2020 saw a massive shift in employers’ awareness of systemic bias and a call to action for organizations to do more and be better. Nondiscrimination and antibias education is not new; for many years the onus has been with Human Resources decision-makers to find workarounds within existing talent management tools. Standard suggestions for inclusive employment strategy include redacting names from resumes, standardizing interview questions, and offering accommodations, but there is a growing market for technology explicitly designed to mitigate bias, improve accessibility, and drive inclusion.
Traditional guidance for HR professionals is to consider best-in-class versus all-in-one systems; needs analyses consider features such as integration with other systems, user interface, and cloud versus local server hosting. All of these criteria are focused on workflow and not the outcome. Ideally companies considering HRIS systems would include IDBE criteria including accessibility and productized adverse impact reporting in the "must-have" features used to evaluate prospective vendors. Many HRIS vendors mention diversity and inclusion only within the context of compliance reporting. A recent white paper from CompareHRIS.com identifies seven features to evaluate including employee/manager self-service and branding without any explicit mention of accessibility or how these features impact the user experience.
To fill this gap in service there are new applications, portals, and platforms specifically designed to lessen bias and promote equity in the hiring and employment experiences. Patricia Elias, chief legal and people officer of ServiceSource predicts that bias decoding software will experience a surge in 2021 (Pradhan, 2020). Textio was founded in 2014 and has quickly emerged as a productized bias decoding platform that uses machine learning to identify possible gender, cultural, and ability coded language that may impact the effectiveness of a good-faith job advertisement. DataPeople and TelVista quickly followed as market competitors, both offering an applicant tracking integration that will act as a gatekeeper-like add-on for existing systems.
Antibias systems and software are a boon to companies that have limited resources or limited foundational knowledge of inclusion, diversity, belonging, and equity concepts. It fills the gap between “why” and “how”; while employers may understand the benefits of equity and inclusion, it is not always obvious how bias is impacting their processes or how to correct that within the structure of current systems and workflows. These softwares provide an essential service in the form of immediate response. If HRIS vendors are not going to prioritize native antibias features these tools will fill that need until they see fit to do so.
In addition, as the employer-side user reviews the recommendations and associated justifications they will become more aware of why language may be problematic and how that may adversely impact strategic inclusion initiatives. The system serves as an extension to the existing professional development tools, serving to both correct and coach. Ideally, as the user develops a greater understanding of the impacts of biased language, they will begin to self-correct in the initial drafting process as well as have a greater awareness of their language usage throughout other stages of the interview.
While there is hope these tools will serve as a platform for learning and help recruiters and hiring managers to develop better cultural competencies and awareness of bias, that is not their primary goal. Learning is a tangential benefit, one that may not extend to users who are not already open and receptive to learning. Others may rely heavily on the tool recommendations without fully evaluating how appropriate or effective they are, leading to errors and miscommunication. In addition, talent managers can craft an equitable job ad, but if these efforts do not carry forward through the rest of the hiring process and beyond, into employment, it is unlikely to produce a measurable impact on recruitment and retention. Overreliance on technology without behavior change is a waste of time and money.
Another risk of best-in-class integrations and overlays is that they may break or render ineffective software and features utilized on the applicant side. Last month over 400 users, designers, and advocates signed an open letter to companies that use automated web accessibility overlays outlining how they can reduce accessibility and compromise data security. One such company, AccessiBe, promises to bring inaccessible websites into compliance by inserting one line of code for $49 a month. Yet users and UX testers say that the code renders screenreaders unusable and websites unnavigable for people who are blind and low vision. Disturbingly, companies such as AccessiBe are receiving millions of dollars in funding which creates a conflict of interest – they now have a fiduciary duty to investors to aggressively defend and market a knowingly flawed tool.
Lulu has mixed feelings about tech...
Ultimately the best solutions are native to the design or workflow. Anti-bias decoding software should be one tool in a larger IDBE strategy. Accessibility overlays should be scuttled in favor of building and selecting systems that meet or exceed WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. Ultimately, technology alone cannot create perceptions of belonging – that is a byproduct of a holistic commitment to mitigating bias at every lev
el and in every interaction.
Companies like Stark Lab provide resources, coaching, templates, and consultation to designers and developers to improve compliance and accessibility. Making accessibility a key part of the design process normalizes it as a necessity and embraces the benefits of universal design. Likewise, HRIS vendors can and should integrate anti-bias decoding into the applicant tracking and job description management software. Only when equity becomes the standard instead of an add-on will an employer be able to achieve a community of belonging.