Is AI The Solution To Adland's Diversity Problem?

Originally published in MediaPost.

Years ago, I never would have questioned whether my job would be relevant in the future. After all, people are best qualified to hire people. Lead people. Support people….right? 

But as advances in technology disrupt industry after industry, employees in every sector are forced to become more and more introspective and future focused. “Future-proofing” no longer applies to just systems or buildings, but individual careers as well. 

So, how might the role of talent management change in the coming years? And how do we remain a valued and necessary part of our organizations? 

Maybe the first step is to concede what we already don’t do well and what technology might help solve. Because across the board, there’s one thing that recruiters in our industry (and beyond) seem to have failed at systematically—Diversity. 

There’s a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the hiring process can be heavily influenced by unconscious bias, even among experienced recruiters and hiring managers. The term “unconscious bias” became a hot topic in the tech and ad industries over the last several years. The theory is that every person harbors prejudices which affect how we make decisions, big and small, on a daily basis. That same evidence purports that unconscious bias is one of the main culprits keeping places like Google and Facebook predominantly male and white. 

The term itself was first made popular by these companies that—coming under fire for dismal diversity statisticsmade their trainings on unconscious bias available to the general public. Their goal was to promote greater diversity by raising awareness in everybody. 

But is it working? Not only has minority representation not improved much in Silicon Valley, but also recent studies show unconscious bias training can have the opposite of its intended effect. In a poorly implemented program, people actually become more accepting of bias; excusing prejudice because they think they can’t help it, or worse…because everybody else is doing it. 

The truth is that our gut reactions and biases have evolved over millions of years. We’re incredibly efficient at processing lots and lots of information, but it often leads us to think too quickly about what requires a lot more time and attention. 

Put another way, our greatest asset can also be our greatest liability: we’re human. Luckily, there are tools being created that aren’t. 

Artificial intelligence has shown itself to be a relatively effective aid in combating bias throughout the recruiting and interview process. 

Here are few companies that I find particularly interesting: 

GapJumpers serves as an initial blind audition—making the hiring process more about objective skill, than race, sex, or pedigree. The company already has the attention of the ad industry and is showing it can produce results. 

Textio is a site that scans job description text to help recruiters see (and adjust) biased language and therefore skew their overall applicant pool. Bonus points for eliminating buzz words, which we could all do with a few less of in our industry. 

In this business, technology changes all the time, and if change doesn’t excite or inspire you, then you won’t make it very long. I’ve noticed a lot of fear and negativity around artificial intelligence. In some ways I think there are parallels to be drawn between that and the backlash against pro-diversity movements, even though both have been shown to improve your bottom line. Inevitably, there will be those who feel change as a threat.  

But not everyone. Cindy Gallop, in her latest interview with AdAge said

"I'm not doing this because I'm a woman, OK? I'm doing this because it is the right thing to do. I am doing this because I quite literally want to weep when I see the enormous possibilities inherent in the massively untapped pool of talent and creativity of women and people of color that our industry is spectacularly failing to leverage." 

More than ever before, we have the tools and knowledge to transform our industry into something even more brilliant and inclusive. Artificial intelligence has huge potential to disrupt recruiting as we know it. If we can trust it to get a more diverse talent pool through the door, then we can focus even more on developing our emotional intelligence. The result is stronger relationships, more time to develop junior talent and empathize with management, and to foster a culture that is thoughtful and bold. 

Not to mention helping others think more creatively about what a career path looks like in the 21st century. Because I guarantee you one thing— it’s going to look different.

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