Open discussion of political preferences is no longer taboo. These viewpoints inundate social feeds, infiltrate the dinner table, and are more visible in the workplace than ever. In fact, during the 2016 U.S. election, General Mills started the Courageous Conversation series featuring a keynote speech and breakout sessions centered around tough topics. The event continues five years later, having increased participation from 30 participants to as many as 3,000 employees.
The near-universal shift to remote working is further blending the boundaries between our personal and professional leanings. Even though past political commentary was not as amplified as it is today, we’ve always broadcasted subconscious political cues to those around us. Today, they could come in a Slack message to our boss, a keynote presentation to the entire company, or during an interview for a dream job. Ignoring individual politics, it seems, has become nearly impossible.
We need to step back and consider how the complexity of politics has conditioned our engagement with each other—and more importantly, what we can do about it. HR has never had a better opportunity to embrace ideological diversity and its role in how companies hire. As the pandemic has accelerated technology’s impact on talent management, HR teams can leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure candidates with different world views receive fair opportunities.
Meeting diversity goals with AI
I’ve spoken with CHROs who’ve seen spectacular ideas come together when thought leaders clash during brainstorms. This positive synergy only exists because they’ve made a point of hiring ideologically diverse talent. At Phenom, many candidates come from talent pools in Greater Philadelphia—an electorally pivotal region in the U.S. due to its political variation. Effectively, our employees welcome and build upon fundamentally divergent ideas from their colleagues.
It’s important to remember that each decision from a recruiter or hiring manager contributes to a vast dataset. AI utilizes these actions and learns the context of companies’ hiring practices. This nature makes it susceptible to bias when used improperly, so it is extremely critical to deploy AI models that are designed to minimize any adverse impact. Organizations can make sure humans are in the loop and providing feedback, steering AI to learn based on skill preferences and hiring requirements. With the ongoing curation of objective data, AI can help companies achieve recruiting efficiency while still driving talent diversity.
One way hiring managers can distance themselves from political bias is by relying on AI to “score” candidates based on factors such as proficiency and experience, rather than data like where they live or where they attended college. In the future, AI might also be able to mask details such as name and gender to further reduce the risk of bias.
With AI, team leaders receive an objective second opinion on hiring decisions by either confirming their favored candidate or compelling them to question whether their choice is the right one. This is a healthy process and leads to the selection of best-fit candidates more often because everyone receives an equal opportunity to advance.
Overcoming political bias
The mutually enlightening relationship between AI and HR leaders can help us overcome political bias. However, this will require us to acknowledge it’s sitting right in front of us—whether we’re aware of it or not. The first step is identifying opportunities where bias can introduce itself during the candidate, recruiter, and hiring manager experiences.
You can start at the very top of a resume. Research shows that hiring managers and recruiters gravitate toward candidates with matching beliefs, and their location is one of the first things they see. Take Chicago: the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. is split between states that vote predominantly for different political parties. In conservative Kenosha County, Wisconsin, 7.6% of the labor force commuted to the nearby liberal counties of Cook (Chicago’s home county) and Milwaukee in 2016. We can contrast this data with the New York metro area, which votes perennially blue yet 16.3% of North Jersey’s labor force traveled to New York City for work in 2017.
While nonpolitical factors certainly affect these cases, they are similar enough in profile to indicate a pattern. Given how diametric polling data has been since 2016, political bias may be partly why less people work in counties with different political affinities then their county of residence.
Certain roles, industries, and college degrees can also paint candidates red or blue. For example, Democrats prevail among philanthropists, lawyers, and academics, while Republicans lead among entrepreneurs, insurers, and the military. But, candidates with experience in a conservative-leaning role may be suited for a job that trends to the left. In these scenarios, hiring managers should place a premium on versatile skills instead of viewing them as a liability.
Deepening our perspectives
Among many other traits, candidates’ race, gender, and values can all politically skew hiring behavior. If we start considering the explicit insight that hiring managers can gain from candidates’ social media, it’s clear that politics is now interwoven with the talent experience.
But once we open our eyes to the harm of political biases, we can embrace new ways of thinking that will revitalize entire workforces. Politics will continue to be part of the diversity equation. Voting is often binary, but ideologies are deeply intricate and vital to the ecosystem of ideas. By practicing respectful, radical candor in the workplace, we can start down a more productive path of political understanding and leave the toxicity behind us.
Mahe Bayireddi is the CEO and cofounder of Phenom.