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Experts lack consensus on discrimination risks of video interviewing

When used too early in the hiring process, video can lead to discrimination based on race, age or sex, but it can have positive benefits with the right guidelines in place.

When human resources and hiring managers first started using video around a decade ago for recruiting and interviewing, questions began to arise about whether the technology encouraged discrimination in the hiring process.

Today, more and more companies are looking to interview candidates via HR video to save money and make the hiring process more efficient. However, many of these firms are still concerned about the potential for discrimination that could stem from video interviewing.

"It is oftentimes one of the first questions that we receive from a potential client -- and we work with many of the world's largest employers: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Disney, Humana, Samsung, Allstate, Proctor & Gamble," said Kurt Heikkinen, CEO of Montage Talent, a vendor based in Delafield, Wisc., that offers voice and video interviewing tools.

When Montage works through evaluations with its clients, those companies will often engage their compliance teams because of considerations surrounding fair practices in hiring and compliance with regulations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Our position absolutely is that through the use of Montage, we help clients better comply with the requirements related to nondiscrimination," Heikkinen said. "And we actually help them enhance their diversity goals and initiatives from a recruiting strategy standpoint."

HR video discrimination may be more fear than reality

Kyle Lagunas, an analyst at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass., agreed there is fear among companies about the potential for bias and discrimination from the use of video interviewing in the hiring process.

There may be inherent risk that someone might discriminate because a candidate is not like them.
Kyle Lagunasanalyst, IDC

However, despite the fear, Lagunas said he hasn't seen any actual cases where such discrimination has been documented or is anything more than just a perceived risk.

"The reason is because it is just so new and the buyers for these systems are HR leaders and, traditionally, the HR role, in large part, has been to mitigate risk with compliance and things of that nature," he said.

The bigger risk from video interviewing is going to be inherent in a company's hiring culture, according to Lagunas.

"If you see people who have a tendency to hire like people, not just in terms of skin color or ethnicity, but who have similar personalities, similar backgrounds like they went to the same school or they grew up in the same town," he said, "within that there may be inherent risk that someone might discriminate because a candidate is not like them."

Heikkinen pointed out that it's important to distinguish between a video resume and a structured interview process supported by video interviewing.

"The industry has indeed rejected video resumes, which we understand to be an unsolicited submission from a candidate for a position using video," he said. "What we offer is a platform that helps an employer-driven process."

Montage offers a suite of applications, one of which is on-demand, or asynchronous, interviewing. This allows the employer to invite a candidate to participate in a very structured manner using the employer's interview guides and standards to ensure that every candidate is following a consistent standard for interviewing.

Such an approach reduces the potential for discrimination because the hiring manager receives guidance on the purpose of the questions each candidate is asked and on how to evaluate the answers, Heikkinen said.

Lagunas concurred that interview guides are important tools that can help to discourage discrimination.

"A company can provide its hiring managers with a list of things to look for and give them guidance on what they should be evaluating," he said.

Juli Smith, president of The Smith Consulting Group LLC, an executive-search firm based in Jackson, Mich., said her company is trying to implement video interviewing for its clients because the consensus is that it will be more, rather than less, inclusive.

"Oftentimes, our clients don't get enough of the candidate's real experience, and by recording a short video interview introduction of the candidate with resources like HireVue, we believe this can give a more accurate representation of the candidate than just submitting a resume," she said.

If a hiring manager is going to discriminate based on a person's race or age in an HR video interview, the same would hold true for a face-to-face interview, Smith said.

"I recruit in a very male-dominated industry. I recruit primarily civil engineers and consulting engineers and MEP [mechanical, electrical and plumbing]," she said. "If you have a very sharp professional female, a very sharp professional African-American, Asian, whatever race, and that person comes across very well in the video interview, I think it's going to include them versus [exclude] them, which might happen with just a regular resume."

Smith said her company is trying to determine how to implement small video resumes -- three-to-five question short video clips that give client companies more depth and breadth about a candidate than would be found in a paper resume.

Some question whether video hiring is worth the risks

Bill Docherty, senior vice president of product management at SumTotal Systems LLC, an HR software vendor based in Gainesville, Fla., doesn't think that using video early in the hiring process is a good idea.

Although he said he doesn't have any definitive evidence from customers to bolster the notion that using video technology fosters some type of discrimination, his opinion is that it's human nature for people to discriminate.

"What should be the most concerning thing is that these technologies are typically being used very early on in the interview process when [companies] are trying to do it at scale," he said. "In those cases, you have scenarios where candidates have not even really been able to make a good first impression."

If a company was using phone screening early in the process, the hiring manager wouldn't have visual insight into a candidate.

"The person's appearance and lot of other factors wouldn't play into the decision-making and the candidate would be [able to] move forward," Docherty said. "At least, at that point, the person is getting through two or three rounds of phone-based interviews and has made, in many cases, a positive impression. So, at the point of the face-to-face interviews, there's already a preconceived notion of this person's abilities. You really start to lose that if you're going to use video interviewing at the front end of the process."

For Kevin Mulcahy, a partner at Future Workplace LLC, an HR executive network and research firm based in New York, the use of video in the hiring process boils down to what a company is really testing with video and how relevant it is to the role.

"It's a medium that not a lot of people are comfortable with yet," he said.

For example, people over the age of 30 tend to shy away from using video and are more self-conscious about how they come across, according to Mulcahy, who is also co-host of The Future Workplace Network, a membership community for HR executives. They often look at the wrong part of the screen because they're just not as familiar with using video as people under 30, he said.

On that basis, if hiring managers are judging performance and comfort and competency on the video then there's a danger of discriminating against older people who are not as comfortable with the medium, Mulcahy said.

"Then the [interviewer] could say, 'Oh, let me extrapolate, they probably aren't as good at other technologies either.' I think there is a high possibility there for discrimination. And age discrimination is the biggest risk I see," he said.

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