CEO + Cofounder, pymetrics
We live in unprecedented economic times. COVID19 has created an unemployment rate unseen since the Great Depression. Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by this job loss. Additionally the needed spotlight on police brutality has brought a laser focus to all aspects of racial inequity. Access to employment opportunities is one area which can greatly benefit from improved racial equity.
Despite legal protections beginning in 1969 through Title VII - and put into place by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - Black job seekers do not have employment opportunities equal to Whites. Why? Because current hiring regulations have loopholes and blind spots.
In this country, we legally permit the most ubiquitous hiring screen - human resume review - to continue to discriminate against people of color. A recent meta-analysis covering 30 years of human resume review showed significant and sustained discrimination against Black job seekers. It studied what happens when the exact same resume is submitted for a job, with only one difference: the name on the resume. The finding: the exact same resume, with identical information, will get 30% fewer call-backs just because it has a Black-sounding name (Jamal Williams) at the top instead of White-sounding name (John Green). This discriminatory behavior has persisted over 3 decades despite an increase in the belief that diversity is important, people’s stated desire for more diversity and data which shows more diverse organizations outperform on business metrics.
Many companies have sought to overcome biases through diversity and unconscious bias training. Unfortunately, a 15 year meta-analysis on diversity and unconscious bias training showed that these trainings don’t change behavior. This makes sense. Decades of internalizing bias against certain groups cannot be undone with a few hours of lessons in a conference room. Even more problematic, they may make a company or a person feel like they have “fixed” their biases when they have not.
Fortunately, there are ways to enable companies to hire more diverse and more qualified individuals. A recent report entitled “What Works” covers the types of evidence-based interventions that are effective: changes to process, metrics, accountability, audited technology, and transparency.
Transparent technology exposes and removes biased language from job descriptions, biased demographic variables from resumes, and biased variables from evaluations of job seekers, among other problematic criteria. There are numerous audited hiring technology platforms available that allow us to see the structural inequality in hiring, and more importantly, to help humans fix it.
However, this technology faces a critical juncture. Can we trust it? For many, the answer is no. Examples abound of hiring technology that instead of reducing bias, encoded and amplified it. Amazon had a well-known example of a resume parser being biased against women. Many academics and policy groups have flagged facial recognition in hiring as deeply problematic as it discriminates against people of color.
That’s why we need regulations at the federal, state and city level to ensure that the tools companies use to evaluate job applicants are fair, equitable and unbiased.
To help achieve this, we support the NYC Council legislation, Int. 1894-2020, which will prevent the sale of automated hiring tools that are not audited for bias before they are sold to companies. The bill also empowers job applicants by requiring companies to give notice that they are being evaluated by these technologies.
The bill is the first of its kind in the country requiring that automated hiring tools be audited for bias. As Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel put it, “we can’t cleanse every last HR department of its bias, but we can debias algorithms.” As of this writing, the bill already has 20 co-sponsors and support continues to grow after being introduced by Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo last February. We’re also very encouraged that the NY Urban League is supporting the passage of the law in its “State of Black New York” report.
The bill comes at an extremely important time for New York. Our company, pymetrics, calls NYC home and the devastation that COVID19 has wrought was unimaginable just a few months ago. The recovery is going to be long and arduous. Indeed, the statistics are horrifying. Some estimates have unemployment as high as 30% in New York, with low-wage workers – who are disproportionately black and brown people – hit the hardest.
This bill isn’t a silver bullet, but is a critical step to providing equitable economic opportunities. We can’t let the economic rebound further exacerbate racial gaps in the workplace without doing everything we can to level the playing field in meaningful, tangible ways. We are all invested in New York coming back stronger than ever. Guaranteeing that all New Yorkers are given a fair shot when applying for jobs is an essential part of achieving this goal.
Frida Polli is co-founder and CEO of pymetrics, a talent acquisition and management platform.
Martine Cadet is VP of Social Impact at pymetrics.