When entrepreneurs think about artificial intelligence (AI), it tends to be this futuristic thing that "one day" will make a significant impact on business. But ever so slowly, AI continues to creep its way into our lives. From intelligent recommendation engines from Amazon and Netflix to chat bots and now AI can even detect unconscious bias in your hiring practices.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Mike Ettling, President of SAP SuccessFactors, and got a glimpse of our collective future when it comes to hiring talent.
"Suppose your HR leader says that your gender roles are wrong. It can take as long as 18 to 24 months to eliminate corporate bias," says Mike Ettling. "That's because of our unconscious bias."
In other words, we're not even aware of the bias we have. And yet, when we write a job description, the very way we describe what we are looking for tends to skew unconscious bias towards a specific gender, race, and other factors.
How AI Will Help Eliminate Unconscious Bias
One of several steps SAP SuccessFactors has taken is to create a "bias checker" for your job description. Just like spelling and grammar checking software highlight your typos and grammatical mistakes, now you can check for your own unconscious bias that shows up in the contents of your job description.
"We are using technology to trap the bias and stop it," says Mike Ettling. "Our bias checker will look at the language used in a job description and recommend changes to eliminate the bias. Gender neutral job specs is a big application of the technology, and we are measuring the hard impacts."
If you will recall from Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink (see related article), the author himself was shocked to find out that he was unconsciously bias. In his experiment with word associations, his own hesitations illustrated he had an unconscious racial bias despite his own African American heritage. Imagine how these unconscious bias show up in everything we do in business.
In leveraging AI, SAP SuccessFactors is working to bring to the forefront that which we are unconscious. And, through making us acutely aware of our own unconscious bias, SAP SuccessFactors is taking a leading role in leveraging technology to positively impact the work environment.
SAP SuccessFactors has also taken into account this unconscious bias into compensation management. "When it comes to performance, roles and pay bands, having a picture of the employee introduces bias of compensation," Mike Ettling explains. "Just by turning off the picture, we can avoid the bias and focus on the raw performance data versus the visualization of the person."
The Talent Shortage Myth
If that weren't impressive enough, I was really touched by watching how SAP SuccessFactors helped candidates with Autism. Think about it. If someone is autistic, then they lack the kind of interpersonal skills that are needed to interview well. Yet, people with autism can have almost super-human skills in other areas. By focusing on the needs of the job (rather than the personality of the person who interviews well), SAP SuccessFactors has discovered some powerful ways to match up highly qualified candidates that were previously being overlooked.
"As far as I'm concerned," says Mike Ettling, "all that talk about a talent shortage is a myth. There is plenty of talent out there. Leaders need to open their eyes more to the diversity of talent." These were especially bold words coming from the President of a company that is growing in the San Francisco / Silicon Valley area - considered one of the most difficult markets to find highly skilled talent.
When I pressed him on this topic, we got into the concept of borderless migration of high level talent which is a much broader topic currently being hashed out by the political agenda of our President and the Supreme Court. We agreed to save this broader topic for another day.
In the meantime, be on the look out for technology like SAP Success Factor's bias checker to help reverse a trend of bias in the workplace. It's a great start to creating a more diverse workplace with more intentional and deliberate hiring (and compensation) equality.