The risks of relying on robots for fairer staff recruitment

Sarah O’Connor at the Financial Times: “Robots are not just taking people’s jobs away, they are beginning to hand them out, too. Go to any recruitment industry event and you will find the air is thick with terms like “machine learning”, “big data” and “predictive analytics”.

The argument for using these tools in recruitment is simple. Robo-recruiters can sift through thousands of job candidates far more efficiently than humans. They can also do it more fairly. Since they do not harbour conscious or unconscious human biases, they will recruit a more diverse and meritocratic workforce.

This is a seductive idea but it is also dangerous. Algorithms are not inherently neutral just because they see the world in zeros and ones.

For a start, any machine learning algorithm is only as good as the training data from which it learns. Take the PhD thesis of academic researcher Colin Lee, released to the press this year. He analysed data on the success or failure of 441,769 job applications and built a model that could predict with 70 to 80 per cent accuracy which candidates would be invited to interview. The press release plugged this algorithm as a potential tool to screen a large number of CVs while avoiding “human error and unconscious bias”.

But a model like this would absorb any human biases at work in the original recruitment decisions. For example, the research found that age was the biggest predictor of being invited to interview, with the youngest and the oldest applicants least likely to be successful. You might think it fair enough that inexperienced youngsters do badly, but the routine rejection of older candidates seems like something to investigate rather than codify and perpetuate. Mr Lee acknowledges these problems and suggests it would be better to strip the CVs of attributes such as gender, age and ethnicity before using them….(More)”