In her book Weapons of Math Destruction, author Cathy O'Neil writes: “Our own values and desires influence our choices, from the data we choose to collect to the questions we ask. Models are opinions embedded in mathematics.” This is an important consideration to bear in mind as the industry increasingly looks to automation to add efficiencies to hiring processes.
O'Neil goes on to point out: “This underscores another common feature of WMDs [weapons of math destruction]. They tend to punish the poor. This is, in part, because they are engineered to evaluate large numbers of people. They specialize in bulk, and they’re cheap. That’s part of their appeal. The wealthy, by contrast, often benefit from personal input. A white-shoe law firm or an exclusive prep school will lean far more on recommendations and face-to-face interviews than will a fast-food chain or a cash-strapped urban school district. The privileged, we’ll see time and again, are processed more by people, the masses by machines.”
Recently, Harvard Business Review partnered with Accenture to study the impact of automation our hiring processes. The results were unsettling. According to "Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent", companies that lean heavily into automation “regularly eliminate all but those candidates who most closely match the job requirements specified”. The study was based on a survey of more than 8,000 hidden workers and more than 2,250 executives.
The HBS report, released Sept. 4, provides insight into America’s labor market dynamics, including the widely reported mismatch between the more than 10 million job openings - a record high - and the more than 8.4 million unemployed actively looking for work.
"Those workers are thus hidden from consideration by the design and implementation of the very processes that were meant to maximize a company’s access to qualified and available talent"
“At the same time, an enormous and growing group of people are unemployed or underemployed, eager to get a job or increase their working hours. However, they remain effectively ‘hidden’ from most businesses that would benefit from hiring them by the very processes those companies use to find talent.”
"Hidden workers” fall into three categories: “missing hours” (working one or more part-time jobs but willing and able to work full-time); “missing from work” (unemployed for a long time but seeking employment); or “missing from the workforce” (not working and not seeking employment but willing and able to work in the right situation).
According to HBR, hidden workers come from multiple categories, and include:
The study estimated that there are more than 27 million hidden workers in the United States and “the sheer magnitude of this population reveals the potential impact that their substantial re-absorption into the workforce would have.” So what keeps these workers hidden?
The study listed several barriers that keep candidates hidden:
The study noted that research found 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS and the employer survey contained in the study confirmed that midsize enterprises with between 50 and 999 employees use such filtering technology quite extensively. For larger enterprises with more than 1,000 workers, the percentage of employers using an RMS rose to 69 percent. In the United States, 75 percent of employers use these technologies.
There is hope. Companies that have shifted their recruitment processes to focus on “hidden workers” are reporting bottom-line benefits, according to HBR. Such firms reported being 36 percent less likely to face talent or skills shortages relative to companies that didn’t target “hidden workers” while indicating that such workers outperform their peers across such criteria as attitude and work ethic, productivity, engagement, attendance, and quality of work.
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