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Sen. Kamala Harris concerned about AI's use in HR

If U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris becomes vice president, she may use her new position to seek action over the use of AI in HR, especially around facial analysis technologies.

If U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) makes it to the White House, she may seek changes in the use of AI in HR and provide stronger support for a more diverse corporate America.

In the Senate, she has raised concerns about technology that assesses facial expressions to help determine a job candidate's suitability. The technology is underpinned by AI.

In 2018, Harris asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to develop "guidelines for employers on the fair use of facial analysis technologies and how this technology may violate anti-discrimination laws."

Last year, Harris co-sponsored the AI in Government Act, a bipartisan bill that sought to, among other things, identify and mitigate discriminatory impacts from AI use in government

AI may not be the only HR issue Harris would focus on. She also co-sponsored legislation last year requiring public firms to disclose the racial, gender and ethnic makeup of corporate boards and senior management.

"When our country's corporate leadership looks more like the rest of the country, it ensures that a wider array of perspectives are heard in meetings and boardrooms and that the needs and interests of more people are considered," Harris said when the legislation was introduced in 2019.

HR managers on diversity

Harris' push for more transparency among corporate America reflects a broader push by major investors for more data about diversity in public companies. While it's a push that has been met with dissatisfaction among some corporate leaders, the diversity conversation is happening inside organizations as well.

Gartner found that nearly 90% of HR leaders believe their organization "has been ineffective or flat" at increasing internal diversity. The figure was based on a recent survey of 114 HR managers.

"They're aware of the demographics of their customers, and they look at the workforce and they see it's not the same," said Lauren Romansky, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

The national protests over racism against Black people are prompting business leaders to prioritize diversity -- and they have "asked HR to prioritize that as well," Romansky said.

I don't think any organization feels like they have [diversity] just right.
Lauren RomanskyManaging vice president, Gartner

"I don't think any organization feels like they have [diversity] just right," she said.

Some organizations are publishing their workforce demographics -- including gender, race and ethnicities -- to great detail. They are going further than the requirements set in Harris' legislation.

"There is no one kind of proven path forward," Romansky said, but publishing diversity data "is a real, helpful way to be authentic and sincere." 

For those organizations that aren't releasing data that provides insight into workforce diversity, "the supposition would be also that those organizations are not great at it if they are not publicizing it," Romansky said. 

With respect to AI in HR, Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research Advisory in Austin, advised HR managers to use caution.

"If HR teams are using any sort of technology that incorporates facial recognition, they need to take care that they are evaluating all candidates fairly and in an unbiased way," Eubanks said. Some data shows that facial recognition "leads to negative outcomes for people of color, partly because the systems are trained on incomplete data sets containing primarily faces of white men," he said.

"The election serves as a reminder that there is change in the air," Eubanks said. "It's important for employers to ensure they are doing the right things by their talent, both internal and external, to stay on the right side of the law." 

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