EEOC Requests Recommendations to Curb AI-Driven Discrimination

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently held a public hearing that allowed workplace experts to offer suggestions for ensuring artificial intelligence (AI) does not discriminate against job applicants .

The session, “Navigating Employment Discrimination in AI and Automated Systems: A New Civil Rights Frontier,” outlined the benefits and pitfalls of using AI in employment decisions to help EEOC determine how to regulate its use.

“The use and complexity of technology in employment decisions are increasing over time,” said EEOC President Charlotte A. Burrows. “AI and other algorithms offer great advances, but they can perpetuate barriers [to] job.”

Nearly 1 in 4 organizations reported using automation or AI to support HR-related activities, including recruiting and hiring, according to a 2022 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The report revealed that 85 percent of employers using automation or AI said it saves time or increases efficiency.

AI can discriminate against people of color

Throughout the session, the benefits of AI in workplace settings were discussed: several panelists noted that these technologies can easily and inexpensively source, recruit, and select job applicants.

Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, DC, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, explained that AI offers value to employers when used responsibly. Yet automation has too often been implemented with inflated promises and insufficient testing or job protections.

“This can lead to discriminatory results, the disenfranchisement of workers through black box AI decisions and unfair decisions resulting from algorithmic errors,” he said.

ReNika Moore, director of the racial justice program at the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City, explained that newer AI tools are often marketed as cheaper, more efficient, and nondiscriminatory or less discriminatory than their predecessors. .

“There is research showing that AI-driven tools can generate more discriminating results than human-driven processes,” he said.

Moore referred to a 2022 white paper from the research lab learning collider in New York City comparing human-driven hiring with typical AI-driven hiring, which found that the standard AI-driven tool selected 50 percent fewer black applicants than humans.

He also noted that black and Latino applicants are overrepresented in data that contains negative or undesirable information, such as records of criminal legal proceedings, evictions, and credit history.

“We must have comprehensive public oversight, transparency and accountability to ensure job applicants and employees don’t face the same old discrimination dressed in new clothes,” Moore said.

The EEOC had previously warned companies that AI could discriminate against people with disabilities. And Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior adviser at AARP, said automation also has the potential to discriminate against older candidates.

“Any collected data point that explicitly reveals or serves as an indicator of age, such as date of birth, years of experience, or graduation date, may be noted by the algorithm as part of a pattern denoting undesirable candidates and signal the algorithm to lower their ranking or remove them entirely,” he said.

Panelists offer solutions

Jordan Crenshaw, vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce Center for Technology Engagement, said he had examined public perception of AI earlier this year. The findings revealed that people become more comfortable with AI as they become more familiar with its potential role in society.

“Education remains one of the keys to driving AI acceptance and enthusiasm, with a lack of understanding of AI being the leading indicator of pushback against AI adoption,” he said. “The federal government can play a critical role in incentivizing the adoption of trusted AI applications through the right policies.”

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What Is Artificial Intelligence and How Is It Used in the Workplace?]

Engler suggested that the EEOC:

  • Consider a variety of AI employment systems: in hiring, specific job postings, recruiting, tasking, employee performance appraisal, salary setting, promotion, and firing.
  • Promote and enforce AI principles in these employment systems.
  • Build capacity to provide oversight, for example, by using investigations to audit these critical AI systems and ensure their compliance with federal law, as well as using information collection authorities to inform EEOC and the public about its proliferation and impact.

Other panelists recommended that the EEOC implement more policies to protect underrepresented applicants, such as requiring employers to audit automated hiring systems in use, documenting the use of emerging technologies, and informing applicants about their AI applications.

Hearing continues EEOC’s work Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Fairness Initiativean initiative to ensure that the use of software used in employment decisions complies with federal laws that the agency enforces.

In January, the EEOC released a draft of its new Compliance Strategic Plan. in the Federal Register outlining their priorities for tackling discrimination in the workplace, including those related to AI, over the next four years. Public comments on the draft must be received by February 9, 2023.

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