Further automation of the retail sector raises issues far beyond the needless luxuries of choice, convenience and speed of delivery (Amazon to test drone deliveries in British skies, 27 July). I wonder if the “demand” for stuff to be delivered by robot to our door within 30 minutes of ordering really exists – is modern satisfaction really that shallow? But in an increasingly automated society, where are the wages to buy these goods going to come from?
While Brexit showed that politicians were detached from the anger of the dispossessed of this country, where are they on the automation of yet more of the jobs that so many people depend on? It seems they are keen to race headlong into a very misty future.
There are so many unresolved issues: the need for a citizen’s income to allow those disenfranchised from the workplace to live a reasonable quality of life (and the taxation on corporate profits that this would require); the loss of peace and quiet, privacy, safety, security; and beyond all this, what will humans be doing in the future? What will be our role? It is important that we ask ourselves these questions before these increasingly intelligent robots start answering them. Dr Colin Bannon
The entertainment industry is a difficult place in which to carve out a career, and attempting to navigate this patriarchal, charlatan-filled landscape is all the more trying as a young female. I am a successful DJ, play all over the world and have won various awards for my work. I love what I do. But I loathe the music business.
Dance music for the most part is a boys’ club: tech geeks pressing buttons in darkened rooms, or ultra-macho pseudo rock stars strutting their stuff, accessorised by half-naked podium dancers. As such it is an unregulated, unadulterated hub of misogyny. Of course a few token women break through but you only need to look at a festival or club lineup to see how infrequently it happens.
I am relatively well-known and have worked in the business for almost a decade, filling clubs, doing the festival circuit and touring with some of the biggest names on the scene. And yet I have experienced repeated incidents of chauvinism and condescension, especially when trying to discuss my fees and terms with those behind the scenes. It’s a dog-eat-dog industry and although there is a veneer of camaraderie, it is merely that. If you don’t fit into the lads’ gang, life is much more difficult. And there’s no such sorority among female DJs.
You may ask why I continue to work in a field in which I find the conditions so unpleasant. Simply because nothing compares to the buzz of mixing tracks, bouncing around on stage for hours on end, and the energy and oneness I feel with the crowd. Engaging with thousands of strangers who are “having moments”, transcending social barriers, and making memories through the joy of music is my high. Of course I enjoy the afterparties too, but I don’t involve myself in any negative aspects of the scene. Drugs are out there and young people are prone to experiment but they’re not as prominent as they once were.
I eat, sleep and breathe my career. I follow a strict regime of running, resistance training and yoga to ensure that I am performance-fit and have the stamina to keep up with a young and energetic crowd. The late nights and travelling take their toll but I can always catch up with sleep on my time off.
I don’t have children yet and certainly have no plans to in the near future; I don’t think kids would exactly fit my lifestyle. In a competitive industry you are often forced to make sacrifices. Usually it’s friendships and relationships that suffer, although thankfully most of my social circle is understanding and supportive. I’ve missed quite a few weddings and birthdays due to work commitments but I always try to make it up to people. Fortunately I have a partner who works in the industry too so we know how to deal with each other’s hectic schedules.
There has been a huge upheaval over the last few years, in which many serious female DJs have been displaced. It used to be your sound rather than your looks that mattered. Now as well as battling institutionalised misogyny, the few of us that do exist have to contend with a gross sexualisation of the job.
There is now an array of glamour models flooding the market as “DJs”. As a result of technological advances, such as the use of laptops and USBs, many of these pseudo-DJs don’t need to know anything about music or mixing in order to get a gig. They can turn up and press a button on a prerecorded mix that will play for them all night – the disc jockey equivalent of Milli Vanilli. This devaluation of genuine skill, and the sexualisation of a career that people like me pursue due to a passion for music rather than posing, is seriously depressing and has led to some awkward encounters.
At the beginning of my career, my technical ability was often called into question but after many years in the business and a proven track record, it would now be difficult for anyone to contest my skill. I started out on vinyl and was a total purist before moving to CDs, which I’ve stayed with ever since. It often costs a small fortune in extra baggage charges to bring my CD wallets, but at least they are lighter than lugging around my vinyl collection.
I hope not to dissuade any wide-eyed young hopefuls about venturing into a career in entertainment, but rather forewarn them. For all the negative aspects of working in the industry there are a multitude of perks. Aside from the fact that you are doing something you truly love, there is the travel, the five-star hotels and the excitement of meeting your musical heroes. It is rarely boring, but you do need a seriously thick skin to survive.
In fact, due to the barrage of misogynistic nonsense and less than preferential treatment, I recently constructed an alter ego for all my business dealings. Prior to this, my own negotiation attempts were perceived as “bossy” and I have been referred to as a “diva”, both behind my back and to my face.
So I conjured up a representative in the shape of “Dave”. Since the creation of Dave I’ve more than doubled my fee and have significantly bettered my terms and conditions of work. Dave is a blokey, white, middle-aged man who speaks in a way I should be able to but the industry makes impossible. Dave has become renowned among my peers and associates as a wonderful manager. After seeing my success, some fellow artists have even approached me to ask if I could put in a word for them, in the hope that he might represent them too.
As much as I would love to reveal to the world that I am the orchestrator of my own success, I think I will have to wait, either until I am retiring from music or there is a radical feminist revolution. But my contemporaries should keep in mind the age old adage: behind every great man is a great woman.
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Twice a week we publish problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremyadvice column in the Saturday Guardian so that readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?
I started work in a department about a year ago where I was told that, if I demonstrated a commitment to the job, I could progress.
I worked hard, contributed to team meetings and up-skilled at every opportunity but got no feedback from my line manager or the other member of the team.
My line manager said that she had “an informal style of management” and only gave feedback if you did “something wrong”. But she wouldn’t give me any indication of what sort of training I should do to progress in the department. Then I found myself excluded from team meetings and upcoming projects without any reason being given. In fact, no word at all.
Then, to my utter amazement, my manager printed out a job advert for another organisation and gave it to me during a monthly one-to-one. She said I should look on the website and think about the other job, adding: “What kind of manager would I be if I did not tell you about other jobs out there.”
Before you say it, yes, I can take a hint! I asked point blank if she had a problem with my work but to my astonishment she said no. To make matters worse, the other job is in a totally different field and does not reflect the work I have been doing.
I reported the incident to HR (her line manager) and they have said that they see nothing wrong with what happened.
The stress of the situation is getting to me (I am still being excluded from everything and am only being given menial tasks.)
Yes, I could just move on. But I just wish someone would give me a straight answer because all my confidence in applying for another job in the same field has been shattered. If there’s something wrong with me or my work I need to know.
“An app teaching children a bedtime routine? How about parents do that themselves? What happened to society? I’m not supporting this.” When I received this damning feedback from a blogger after launching my app (which helps children follow a bedtime routine), it felt like a slap in the face.
I’d approached a few bloggers to get the word out and had specifically asked them for a review. This blogger emailed me after refusing to give one. She signed off: “Good luck dumbing down families.”
I leapt from my laptop and started pacing around, muttering under my breath: “You haven’t understood. My app isn’t replacing parents at bedtime. And why do you need to be so rude? Someone’s poured their heart into this.” I was rattled and upset, and felt like firing back an angry reply.
Instead, I took a deep breath and went to eat dinner with my family, which helped me avoid sending a defensive, knee-jerk response. With some time to reflect, I was able to decide on a more sensible approach. I realised the blogger isn’t someone I can win over – she thinks my product is pointless; I think there is a time and place for it. I deleted the offending email and put my kids to bed.
Still, the blogger’s reply stayed with me for a while. Usually I know better than to take criticism personally. I’m trained to detach when reviewing my work. As a graphic designer, feedback is part of my job – I welcome it as a chance to improve.
My experiences at art college changed the way I deal with constructive criticism. I always remember a comment a professor made in his feedback. “I think you’re strong enough to take this, but the work you did for this project is terrible,” he said. I wanted to match his confidence in my strength with a calm approach.
That moment changed the way I deal with criticism. I started believing that I’m robust enough to take it. If I can learn to react productively, you can too. Here are my tips:
Create some distance from your work
You’ve poured heart and soul into your product, naturally you’re now wired to protect it. But if you want to evolve you need to take in the feedback, good and bad.
Learn to separate yourself from your work. Ideally, step away from it, focus on other work, and let the criticism sink in for a couple of days. Now look at your work as if through someone else’s eyes.
Be aware: if the criticism hits a weak spot you may become defensive without realising. If you’re secretly annoyed with yourself about your lack of a particular skill you’ll be touchy about it. There are two cures for this: brush up on that skill or decide it isn’t something you can master and avoid using it in your work.
Take some time out if you start feeling cornered
Someone’s dealt you harsh criticism in a meeting. You’re irritated and about to reply with a disgruntled response, well, how about this to bide you some time: “I’m not sure I understand. Could you elaborate please?” You’ve gained a moment to compose yourself and work out a more measured response. And, if you’re hit with negative feedback via email, grab your chance to calm down. Don’t react immediately. Sleep on it if you can.
Get to the bottom of the criticism
Go back to your critic for a discussion. Try to find out more. If that isn’t possible, you could ask yourself questions like these: does the person criticising me have a valid point?, Have I heard this criticism before? If the criticism was delivered in a rude manner, are the points they made still valid?
When it’s OK not to listen
Sometimes you may come to the conclusion that there is nothing constructive in the feedback. Run it past a trusted friend or colleague for a second opinion. If they think it is unfounded, unfair criticism, go ahead and forget about it.
The more you’re putting your business out there, the more feedback you’ll invite. Try to see it as a fun challenge, and an opportunity for debate.
Steven Woolfe, a Ukip MEP, has insisted his application to lead his party was sent on time, despite the nomination not being received until 12.17pm on Sunday, 17 minutes past the midday deadline.
“I was actually on the phone with one of the Ukip officials at four minutes to 12 telling them I’m pressing the button for submit and he was saying, ‘We can’t see it, take photographs of it,’ which I did. I sent them at eight minutes past,” he said.
Woolfe said he hoped the party would accept his application and he did not have to challenge any adverse decision in court.
If you have missed a job application deadline we’d like to hear from you. Did you leave it too late or was it down to a technical glitch? Was your prospective employer sympathetic or was your application dismissed altogether? Perhaps you fortuitously missed out only to later be offered a job elsewhere? You can share your stories with us by filling in our form below. We’ll use your accounts as part of our ongoing coverage.
When the fourth season of Netflix’s prison drama Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) came online last month, a whopping 6.7 million viewersin the US tuned in to see (spoiler alert!) what the inmates would do with their newfound freedom. But once the joy of frolicking around in a lake was over, the reality started to set in: what do offenders do when they get out?
In Australia, it’s the role of state government corrective services to help the 2,876 female prisoners transition to life on the outside. Each state offers prison employment programs to skill up offenders while they’re inside, as well as a voluntary re-entry link program to help them improve life skills, find somewhere to live and link up with family, community support services and job network providers once released.
But getting a job on the outside is easier said than done, and there are surprisingly few companies that publicly acknowledge that they hire ex-offenders.
“The stigma of working with ex-offenders is still the main barrier to getting more companies to hire them”, says Jade Lewis, founder and chief executive of theYellow Ribbon Project, a West Australian charity inspired by the Singaporean organisation of the same name.
“Many companies may want to give back, but if they go and do it without any training, they [could] have a bad experience and feel burnt. And then it’s that negative experience that they carry with them and pass on to others.”
As such, the Yellow Ribbon Project followed the example set by its Asian namesakewith programs to help female ex-offenders from WA’s Bandyup women’s prison and Banksia Hill detention centre find, integrate, and keep jobs mainly in aged care, construction and community services.
This is largely done through the charity’s government-funded mentoring program which provides female ex-offenders with volunteer mentors straight from the prison gates, as well as training to companies that seek to employ these women, with support up to a year after that.
“We have an eight-hour training package for people who want to help or employ these women, and it brings down barriers to reintegration”, says Lewis.
“By painting a picture of what these women have faced in their lives and what obstacles they are going through now, it helps the employer understand … and puts them in a more educated position to deal with them.
“Equally the women are asked to sign a code of conduct, so they know what’s expected of them. Just by having the organisation know their background it helps, as there is no need for the women to feel any shame.”
Lewis notes that the biggest incentive for businesses is that the Yellow Ribbon Project mentors are on hand to deal with any incidents that may crop up. It’s a benefit that attractedSouthside Care, an aged care and disability service provider in Perth, to the program.
Monique Benjamin, services manager at Southside Care, says: “If the person is willing to get their life back on track, we want to be there to make it happen and be part of that journey. But we do have to be selective with who we take on, for example we absolutely wouldn’t take on anyone with a history of violence against older people.”
Benjamin adds that after a bad experience with a rehabilitated drug addict, the company would be wary of taking on anyone with a drug abuse history. She explains: “I think what went wrong with that girl is that there was no support or accountability from the drug rehab charity, and she eventually relapsed. With the Yellow Ribbon Project, mentors come in once a week to check in and highlight to us any problems that the girl might be having so we can be sensitive to that, and vice-versa. I can contact them at any time if something goes wrong and they deal with it.”
Southside Care has so far employed four female ex-offenders on a part-time basis through the mentoring program, and says that three of the four were “very successful”, with one leaving the program to deal with mental health problems.
“The women we have work really hard and it’s a pleasure to see how they take off once given the opportunity. But I would definitely suggest that any businesses doing this work with a program, like this mentoring program, to ensure that there is that level of accountability.”
The project seems to be working. Self-billed as the “the only evidence-based female mentoring program for ex-offenders in WA, if not Australia”, the system has so far had an 89.7% success rate of keeping female ex-offenders out of prison and has found jobs for 81% of its participants (either paid or voluntary). Lewis estimates that in total, there have been over 1,000 women through the Yellow Ribbon Project’s programs.
However the future of the program is uncertain. Following state government reforms of corrective services, the Yellow Ribbon Project is currently in talks with the state government about the continuation of the program. It needs around $1m a year for the next five years.
“It might sound like a lot but by making these women independent and self-reliant and by reducing the amount of people returning to prison, we save the government a lot of money in the long run”, says Lewis. (Indeed, according to the Productivity Commission’s report on government services in 2015, it costs $292 a day to keep a prisoner in jail, totalling more than $106,000 a year.)
She adds that with “the right funding” the model could be replicated across other states, and there are already plans to potentially bring a similar program to female ex-offenders in Victoria.
“The big key to having these women integrate into society is to have people to walk out the journey with them”, says Lewis. “As well as clinical and therapeutic support, they also just need a simple friend … as we all do.”
Most business decisions are based on cold, hard facts, and hiring decisions are no different. If an organisation is going to invest time and money employing you, they will need to see evidence that you can perform.
By now we all know that cliches and buzzwords do nothing to impress recruiters, but many candidates still do not fully understand which facts are sought in a CV.
For example, when writing your role descriptions you should put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and think about the evidence you would require to make an informed hiring decision. Including the following details in your CV’s role descriptions will provide clarity to recruiters and support the case for interviewing, and eventually hiring, you.
Your position in the hierarchy
If a hiring manager is going to bring you on board, then it’s crucial for them to understand where they can place you within their team. Whether you are sitting at the top of the pile and overseeing large-scale operations, leading a small team, or working independently with nobody under your management, you need to make your position clear. Be sure to describe who you report to, whether you manage anybody and which people are dependent on you.
Who you interact with
Human interaction plays a vital role in the running of any organisation, so hiring managers will need to be satisfied that you are comfortable dealing with people. Most jobs will require you to interact with a wide range of individuals, so your CV should demonstrate you are capable of this. Show exactly who you interact with – from customers and suppliers to management and external regulators – to prove your business social abilities. Provide evidence that you can build strong working relationships, and use them to create beneficial outcomes for your employers.
Technology is used in every line of work, from computer-based tools like programming languages and accountancy software, through to hardware such as production machinery and vehicles. Most roles will require some working knowledge of one or more tools, so employers will be keen to understand your ability to use their core systems and hardware. So whether you’re an expert coder or a sports car technician, it’s essential to detail the tools you are able to use and how you apply them within your roles.
The work you produce will vary greatly depending on your industry. It could be anything from Excel reports or website pages, to physical products like mobile phones or even buildings. Whatever tangible work you produce within your own roles, include it within your CV and be clear on the volumes you have produced, quality of the work, and how valuable they are to your customers or internal dependents.
What your employer actually does
This may seem obvious, but surprisingly few candidates include a sufficient explanation of their employers. Before you delve into the specifics of your roles, it’s important that the recruiter understands who you work for and what they do. Without building context around your role, it will be difficult for readers to fully understand your work.
The level of detail you need to include will vary depending on the organisation. If you work for relatively small business, it’s less likely that recruiters will have heard of them, so you will need to provide a full explanation of the services they offer and markets they operate in. But if you work for a household brand then you will need to place more focus on describing the department you work in, and how its function contributes to the success of the wider business.
The objective of your roles
The most important aspect that recruiters will want to know about your previous jobs is – what were you hired to do? It’s all well and good writing a detailed list of your daily activities, meetings and presentations, but without outlining the high-level purpose of your role, nobody will understand what all your hard work was for. Every role should start with a clear objective statement so that readers can comprehend the bigger picture of your duties.
Recruiters will look for numbers in your CV as a means of quantifying your value to an employer. Figures can provide strong evidence of the return on investment that an employer can expect after hiring you. For example, if you can provide some statistics around revenue that you have generated for a firm, or the value of a project you have supported, they are a great way to demonstrate your value. But the figures do not always have to be monetary. You can include figures such as percentages of targets achieved or time taken to deliver a piece of work.
By including some of the facts above in your own CV role descriptions, you will prove your worth to recruiters and greatly increase your chances of landing job interviews.
If the game is rigged, should players bother competing or should they look for a new game altogether?
When Kevin Roberts, the now-suspended executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, suggested in a recent interview that “the fucking debate [about gender] is all over”, he unleashed a wave of anger in an industry in which barely more than 10% of creative directors are female. The reaction to Roberts’s comments suggests that far from being historically concluded, the debate about gender in the workplace has barely begun.
Roberts’s justification for his claim – that some men and women have concluded that ambition for leadership is “antiquated” and “dinosaur-like” and prefer to be happy rather than successful – is worth pondering for a moment. Opposing “vertical ambition” to an “intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy”, Roberts suggests that young people especially are increasingly opposed to the “Darwinian urges of wealth, power and fame”.
Roberts is hardly the ideal poster-man for a reinvigorated life-work balance campaign or the abandonment of megalomania and money (in the interview he bemoans the “fact” that “unfortunately, about 90% of the world give up real early, and plod and seek to be average”, and accuses advertising consultant Cindy Gallop of “making up” claims about sexual harassment in the industry). Nevertheless, he raises a more general issue: what is the point of ceaseless, miserable striving, often in work that generates yet more harm and damage?
In an 1884 lecture entitled Useful Work versus Useless Toil, the great socialist designer William Morris questioned the cycle of “mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil”. As an academic philosopher, the irony of criticising the advertising industry for its uselessness is not lost on me. However, it is worth questioning the existence of so much labour that does nothing but perpetuate itself by generating nothing of use, and perhaps many things of great damage.
Roberts, of course, does not seek to call for the abolition of his industry, even as he may have inadvertently abolished his own job within it. But by querying the values that underpin capitalism’s relentless and narrow celebration of “success” as dominance and power over others, we are reminded instead of what Morris called “the ornamental part of life”. Morris describes this as “pleasure, bodily and mental, scientific and artistic, social and individual – on the basis of work undertaken willingly and cheerfully, with the consciousness of benefiting ourselves and our neighbours by it”.
Morris’s formulation is both aesthetic and moral. The values of contemporary capitalism are, by contrast, intensely immoral by any standards: selfishness, aggression and indifference to the pain and need of others. Opposing values such as care, compassion and collectivity are typically derided and afforded low status (compare, for instance, the wages of nurses to city traders).
Historically, these alternative values have often been associated with and imposed on women: you should be nice because you’re a woman. Desiring to rebel against this imposition might start to look attractive – just lean in and work hard and you too can be the boss! But what if the game itself is the problem? What if, rather than fighting to compete, or even competing at all, we instead fought to re-evaluate what is most central to the ongoing wellbeing and existence of humanity as such?
A recent government report, Future of an Ageing Population, points out that the proportion of the working-age population aged between 50 and the state pension age will increase from 26% in 2012 to 35% in 2050 – a rise of some 8 million people. There is a looming crisis of care in a situation where already many families, looking after younger and older generations simultaneously, are struggling to cope.
While it would be a radical gesture for “Darwinian” corporate culture and male leaders such as Roberts to collectively self-abolish, there is a deeper point here. A total revaluation of our values, inside and outside of waged labour, would lead us to understand that the most important things in the world are those that are currently valued the least. While it might historically be important to move some pieces from one side of the board to the other, a deeper perspective might lead us to chuck the board off the table and stop playing the game altogether in favour of recognising what was always right there in front of us all along.
We would all like to fancy ourselves as eminently capable of impartiality, able to make decisions without prejudices – especially at work. Unfortunately, the reality is that human bias, both conscious and unconscious, can’t help but come into play when it comes to who gets jobs and how much money candidates get offered.
Managers often gravitate to people most like themselves, make gender-based assumptions about skills or salaries, or reject candidates who have non-white names – to name just a few examples – even if they don’t mean to.
There’s an increasingly popular solution to this problem: why not let an intelligent algorithm make hiring decisions for you? Surely, the thinking goes, a computer is more able to be impartial than a person, and can simply look at the relevant data vectors to select the most qualified people from a heap of applications, removing human bias and making the process more efficient to boot.
A wealth of startups and associated technology tools have sprung up in recent years to address the appetite for more diverse workforces. The Gapjumpers platform promises “blind audition” technology where “gender, education and background don’t matter” to the quest to find top talent. Entelo’s recruitment software has been billed as able to “get more women hired”, while Doxa helps you “find tech companies where female employees thrive. From HireVue and Gild toTextio, Jobaline and Korn Ferry, there are no shortage of headhunting and recruitment firms turning to the “magic” of algorithms to make attracting and hiring the right people more efficient and more effective – all while theoretically casting a wider net to draw candidates who might get left out by traditional “gut instinct” methods.
But there’s an unaddressed issue here: any algorithm can – and often does – simply reproduce the biases inherent in its creator, in the data it’s using, or in society at large. For example, Google is more likely to advertise executive-level salaried positions to search engine users if it thinks the user is male, according to a Carnegie Mellon study. While Harvard researchers found that ads about arrest records were much more likely to appear alongside searches for names thought to belong to a black person versus a white person.
These aren’t necessarily malicious situations – it’s not that Google is staffed by sexists, for example, but rather that the algorithm is just mirroring the existing gender pay gap. But in so doing, the algorithm reinforces that gap, and as long as we continue to believe an algorithm is an “unbiased” machine, we risk reinforcing the status quo in harmful ways. When bias appears in data, it even seems to suggest that historically disadvantaged groups actually deserve the less favourable treatment they receive.
While algorithms might work with data alone, it’s always human beings that decide what factors they weigh. Law professor and sociologist Ifeoma Ajunwa is authoring a paper on hiring by algorithm, and she asserts that many of the data points we think of as “neutral” – housing status, education level, credit score or even criminal record – are actually wrapped up in assumptions that ignore elements of racial inequality. She notes this “societal noise” plays a role in reinforcing our assumptions about data: for example, we may view a standardised test score as a fair measure of aptitude, but we rarely ask how those scores function in communities where schools are racially and economically segregated. When not all students begin at the same level of access to resources, a test score offers an incomplete picture.
“While seemingly innocuous or even meritocratic, educational pedigree strongly correlates to both class and race,” Ajunwa tells me. “Educational pedigree, in several instances, may be ‘societal noise’ in regards to fit for the job, as the school an applicant attended may not accurately predict fitness or skill set for a specific role.”
Complicating the discussion on bias in algorithms is the fact that companies’ tech is so often closely guarded as a trade secret – without access to the tech itself, it’s tough for an outside party to really test a hiring algorithm’s supposed fairness. But Ajunwa says it’s possible to determine that an algorithm may discriminate based on what types of data it uses to vet candidates and what kind of decision it makes as a result. To use a blunt example, when incarceration policies or the environment of state violence in America both affect black men to a disproportionate degree, an algorithm that automatically delivers a “don’t interview” verdict to candidates with past criminal records therefore disproportionately impacts black job seekers.
“Given the mass incarceration crisis [in America], a salient factor is incarceration record. Currently, employers with ‘check the box’ policies can summarily eliminate applicants with incarceration records [by using] a hiring algorithm,” says Ajunwa. “Similarly, long periods of unemployment might trigger hiring algorithms to exclude applicants, regardless of the reason for the absence from the workplace, thus negatively impacting veterans [as well as] parents returning to the workplace.”
Ajunwa’s colleagues Sorelle Friedler and Suresh Venkatasubramanian also co-authored a paper proposing a potential fix that cuts through the “societal noise” around hiring algorithms’ data points. Here’s how it could work: if, let’s say, credit scores are predisposed to the advantage of white candidates, then rather than looking for an overall top percentile or certain range of scores among all applicants, the high-end range could be studied separately among each racial or gender group and then collected to create a universal average.
“Each feature in the data set is considered separately,” Friedler explains. “For each feature, the per-group scores are considered and modified so that, taken as a whole, someone’s [membership in a historically disadvantaged group] can no longer be inferred from this feature by any algorithm. We do this modification delicately, so that other useful information is not destroyed.”
Rather than having an algorithm count, say, the top 10 percent of all applicant test scores, you could take the top 5% of men’s scores and the top 5% of women’s scores, group them together and then derive a median that applies to all candidates. Although this would require applicants to supply their gender and race on applications for the proposed fix to work, such a repair, the researchers claim, would go further than simply correcting a bias toward disadvantaged groups – it would guarantee no disparate impact on any group, a requirement to make the repair legal to perform.
“We present our solution as a discretionary one for employers to adopt and also as a procedure that governmental agencies, such as the EEOC [US federal agency the equal employment opportunity commission], could mandate as an audit for employers who have had complaints logged against them” Ajunwa suggests. “Thus, the repair could serve as both a self-management tool or as an investigatory tool for the government.”
One of the challenges in repairing and perfecting algorithm-based hiring is that there is no standard way to measure the outcome of an algorithm’s choices – how do we know it really is picking the “best” candidates most fairly? How well would an employee have to perform and for how long to have been considered a “correct” or “successful” pick, and how can we evaluate either the appropriateness or the diversity of its recommendations?
“Our work doesn’t answer these questions,” Venkatsubramanian says. “We have to balance the desire for fairness with the desire for effectiveness of prediction, but the assessment of ‘effectiveness’ currently comes from possibly flawed data, such as flawed employee performance assessments.”
The work of these researchers points to a problem in the world of big data that doesn’t get discussed often enough: unless the data itself can be truly said to be “fair”, an algorithm can’t do much more than perpetuate an illusion of fairness in a world that still scores some people higher than others – no matter how “unbiased” we believe a machine to be.
Ajunwa likens it to the stories of the Greek oracle, distorted through history and pop culture references as some sort of great all-knowing voice – when in mythology oracles actually demanded much intuition, discussion and context to interpret. An algorithm is no oracle, but needs rigorous study and repair if the promises made by all these vast, supposedly tech-savvy recruitment firms are to be met.
An increasing number of workers in Japan, are dying from the country’s ingrained culture of overworking. It is so accepted that the word “karoshi” (過労死, meaning overworking death) can be registered as an official cause of death.
According to labour ministry data, claims for compensation for karoshi rose to a record high of 1,456 in 2015.
But are all workers, in all countries, suffering from overwork? A long-hours culture has similarly impacted the US, and today the American 40-hour workweek is actually far closer to 47 hours — nearly a day longer than it was 35 years ago.
How has your job changed over the years? Are you now being buried in paper-work? How often do you work overtime? Whether you live in Japan, or elsewhere, share your experiences below.