Imagine if…you were president of your university’s Future of Finance club, top in your Finance program and still couldn’t land a coveted invite to an exclusive recruiting event.
Your mom worked two and sometimes three jobs to ensure you would be able to go to college. While you missed her being there for some of your best high school moments, you also understood it was a sacrifice she was making for your benefit. Though she always said you were one of the best things to happen to her, she wanted a better life for you. She would ask you repeatedly what you wanted to be when you grew up.
You researched jobs that would make the most money so you could take care of her like she always took care of you. It was for this reason that becoming a financial advisor was at the top of your list. You worked hard getting good grades to get into the best university for it.
You learned that your favorite financial firm would be on site recruiting even before graduation. You couldn’t wait to get back and tell the guys. As one of only a few women in the Finance program you had learned early how to adapt everything from your communication style to clothing in order to earn their friendship and most importantly their respect.
This was key to being considered a leader in the Finance program at your prestigious university. They often said your class cohort would become your network and it was worth more than a thousand grades to your future career.
But a strange thing happened when you got to class. The guys seemed to know all about the pre-recruitment efforts. In their hands, they had invites to an exclusive event being held by the firm that night. Since you were the leader of the Future of Finance club they assumed you were not only invited but responsible for bringing the firm to the university in such a big way.
That night all you could think about as you sat with a bowl of ramen in your room, was how much fun and networking the guys were up to. Just to torture yourself, you looked the event up online only to find out your favorite finance role model was there. They no doubt brought out the best of the firm in order to entice the cream of the crop to sign with them right then.
But you were cream of the crop. You had worked hard to become the top of your Finance program. You couldn’t understand why you weren’t invited. Discrimination was something that only happened to older people. You had never heard of this happening to people your age. People your age were much more enlightened. Yet, here you were at home, while it seemed like all the guys were at the event.
The next day the guys wanted to know why you didn’t come; they had been expecting you. They told you all about how you would have been one of the only women there except your role model of course — another reason they were surprised you weren’t there. You didn’t want to seem whiney or resentful but their persistent questions about why you weren’t there finally resulted in you telling them you weren’t invited.
They were surprised. Then you thought about your biggest rival in the finance cohort, a Samoan guy named Manaia. You asked the guys if he was invited. He was second behind you in the class. The guys confirmed he was not there.
You were now beginning to suspect this really was discrimination. You call your favorite financial firm and ask them how the invite list was determined. The firm’s rep assures you that it was done in the most non-biased way possible. The firm prides itself on using only the newest recruitment techniques.
She says the algorithm selects only the qualities of their best people and then match those to the pool of candidates at the school. If you weren’t selected it’s because you are simply not like their best. The firm’s rep hangs up leaving you full of questions and wondering if you have picked the right profession.
This situation changed everything for you. You know one thing for sure. You no longer idolize the firm or want to work there if this is how they do things.
Questions to think about: (take the quiz to see answers)
1) Do you think the firm intentionally left out diverse candidates?
2) What kind of person do you think the “best qualities” are modeled after given who was invited to the recruitment event?
3) Do you think the data scientists checked the data they trained the algorithm on to see if it included diverse candidates?
4) Does there appear to be any feedback loop to the developers of the algorithm so that they could tweak the algorithm as issues arise?
5) Has the firm violated Equal Employment Opportunity laws by not inviting diverse clients to their recruitment event?
6) What can the firm do better to be more inclusive?
7) Is there anything our Finance student can do about this situation?
Inspired by the following news stories:
Jeffrey Dastin, Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women, Reuters (October 9, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-jobs-automation-insight-idUSKCN1MK08G
Peter Cappelli, Your Approach to Hiring is All Wrong, Harvard Business Review. (May 2019), https://hbr.org/2019/05/recruiting
Drew Harwell, HireVue’s AI face-scanning algorithm increasingly decides whether you deserve the job, Washington Post (November 6, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/22/ai-hiring-face-scanning-algorithm-increasingly-decides-whether-you-deserve-job/
Help me make this article better.
Add your own experiences or thoughts to the comments section. I want to help recruiters, HR groups and data scientists understand how people can be affected by the use of hiring and recruitment algorithms and AI. I fear there is a thought that algorithms are less-biased, when in fact it depends on the data they were trained.
This article was originally published in Medium on Towards Data Science. https://towardsdatascience.com/the-aspiration-crushing-algorithm-a657eb5f0d88