Unbiased AI, Clean Energy’s Dirty Secret, and More

June 26, 2019

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Juneteenth has always had a contradiction at its core: It is a second Independence Day braided together with reminders of ongoing oppression. Its spread from Texas to the rest of the United States accelerated in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a sort of home-going for King and other victims of white supremacist violence, fusing sorrow and jubilation.”—Vann R. Newkirk II, on Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the day America’s last enslaved people were officially freed in 1865, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
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THE STORY

In a new study, Kimberly Houser of Oklahoma State explores how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to make hiring and promotion decisions less biased. Based on well-established research that shows removing indicators of race and gender diversifies the interview pool, AI can be designed to automatically ignore such indicators. Houser explains that something called affinity bias makes us want to hire people who are like us, and that because the majority of business leaders are white men, mostly white men get hired. She gives an example: “When you have a male from Stanford interviewing a group of people, they tend to like males who graduated from Stanford…You’re not aware of it as a bias and you’re not sure why, but you think the male Stanford graduate is best for the job.” The researchers do have a caveat for the use of AI—pay attention to who is programming it and where the data comes from. Without care, AI can be trained to accept biases as the norm, and to perpetuate them even more efficiently than we do on our own. The key is to “make sure both the data sets used and the humans involved in creating the AI are a diverse population to begin with.”

Two women of color talking about AI in front of a laptop.

OUR TAKE

It’s encouraging to see that new research supports the use of AI in reducing bias in the hiring process. When used thoughtfully, technology can be an ally in our endeavor to increase diversity and breed inclusion. It can help us manage the unconscious biases that we all have.

How It Affects You

While your organization or department may not be equipped for AI-assisted hiring quite yet, you can still keep in mind the influence of unconscious bias on your team’s decisions. Make efforts to 1) educate your team about unconscious bias and 2) find ways to manually remove race and gender identifiers from resumes.

THE STORY

While more women are rising to leadership positions within the clean energy sector, the industry’s “rank-and-file workforce is still a lot like those at fossil-fuel companies: white and dominated by men.” The gender disparity can be chalked up in part to the growing number of manufacturing jobs, for which men are primed in a “culture where boys get toy trucks, girls get dolls and the former are encouraged to study science, technology and engineering more.” Remy Pangle, director at James Madison University’s sustainable energy division, says this culture leads women “toward consulting and project management rather than traditional construction jobs.” But the issue isn’t only about women’s interest in these positions. Income-wise, women in the U.S. solar business make 26% less than their male colleagues. Jamie Yarmoff, a project manager for AES Corp., says that women “have to go further than [their] male counterparts to prove the same worth.” According to Kristen Graf, executive director of WRISE, the lack of gender diversity across the clean energy industry can lead to women feeling isolated. As she puts it, “How do you stay in it and stick with it?”

Our Take

With most U.S. industries lacking in gender diversity, the problem is far from uncommon. Graf’s question above points to the root of the issue. With so many factors stacked against women (sexist conditioning, income disparities, gender-based discrimination, isolation, etc.), increasing gender representation in traditionally male industries can prove to be an enormous challenge. Company efforts to grow diversity and inclusion should be multifaceted, intentional, and comprehensive to account for these factors.

How It Affects You

Take a look at your organization’s diversity and inclusion plan, if you have one. Remember that it’s not enough to just hire more women and people from underrepresented groups. How can your workplace build an inclusive environment that both entices them to stay and encourages their growth within the organization?

THE STORY

Tracee Ellis Ross, from the TV show Black-ish, will be both the executive producer and star of a spin-off of the MTV show Daria. The new show, Jodie, will follow Daria’s friend as she navigates the tech industry as a young woman of color. It will be the first adult animated show in almost 20 years to star a Black woman. When Daria first came out in 1997, the character was “hailed for her feminist take on key issues such as class, race and gender” and “credited with helping to shape a generation of women.” The character of Jodie wove intersectionality into Daria, commenting on topics like tokenism, being a role model to black girls, and the pressures of choosing an Ivy League college versus a historically Black college. Many are looking forward to seeing Jodie back on screen and hearing what she has to say about “gentrification...sex...tech...call-out culture” and more.

Tracee Ellis Ross

OUR TAKE

Check out this video about the character of Jodie and what she meant to Black girls who grew up watching Daria. The video includes clips from the show, where Jodie delivers sharp critiques of her predominantly white high school and town. Jodie was a role model for other characters in the show and for viewers watching at home.

How It Affects You

Are there TV, book, or movie characters who share your identity group or background and had a significant impact on you? Think about how you can introduce more representative media into your school, work, or other community. Consider books that are available in the library, sources of expertise at your office, and films and TV shows used in classrooms and company events.