Entry barriers for women are amplified by AI in recruitment algorithms, study finds

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Human gender biases that limit recruitment opportunities for women are mimicked and exacerbated by artificial intelligence (AI) used for sorting resumés, according to new research.


The study, commissioned by UniBank, analyzed how a panel of 40 human recruiters reacted when the exact same resumés were presented with male and female genders interchanged. The process was then applied to different hiring algorithms to see if the AI replicated human biases.

The research found the human recruiting panel demonstrated the strongest examples of unintentional bias, consistently preferring resumés of the male candidates over female equivalents.

Report co-author and gender policies researcher from the University’s Policy Lab, Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner said we know that more women than men have lost their job during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, for data and finance roles, women’s resumés were ranked lower than men by our human panelists though they had the same qualifications and experience,” Professor Ruppanner said.

Report co-author and digital ethics researcher from the Center for AI and Digital Ethics (CAIDE), Dr. Marc Cheong said algorithms were then developed by the researchers to replicate the preferences of the human panel.

Credit: University of Melbourne

The research showed even basic algorithms could mimic subconscious human gender bias without taking into account the merits of a candidate.

“Even when the names of the candidates were removed, AI assessed resumés based on historic hiring patterns where preferences leaned towards male candidates. For example, giving advantage to candidates with years of continuous service would automatically disadvantage women who’ve taken time off work for caring responsibilities,” Dr. Cheong said.

“Also, in the case of more advanced AIs that operate within a “black box” without transparency or human oversight, there is a danger that any amount of initial bias will be amplified.”

UniBank General Manager, Mike Lanzing, said as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more common, it is important that to understand how existing biases are feeding into supposedly impartial models.

Credit: University of Melbourne

“We need to take care that we are not reversing decades of progress towards women’s financial independence and security by reinforcing outdated attitudes about the sort of work women are suited to,” Mr Lanzing said.

The report suggested a number of measures that could reduce bias in these processes including training programs for human resource professionals and creating transparent hiring algorithms designed to reduce gender bias.


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University of Surrey to lower entry grades in recognition of Covid disruption | University of Surrey

The University of Surrey has become the latest higher education institution to lower its entry requirements for next year in recognition of the disruption to education caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Entry grades will be reduced by one grade for most undergraduate programmes starting in September 2021 to help relieve the pressure and anxiety faced by young people who will have had their learning significantly disrupted across two academic years.

Last week the University of Birmingham also announced it planned to reduce entry requirements for 2021 by one grade, meaning pressure on other universities to follow suit is likely to grow.

Lizzie Burrows, the director of recruitment and admissions at the University of Surrey, said: “We are taking this action now to relieve the pressure and anxiety facing this year’s applicants, as they experience ongoing disruption and uncertainty surrounding exams and assessment of their learning.

“By taking this step, we can provide one additional element of certainty and reassurance that these students will be protected from unfair disadvantage as a result of the impact of the pandemic.”

Degree programmes that are not included are regulated courses such as veterinary medicine, foundation year courses, four-year integrated master’s programmes and audition-based performance courses, which will retain the same entry requirements.

Experts have said that GCSE and A-level exams should be replaced with teacher assessments next year because of coronavirus disruption.

The Independent Sage group, chaired by former government chief scientific adviser David King, is calling for all primary school tests to be cancelled and for secondary school exams to be replaced with assessments by teachers with suitable moderation.

In the Commons last week, the education minister, Nick Gibb, said the government was working to ensure 2021 exams were fair, but that more details would be published shortly.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, made a humiliating U-turn this summer over Ofqual’s “centre-assessed grades”, which had used an algorithm to moderate A-level teacher-assessed grades partly in recognition of schools’ historic performance and was widely seen to disadvantage higher achievers at lower achieving schools.

Birmingham University’s vice-chancellor, Prof David Eastwood, last week said many prospective first years in the class of 2021 were likely to experience more than a year of interrupted learning by the time they sat their exams next summer. He said he hoped reducing the entry requirements would “alleviate anxieties”.

Earlier this month, Wales called off end-of-year GCSE and A-level tests for students this academic year. The Labour-controlled government said it would work with schools and colleges to put in place teacher-managed assessments as it was the fairest way given that the time students spend in school or college could vary greatly.

There have been calls for education institutions to work to lower grade requirements for disadvantaged students in particular, since many will have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.

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