The combination of hyper-connectivity at scale that comes from social media, the addictive habits of engaging with it, and the incredible ability to personalise what we see, listen to, and believe, can sometimes create a feeling of satisfaction at best (think Spotify and the beauty of being able to listen to the music I like without any effort), and at its worst, a fractured society.
So what’s the relevance of that to HR?
Human resources has been on this journey to do the opposite — to introduce an objective standard of truth given the risks that come from personalised decision-making when it comes to things such as hiring and promotion. The risk of hiring decisions being made by individuals based on their own views means we see hires being influenced by unconscious biases — something that can be easier to identify than fix. “Mirror hiring”, and companies that hire for “culture fit”, also leads to a homogenous company culture and mediocre output and products. Consider the decline of so many legacy Fortune 500 companies over the last 50 years. Do you think Kodak and its ilk would have crashed as quickly if they had a genuinely diverse set of opinions and experiences at their leadership level?
It’s no coincidence that in The Social Dilemma, most of the protagonists (if that’s the right word) who shared their regrets and insights on “how the heck did we get here?” were mostly young, white men.
From my own experience of being involved with human resources development at a leading digital tech company, engineers were hired based on two data inputs: their coding ability, and their “fit” with the team. The former is readily tested using objective tools, but the latter is largely tested through having coffee chats with the team. Or to put it another way — 100 per cent subjective, 0 per cent objective data. Is it any wonder then that you end up with more of the same when you use the personal opinions of humans to drive these decisions? People are so scared of data amplifying bias, and humans can be pretty good at it, too.
Bias in the recruiting process has been an issue for as long as modern-day hiring practices have existed. In order to address some concerns, the idea of “blind applications” became popular few years ago, with companies simply removing names on applications and thinking that it would remove any gender or racial profiling. It made a difference, but bias still existed though the schools that people attended, as well as past experiences they may have had. Interestingly, these are two things that have now been shown to have no impact on a person’s ability to perform well in a job.
Away from computer screens and smartphone addictions, when it comes to hiring, HR needs to do the very thing that social media has rendered mute. It has to ensure that there is objective truth on every candidate. It has to do this for every new hire, every promotion.
Ironically, it is what social media weaponised — “data” is really the only thing that can truly help us achieve this. I talk often about “objective data” — that is, data that has been collected without input bias — and it is only this data that helps us disrupt bias that comes from putting humans in the decision-making seat. This objective data builds a truly holistic picture about an individual when helping inform hiring decisions; decisions that will shape a company’s culture, and its future. The data seeks to understand who you are — not the school you went to, or the degree you hold, but instead how you think and behave and most of your intrinsic traits.
It was Facebook’s homogenous culture that encouraged technical brilliance over ethical thinking that ultimately created the issues discussed in The Social Dilemma. If they’d only used their skills to invest in objective data that set aside its technical bias and hired for humanity, we might not be questioning it in the way we are.
Barbara Hyman is the CEO of PredictiveHire, an AI-led hiring technology company based in Melbourne.