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US sees hiring bias in unemployment rates

The EEOC says hiring rates for people of color are worrisome. It has started an effort to help employers reduce hiring bias, which includes looking at processes and tech.

The U.S. agency that enforces employment discrimination laws has launched an effort to wring bias out of hiring processes. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission plans to look at policies and technologies to help employers improve their workforce diversity.

Regulators are concerned about hiring bias, especially after COVID-19 sent unemployment soaring. Despite increased attention on diversity in hiring due to recent social justice protests, the unemployment rate for Black workers was 7.1% in December, compared with 3.2% for whites. Overall, unemployment is higher for people of color than whites. According to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), older Americans are also facing difficulty in today's job market.

The EEOC suspects that technology plays a role in hiring bias and discrimination. In October, the agency launched an effort to probe AI use in employment decisions to see if AI-based recruiting systems comply with civil rights and employment laws.

Regulators are concerned that hiring practices that seem fair "exclude qualified workers for the wrong reasons," said Jenny Yang, director of the office of contract compliance programs for the U.S. Department of Labor. She warned of hiring bias based on outmoded criteria "that are not truly job related" as well subjective resume reviews.

"Tech-based hiring systems, including using artificial intelligence, may seem neutral, but may actually perpetuate inequality in the algorithms they use to screen workers," said Yang, who is co-chair of a new initiative called Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity or HIRE. She was speaking at a virtual EEOC forum Wednesday about the planned multi-year effort, which will include recommendations on how to reduce bias in hiring.

One hiring technology that caught the forum's attention was simulations used to vet candidates for higher-level jobs. Video-based simulations can put job candidates in a situation, such as a disagreement at a meeting, to see how they might respond, said Kathleen Lundquist, president and CEO of APTMetrics Inc., whose firm develops the simulations.

Hiring bias in numbers
According to EEOC data, the jobless rate for people of color consistently outpaces the jobless rate for whites.

Putting someone in the role

At the forum, Lundquist argued that simulations could help employers develop a broader pipeline of candidates. The technology may help underrepresented groups by enabling them "to show what they might be able to do if exposed to the challenges of the job," she said. APTMetrics is an HR consultancy in Westport, Conn., and is owned and operated by industrial and organizational psychologists.

By using simulations, HR teams are "putting someone in this future or aspirational role, and giving them a chance to see how they can actually perform," said Keith Caver, vice president of leadership assessment and development at APTMetric. The technology may help HR move beyond evaluating a candidate for only roles that they've had in the past or overlooking potential talent altogether, he said in an interview with SearchHRSoftware.

APTMetrics' simulations are aimed at midlevel and above jobs, but the company is expanding its approach to employment at all levels, Lundquist said.

It's unclear whether the HIRE effort will make specific recommendations on technology approaches. But forum participants suggested remedies to overcome hiring bias that will likely use HR technology to organize and manage diversity efforts.

Employers need to raise their visibility and their engagement level with diverse groups so that they're viewed as welcoming and interested, engaged and inviting.
Veta Richardsonpresident and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel

"Employers need to raise their visibility and their engagement level with diverse groups so that they're viewed as welcoming and interested, engaged and inviting," said Veta Richardson, president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel. As part of that, employees "need to set engagement and participation metrics and measure their progress," she said.

The EEOC's overarching goal is to address the hiring gaps.

"The pandemic's devastating impact on employment has hit some people of color, women, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, older workers and others particularly hard, compounding the impact of systemic barriers to hiring and advancement, including discrimination, longstanding occupational segregation and other drivers of inequality that existed before the pandemic," the EEOC said in a statement.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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