As machine learning algorithms are called upon to make more decisions for organizations, including talent decisions like recruiting and assessment, it’s becoming even more crucial to make sure that the performance of these algorithms is regularly monitored and reviewed just like the performance of an employee. While automation has been held up as a way to eliminate errors of human judgment from bias-prone processes like hiring, in reality, algorithms are only as good as the data from which they learn, and if that data contains biases, the algorithm will learn to emulate those biases.
The risk of algorithmic bias is a matter of pressing concern for organizations taking the leap into AI- and machine learning-enhanced HR processes. The most straightforward solution to algorithmic bias is to rigorously scrutinize the data you are feeding your algorithm and develop checks against biases that might arise based on past practices. Diversifying the teams that design and deploy these algorithms can help ensure that the organization is sensitive to the biases that might arise. As large technology companies make massive investments in these emerging technologies, they are also becoming aware of these challenges and looking for technological solutions to the problem as well. At Fast Company last week, Adele Peters took a look at Accenture’s new Fairness Tool, a program “designed to quickly identify and then help fix problems in algorithms”:
The tool uses statistical methods to identify when groups of people are treated unfairly by an algorithm–defining unfairness as predictive parity, meaning that the algorithm is equally likely to be correct or incorrect for each group. “In the past, we have found models that are highly accurate overall, but when you look at how that error breaks down over subgroups, you’ll see a huge difference between how correct the model is for, say, a white man versus a black woman,” [Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s global responsible AI lead,] says.
Earlier this month, Kyle O’Brien at the Drum took a look at HP’s latest and inclusion marketing campaign, a series of videos called “Reinvent Mindsets,” which takes aim at unconscious bias by highlighting the subtler forms of discrimination black Americans and women are subject to in the workplace. The first video in the series addressed the fact that black Americans are three times more likely than their white colleagues to be rejected for a role they are qualified for, while the second touches on the sexist expectations women must navigate in job interviews:
In its latest video in the Reinvent Mindsets series, HP tackles gender bias through a powerful video pairing fathers and daughters talking about the tough process of job interviews. ‘Dads & Daughters’ pairs fathers and daughters having one-on-one discussions. The dads were asked to read generic interview tips for women that had been found online and talk about them with their daughters.
Tips included “Don’t wear too much perfume”, “Don’t be aggressive trying to negotiate your salary”, “Don’t look too hot”, “Don’t be chatty” and “Just found out you’re pregnant? Best to keep it to yourself for now”. The daughters, unsurprisingly, look exasperated. But as the dads read they spark a discussion about bias, strength and individuality.
Another company with a new D&I initiative worth noting is Accenture, whose latest video, “Inclusion starts with ‘I’,” features real employees sharing their feelings about unfair ways they have been treated at work. Fortune’s Ellen McGirt applauds the initiative, which was developed through a series of workshops and hammers home the point that inclusion means creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected:
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For multinational corporations, India has recently emerged as a new theater in the parental leave arms race, with PricewaterhouseCoopers announcing an overhaul of its policy for new mothers there at the start of this month. Accenture India has now taken its own policy one step further, the Economic Times reports, expanding leave for women who become mothers through adoption or surrogacy, among other benefits:
Accenture has increased the adoption leave its staff can take to 22 weeks from the current eight and added surrogacy leave, also of 22 weeks, as a new category, making the company one of the first in India to equate surrogacy and adoption leaves to maternity leave practices.
The new policy means all types new mothers will now be treated equal. Effective immediately, all new mothers (full-time and part-time) will receive five months (22 weeks) of paid leave, which is significantly more than the current statutory requirement of three months.
In a tight market for tech talent, many companies are looking for ways to attract more women to software engineering and other digital roles, including mid-career women who dropped out of the workforce to raise families. Despite these initiatives, a recent study by Accenture and Girls Who Code predicted that the ratio of women to men in computing jobs would likely decline in the coming decade if nothing is done to make STEM education and technology careers more appealing to women:
Not doing enough to encourage more women to work in computing hurts the US economy in general. While computing jobs are growing three times as fast as overall job creation, according to the report, computer scientists are in short supply. In 2015 there were 500,000 open computing jobs in the US, but in 2014, there were less than 40,000 new computer science graduates.
Few are women. The report finds the share of women computer science majors in the US dropped from 34% in 1984 to 18% in 2016.
Accenture has been doing some interesting work in the field of diversity and inclusion; it’s one of several tech employers using a diversity referral program to recruit more candidates from underrepresented demographics. It’s also taking an innovative approach to the inclusion of women. As Accenture CHRO Ellyn Shook tells Workforce‘s Sarah Fister Gale, hiring is just half the battle, as more than half of women in tech leave their jobs mid-career:
Earlier this week, Accenture’s France-based CEO Pierre Nanterme appeared live by hologram at a meeting of 500 of the company’s top executives in Chicago. The Washington Post‘s Jena McGregor notes that Nanterme wasn’t the only one beaming in from afar either:
At the same time, the professional services firm’s human resources chief, Ellyn Shook, was beamed in from New York, and the resulting three-dimensional “holograms” of the two executives chatted with each other about things like the company’s new performance reviews and recent acquisitions, while answering questions from the audience.
It was the second time Nanterme had appeared before employees via hologram, and the first time the company had simultaneously beamed in two executives to an event at the same time. The company says it has built seven studios with the capacity to capture holograms across the globe, and plans to expand its use.
Here’s what it looks like:
Of course, the sophisticated technology needed for this type of communication isn’t cheap, and it’s taken years for Accenture to build out the capability. So why go through all the trouble? McGregor explains:
Accenture’s latest report on the diversity of its American workforce, published on Monday, paints a picture of an organization doing a slightly better job at building an inclusive workplace than other companies that have recently released similar statistics. In 2015, the report shows, 50.3 percent of Accenture’s 47,566 US employees were white, 33.6 percent were Asian, 7.4 percent were African-American, and 6.3 percent were Latino. Its gender balance was 64.2 percent men to 35.8 percent women. At the executive level, the company is 63.3 percent white and 68.7 percent male. Accenture also employs approximately 1,450 employees who self-identify as people with disabilities, as well as 1,000 veterans.
In some respects, Accenture is doing better than major tech companies like Intel or Microsoft, where leadership is around 82 percent male, but the organization still has a lot of work to do if it wants to be more inclusive of women and underrepresented minorities. Julie Sweet, Group Chief Executive of Accenture, North America, acknowledges that reality in her introduction to the report: “While I am pleased with the progress we have made, we are not where we want to be. We need to find new ways to make an impact.”
One way the company is trying to meet its goals, the Huffington Post’s Emily Peck reports, is with a diversity referral program: