Preventing Employee Discrimination Through Technology

Employee discrimination remains an unfortunate reality in many workplaces. While companies may make conscious efforts to prevent this from happening, unfortunately not every company adheres to the rules. 

Sadly, protected characteristics like race, gender, religion, age, disability status, and more are influencing hiring decisions. It’s no wonder that many candidates and employees are aware of possible biases and prejudices when it comes to hiring decisions, not to mention possible promotions, compensation, and day-to-day treatment. It’s clear that progress has been made in recent years, but regrettably, gaps and biases still exist, and unfair discrimination still occurs when it comes to aligning employee and employer expectations. 

The US Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have recently re-emphasized the obligation of employers to avoid discrimination in their hiring processes. This duty of care also extends to include the technology that businesses use, because, in the age of digital transformation, such widespread use of tech could only further perpetuate the issue of employee discrimination.

The good news is that technology can also promote a safe and inclusive workplace, and prevent discrimination from materializing when utilized and integrated correctly. This short guide outlines how that’s possible.

Reasons for unfair employee discrimination

There are a few key reasons why unfair discrimination still occurs in workplaces:

  • Implicit biases – Even well-meaning hiring managers may have subconscious prejudices that influence their decisions. This can lead to evaluating candidates differently based on demographic factors, as opposed to their skills, experience, and personality.
  • Lack of diversity in leadership – If senior leaders at a company all come from similar backgrounds, this can perpetuate homogeny in hiring and promotion practices. In many cases, this can dissuade candidates from different backgrounds from applying for certain positions. 
  • No accountability – Without proper oversight and auditing procedures, it can be tempting for recruiters and managers to favor candidates they relate to most. Even if certain candidates are culturally different but possess better experience and skills for a vacancy, many hiring decisions are made purely based on personal similarities and subjective evaluation criteria.

Does technology increase the problem of discrimination?

In some ways, technology has enabled more widespread discrimination:

  • Application, resume screening software as well as AI tools can help to weed out candidates unfairly if not properly audited to check for algorithmic biases. 
  • Attendance and efficiency data don’t always account for unique employee circumstances like health issues or childcare commitments when weighed up against full-time employees. This can sometimes perpetuate the discourse that some employees are ‘lazier’, ‘less productive’ or ‘not as committed’. 
  • Insufficient cybersecurity controls such as 24/7 managed detection and response functionalities potentially expose private or protected employee data. When unveiled, this can fuel prejudices, biases, and unwarranted abuse.

However, technology also presents solutions if implemented ethically.

What technologies exist that can help fight discrimination in workplaces?

  • AI-powered recruitment and screening tools can remove personally identifiable information from applications to combat unconscious biases in the early recruitment and shortlisting stages. These applications can be anonymized before they end up in the hands of hiring managers, with the tech focusing exclusively on qualifications, skills, and experience.
  • Anonymous employee engagement surveys that are conducted via company intranet platforms can give underrepresented groups a confidential voice. Employees can share concerns over company culture and the prejudices they have experienced, as well as make suggestions for improvement. Employers can leverage this aggregated data to adjust their inclusion initiatives.
  • Wage gap analyzers and promotion auditing software identify pervasive flaws and discrepancies, which should be used as an impetus for bridging wage gaps and skills shortages. This analysis software tracks compensation data and flags statistically significant variances correlated to gender, race, or other factors for further scrutiny.
  • Analytics tools can audit hiring and promotion patterns to ensure companies are acting with integrity towards all employees. If certain demographic groups are being disproportionately rejected or passed over, tech can flag these discrepancies for internal review and adjustment. If equal opportunities are proving to be a common barrier, these can even be flagged to governing bodies. 
  • Protective cyber security solutions such as red team assessments, penetration testing and endpoint monitoring prevent unauthorized access to sensitive employee information. Ensuring these are implemented correctly will ensure this information remains secure and safeguarded. Furthermore, encryption could be rolled out to numerous incumbent systems to uphold the security of medical information or diversity survey responses, which, if compromised, could inform prejudices.
  • VR-powered diversity and inclusion training immerses employees in simulated scenarios where they experience biases first-hand from different perspectives. This builds empathy and awareness. Encouraging commitment and recognition from all employees leads to a stronger and more aligned workplace and one which takes different perspectives and opinions on board.

Foster a safe, inclusive and tech-led workplace

The connective nature of technology, along with data analytics capabilities, provide ample opportunities to promote workplace inclusion. But biases can also be perpetuated if not monitored diligently, which is why a thoughtful approach focused on ethics and merit is key.

Technology presents many options for companies to foster more equitable workplaces and create inclusive and welcoming cultures. However, it requires conscientiousness and patience to materialize. Company leaders need to lead by example, and not be motivated by diversity percentages and awards, and instead focus on long-term merit and ethical benefits. 

Creating an environment free of discrimination should not be a checkbox exercise; it should be considered from the outset. It is the ‌leaders’ and directors’ responsibility to empower workers to be the best they can be, and it all starts by making their workplaces shining examples of how discrimination has no place.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness. It is published with permission.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a contributor to Workplace Fairness.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.