“…recruiters are missing out on millions of people, according to a new report from Harvard Business School and Accenture, because they’re screening out applicants who don’t check all their very specific and possibly unreasonable boxes.
“The researchers estimate there are more than 27 million of these “hidden workers” in the U.S….
“Part of the problem is computer algorithms are screening out qualified candidates for failing to meet ridiculous standards….
“Nurses are turned away because they don’t have ‘computer programming’ experience listed on their resume, but in reality that translates to just data entry, the WSJ reports. And retail clerks aren’t even being considered by the hiring system if they don’t have ‘floor-buffing experience,’ Joseph Fuller, the lead HBS researcher and a management professor at the school, told the Journal.”
Join the crowd
Among the exclusionees are people who, during the pandemic, left the workforce to manage their homelives with children who were learning remotely; people who served in the military; those who were out of work while recovering from illness; the list goes on. Out of work for more than six months? A computer algorithm tosses you out. An algorithm that, for the most part, is written by young, white, male programmers. So women and minorities get short shrift, as well.
Rather than hire people who hit most of the marks and train them to fill in the blanks, companies complain that they can’t find any qualified candidates. Poppycock.
Decades ago, I spoke with the head of a hot ad agency in Los Angeles, and he described an even older dilemma, using an example that went back to the era of cigarette advertising.
“Let’s say an agency needs a copywriter for a tobacco account, and you’ve worked on several. This is what you’re up against.
“‘We need someone who can work on our new cigarette account.’
“‘That’s great because I’ve worked for several brands.’
“‘Camel, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield…’
“‘Uh, yeah…, but we need someone who’s written copy for filter cigarettes.’
“‘No problem. I’ve done ads for Kent, Parliament, Viceroy…’
“‘Done any menthol brands?’
“After a pause to ponder the point of the question, the copywriter says, ‘No. No menthols.’
“‘Well, thanks for coming in, kid, but you don’t have the experience we’re looking for.’”
The story, he assured me, was true. That makes it all the sorrier.
Today, that same copywriter would be excluded by the algorithm. If the brand were Marlboro Menthol, it’s likely that women would be excised from the list, regardless of their qualifications, because Marlboro’s a man’s brand. And if you were Black? Nah, you’d be crossed off, too. Everybody knows that Blacks smoke Kools.
Staus quo vadis
In the wake of an 18-month interruption of life-as-we-knew-it, people have left their jobs in the greatest exodus since Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. It has had a real impact on American businesses. So you’d think that corporations would be somewhat more intrigued about why those people left, what might draw them (or others) back, and how they can meet their post-George Floyd commitments to inclusion and diversity.
Unfortunately, that requires people, not programs; insight, not digital rules; the ability to see potential, not obstacles. That could lead to hiring neophytes or workers over 60. It could make workplaces a reflection of society at large, not a hive of identical worker bees who are all the same age and all dress alike. It could expand, as the pandemic required so many to do, from “what we’ve always done” to “what we can do, know we have to, but just haven’t yet.”
Here’s to corporations that put faith in algorithms — the bland leading the bland.