Does Technology Make a Difference to DEI Efforts?

Diversity Technology

The days of walking into a business, résumé in-hand, to apply for an open position are over. Companies everywhere funnel job seekers to online applications where algorithms sort through and surface the best candidates.

At the same time, a lot’s been made of the potential for talent acquisition platforms to reduce or eliminate bias in the hiring process. While the efficacy of these platforms continues to be debated, at least some recruiting, technology and DEI professionals question whether they’re actually an impediment to progress as opposed to foundation stone for progressive companies.  

Some #DEI professionals question whether recruiting platforms are an impediment to progress as opposed to a foundation stone for progressive companies.  #HR #HRTech Share on X

Central to this debate is the idea of what “diversity” even means. While we can paint with broad strokes to ensure inclusivity when discussing diversity, the application in the hiring process is subjective to each company’s needs. We ‘value the many perspectives that arise from a variety of cultures, races, gender, religions, national origins, ages, physical and cognitive capabilities, sexual orientations and other ways we identify ourselves,” according to “Recruiting for Diversity,” a report from Harvard’s Human Resources department, “by hiring a diverse staff, you will have access to different perspectives that can optimize your team’s capacity.”

Platforms and Tools

Candidates today uncover lots of opportunities on job boards. They find open positions online and apply after (we hope) reading through the job posting and requirements. In all likelihood, the posting will contain copy addressing the company’s dedication to hiring a diverse workforce. 

The question is whether the tools recruiters and hiring managers use actually help them hire the diverse workforce they claim to be building. Sure, jobs can be posted to websites that focus on diversity in hiring, but all candidates eventually settle into an application and candidate management platform.

Unfortunately, the most popular platforms don’t offer a lot of good tools for removing bias from the hiring process, but that may be changing. Among vendors, Greenhouse is taking the longest road to mitigating bias in hiring: Rather than remove information that can elicit bias – like a candidate’s name or location – the company is is attempting to educate the humans who do the hiring.

On its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion page, Greenhouse highlights its efforts to surface popups to talent acquisition professionals to encourage equity as they review candidates. Greenhouse also tracks statistics such as how often an employer chooses to move men through the interview process as opposed to female applicants.

Another company, tech-talent focused attempts to remove bias as candidates enter the interview process. These, candidates must typically prove their expertise in technology as well as convince their interviewers that they’re a good cultural fit for the company. On’s platform, companies can interview candidates anonymously at the “technical phone screen” phase. Meanwhile, the service helps candidates prepare themselves by offering mock interviews with engineers from top tech companies and insight into how they fared in the process.

Is Tech Working to Increase Diversity?

A number of platforms and programs are available to increase diversity in the hiring process, reduce or eliminate bias and help companies achieve their stated goal of a more diverse workforce. The the effectiveness of those services is difficult to know, however.

Though companies add pithy copy to job posts and make bold proclamations about their commitment to diversity, not all of them show their work. While their data is self-reported and not audited, its release represents one of the few examples of how public scorn led to a subsequent promise to improve diversity. While we don’t know how diversity was improved at these companies, ancillary data suggests many top tech organizations now use platforms aimed at reducing bias and creating a more diverse candidate pool.

The Unknowable X-Factor: Culture

According to Fortune, the top 20 companies for diversity are largely drawn from the retail, technology and financial sectors. But this data is self-reported and can be spun in a variety of ways. For example, a “100% increase of LatinX staff in leadership” may be a total of two people.

While Greenhouse’s methods for improving diversity and inclusion in the hiring process might seem half-hearted, it does speak to the elephant in the room: company culture. A company not dedicated to a diverse workforce simply won’t hire diverse candidates regardless of the obfuscation tech can provide. Plainly put, if a manager doesn’t want to hire candidates that don’t look like them or have the same backgrounds, they simply won’t.

On a granular level, cultural issues can be difficult to identify. Companies can provide the framework leadership and HR want to communicate and establish, but it’s up to existing managers to carry out their directives. Companies like Apple say they have strong check-and-balance protocols for hiring to ensure candidates from all walks of life are considered, which may be the best – albeit the slowest – way to truly improve diversity in the workforce. 

Tech can help managers find talented, diverse candidates, but the decision to hire is still human — and prone to human error.

Issues Start Well Before Hiring 

Tech companies are said to be more transparent about diversity than other businesses and can serve as an example of what’s wrong with diversity in hiring. There’s undoubtedly an issue with underrepresented groups being noticed, but an even bigger issue with people from those groups having the opportunities earlier in life and their education.

Companies everywhere need talented people, but talent typically comes on the back of education and/or experience. Getting in the door often requires a solid body of work – but if you can’t develop a strong résumé, how can you be considered for roles you really want?

Applicant tracking software is often used to weed out under-qualified people. Their algorithms are binary and basic. If you have three years’ experience at a top-notch company, it may be more valuable than 10 years elsewhere. If the algorithm is looking at years of experience as a baseline metric, candidates who may not have had the opportunity to develop a decade of experience can miss out on jobs they’re highly qualified for.

It’s reasonable for a hiring manager to assume someone with a certain level of experience has acquired specific knowledge and to narrow the job’s focus to a pool of similar candidates. This just underscores how machines only do what people tell them to do, and that it’s up to recruiters and hiring managers to cast wider nets and review candidates more objectively. 

ATS and hiring platforms are ultimately meant to keep hiring managers organized, but they’re becoming a way to exclude candidates based on unconscious bias that may go beyond race and gender. But tech is only part of the problem. Humans have to self-correct their bias before diversity in the workforce truly improves.

Image: 123RF

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