters and hiring managers flag language in job ads that could turn off certain candidates. Johnson & Johnson saw a 9 percent increase in applications from women after the consumer products company began using the service, according to Charna Parkey, Textio customer service director.

An ADP service called Pay Equity Explore gives employers tools to analyze employee compensation data to identify inequities. With more companies interested in supporting gender identity and LGBTQ support networks, ADP is testing a separate service on its own employees that identifies sexual orientation in advance of offering it to customers.

“It’s a touchy topic,” said Jennifer Cambern, and ADP product management and global enterprise solutions vice president. “As we launch features around that, the need to aggregate and protect data is key.”

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.