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From Regulation to Empowerment: Unveiling the Potential of AI in HR

At Spark Live on June 8, we hosted a panel called “Creating a positive impact with AI in HR”, with some very special guests. If you missed out, you can watch it here, or read the summary below for key takeaways…

The panel was hosted by Beamery co-founder Sultan Saidov, and featured Keith Sonderling, Commissioner at the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace discrimination laws and promoting equal opportunity in the workforce.

He was joined by Adam Glassman, who leads the employment brand and recruitment marketing team at Cox Enterprises, and Yoav Schlesinger, an architect of ethical AI practice at Salesforce.

AI & the regulatory landscape

There have been plenty of developments in the global discussion on AI, but many HR teams are still uncertain about how to consider the risks, legalities and opportunities with AI technologies. Keith said that this uncertainty has been a “roadblock” for a lot of enterprises integrating AI-powered software, which he believes can actually be very helpful.

“I’ve really been an advocate for how technologies and AI-based human resources technology can really help prevent discrimination and further equal opportunity in the workplace.” – Keith Sonderling, EEOC

He pointed out that the existing civil rights laws that regulate employment decisions (in place in the US since the 1960s) still apply to AI-powered decision-making, and that the focus on proposed laws regarding AI licensing and auditing requirements is a “huge distraction”.

Regardless of whether AI or humans are making decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying somebody, Keith argued, the results should be the primary concern. He noted that employers can already take proactive measures, such as conducting audits and making disclosures, without waiting for specific regulations.

Keith advocated for treating AI as a tool to assist human decision-making, and to help employers ensure that decisions are made based on merit and skills while avoiding biases: to protect both companies implementing AI, and the employees who may be affected.

He added that using AI in the hiring process has the potential to actually promote transparency: it can be used to create job descriptions, find candidates, and review resumes based on skills – rather than subjective factors, that could lead to bias.

AI: creating better talent experiences at scale

Adam Glassman commented that AI can currently assist with logical tasks, automating manual activities, and – increasingly – allowing recruiters to focus more on human interactions with candidates and evaluating whether they are a good fit.

Looking ahead, Adam felt that advanced AI tools like ChatGPT, generative AI, and BART will fundamentally change how consumers interact with brands and businesses on a daily basis. As consumer expectations influence candidate expectations, he noted, there will be a demand for similar positive and seamless experiences in the recruitment process.

He felt AI tools would likely play a significant role in helping candidates learn about organizations, and explore job opportunities – and also improve the experience for recruiters.

“They don’t care if you’re selling them a product or a job. The expectation is that you’re going to have a positive experience. You’re going to have an easy experience.” – Adam Glassman, Cox Enterprises

AI and talent mobility

Adam pointed out that AI can be used to better engage internal talent within organizations as well. Predictive data and AI algorithms can help identify when employees might be ready for a change. Instead of losing talented employees, AI can prompt managers to have conversations with employees at the right time, fostering growth and development within the organization.

Yoav discussed the exciting development of generative AI, and noted that the shift from “prediction” to “content generation” has transformative potential in the realm of employee engagement.

“Not only can we now use AI to predict who might be at risk of attrition, but we can also generate personalized content… that is most likely to engage them in a unique and individualized way.” – Yoav Schlesinger, Salesforce

Adam pointed out that you can also engage people’s managers, with prompts relating to development conversations or other ways to help them engage their employees. “That way, it’s still people-first, and the people are having the conversation.”

Yoav agreed, noting that AI ought to be “empowering” and help enhance uniquely human qualities like emotion and empathy – not automate them away.

AI & the future of work

Yoav acknowledged that disruption caused by AI is inevitable, with certain industries and workers likely to experience job loss, and that ethical considerations are crucial in managing this societal disruption. He advises looking at where AI can empower people, and mitigating the more negative consequences of AI with tools and techniques that breed trust.

He emphasized the need to explore and unlock new types of work, rather than assuming automation will eliminate jobs. The development of a social safety net, including considerations of unions, laws, regulations, and potential initiatives like guaranteed income, will also be essential to ensure a positive trajectory of progress.

Keith said that while some workers may be “replaced”, there will also be new opportunities for more fulfilling jobs. He did share his concern around who will have access to reskilling opportunities within organizations, noting that AI can help to identify individuals’ adjacent skills, which could lead to job prospects – and help ensure equal opportunities for all employees.

AI and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Keith commented that AI can help organizations eliminate bias and improve diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility programs. He pointed out that technology can help companies to reach a broader and more diverse pool of candidates, by sourcing profiles from publicly available information, social media, and resume databases.

AI can also be used to modify job descriptions, removing unnecessary requirements, gender-specific terms or inflated experience expectations, allowing companies to attract a more diverse workforce.

Companies can use AI, he commented, to promote equal opportunity at a mass scale – especially as many of them are moving away from degree requirements and looking to the actual skills of the job.

Keith also pointed out that the use of AI can help provide equal opportunities inside an organization by eliminating favoritism based on personal connections, or “tap-on-the-shoulder” recruiting policies.

“When these programs are properly designed and properly used, it can really take away a lot of the longstanding ways that individuals of certain groups were prohibited from moving forward. And I think that’s a really great use of the technology.” – Keith Sonderling, EEOC

Adam suggested that AI can also help candidates identify the best-fit opportunities based on their skills, preferences, and values, streamlining the application process and saving time for both parties. “Why couldn’t the technology help the candidate just like it’s helping the company?”

Creating confidence in AI

Yoav spoke about the importance of understanding which tasks are suitable for AI – and which are not. He advocated for a clear comprehension of AI’s strengths and limitations, as well as recognizing the unique capabilities of humans. He also stressed the need for explainable and interpretable AI systems, highlighting the significance of transparency and trust-building in enabling the successful integration of AI in HR processes.

“I am a techno-optimist, but I am not a techno-solutionist. Technology does not solve every problem. There are some problems that we just need to solve as human beings.” – Yoav Schlesinger, Salesforce

Yoav noted that if the AI provides a recommendation of three companies you might be the best fit for, for example, it should be able to explain how that conclusion was reached. That will help create the “virtuous trust cycle” to enable AI in HR to flourish.

Adam recommended that the industry “lean in and learn” rather than bury their heads in the sand. It’s no longer a question of whether you are going to use AI in HR, noted Keith, but how and why you are going to use it.

Nobody’s closer to people than HR and talent teams. And it’s people that are the most impacted by developments in AI, both positively and in terms of risks. As Sultan noted in his closing remarks, it is a really important moment in time to lean in, and for this industry to come together and help identify the best path to our next chapter.

Watch every session from Spark Live or find the recording of this session on demand here.