Here’s another algorithm that doesn’t work but this time it’s serious

Earlier this week, our team gathered at Talent Towers to spend a socially distanced day planning for two big events next month – our Talent Tech Stars awards celebrating some amazingly innovate HR tech firms and our Talent Solutions Awards which recognise the best providers in the RPO and MSP sector.

We take the judging and results process for these incredibly seriously so inevitably our chat turned to how an algorithm designed to ensure objectivity in A Level results could fail so badly and in particular fail for those young people who need it most those in improving schools and often from underprivileged parts of the country.

Watch the vlog here:

And this led us onto a discussion about unconscious bias and particularly unconscious bias training. Now let me say this very clearly.

Unconscious bias training doesn’t work.

Not only does it not work but it gives a facade of taking action which means that it actually gets in the way of doing something meaningful. If you google unconscious bias training you will still find a disturbingly long list of providers but you will also find a lot of evidence disputing its efficacy. Not least, a report from the Equality & Human Rights Commission which found little evidence that it alters behaviour and crucially, one of the academics who co-created the test on which the training is based who spoke out years ago against its use as a test for bias.

But the worrying conclusion this leads us to is this; if a basic algorithm like the one behind unconscious bias test can be so obviously wrong yet adopted so widely, how can we be sure that more sophisticated algorithms focused on improving diversity through objective candidate assessment are truly doing the job they’re supposed to?

The Education Secretary was asked on Radio 4 if he had checked the A Level results algorithm? Of course he hadn’t he had asked the experts, Ofqual, and they had assured him all was good. So as a Talent Acquisition professional how do you ensure you don’t end up in a comparable position.

Clearly AI-led assessment techniques have an important part to play in hiring processes designed to engage candidates from diverse groups but they are still not perfect so they need to also be supported by efforts to raise the level of cultural intelligence within your organisation.

This means ensuring that inclusive leadership is both a core competency and a measurable part of a leader’s performance and is supported by reviewing all core employee processes such as hiring, succession planning, promotion and reward frameworks for any bias based behaviours and to ensure a diversity and inclusion strategy is part of the engagement with potential employees from the outset.

In recruiting, as in life, we all have biases but that doesn’t mean they automatically drive our decision making – this was one of the misguided assumptions in the unconscious bias theory.

Having a warm feeling towards someone from the same town or school is normal but being aware of that and making a conscious decision to be objective is also not that hard. And a lot cheaper than training that doesn’t work.

TALiNT Partners Benchmark Programme has a Diversity and Inclusion assessment category as one of the 11 key areas of the resourcing process and is incredibly helpful in enabling HR and resourcing teams to discuss and agree D&I priorities as well as helping you understand how you compare to similar organisations.


Here’s a link to the benchmark. https://benchmark.talint.co.uk/

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