Despite the fact that there are currently more job openings than unemployed workers, 95% of organizations are still struggling to fill open positions…

Despite the fact that there are currently more job openings than unemployed workers, 95% of organizations are still struggling to fill open positions – and many short-staffed businesses are turning to automated hiring software to close talent gaps. While often helpful, there is a catch: automating the hiring process can exclude applicants with untraditional employment histories like the formerly incarcerated and working mothers.

In fact, a recent study from Harvard Business School found that software used by companies to automate hiring eliminates more than 10 million workers from moving forward in the recruitment process – and it is disadvantaged applicants who are paying the price. It does not have to be this way. If companies take specific steps to counteract these trends, then we can build a better, more inclusive workforce.

Although the aim of automated hiring is to find companies with the best candidates for the role, structural issues – like filters and strict keyword identifiers – end up eliminating a large swath of applicants the HBS study refers to as “hidden workers.” This group often includes veterans, people with disabilities, caregivers, the formerly incarcerated, and other marginalized populations. As a result, hiring software prevents recruiters from seeing a diverse pool of applicants, hindering their ability to make progress on diversity and inclusion efforts and ultimately limiting their options.

For instance, automated hiring systems can use parameters like college degrees as proxies for the desired skill sets and attributes they are seeking in a candidate, which can exclude applicants with relevant experience. Moreover, gaps in full-time employment can also lead to a candidate’s exclusion because the system reads those gaps as a failure to meet criteria.

For businesses who are taking advantage of automated hiring protocols, understanding the technology’s possible drawbacks is essential to maximizing its value, since hiring strategies are most effective only if they tap into the full talent pool. To prevent any unintended gaps, companies should adapt their hiring technologies to account for the nuances in applicants’ backgrounds to advance diversity and combat labor shortages.

Reevaluating job descriptions and the desired qualifications for open positions is crucial to ensuring otherwise quality candidates are not accidentally eliminated from consideration before they are given a fair chance. Many individuals – especially caregivers who are still disproportionately women – were pushed out of work due to the pandemic. Hiring software should be adjusted to account for how people’s employment status may have been impacted. Using inclusive language in job descriptions helps encourage candidates of all backgrounds to apply and fills open roles 10% faster than postings without inclusive language.

Companies must also consider the accessibility and user experience of their applications and revamp their portals or provide resources to aid in the process. Nearly all hidden workers report that the application process is difficult for them, and many do not have extensive experience with applying for jobs online after spending time away from the workforce. Designing online application portals to be as simple to use as possible, and providing clear instructions, can help a company reach new talent pools.

Reaching out to certain underrepresented groups may take more than technological adjustments. Skilling initiatives that are specifically designed for disadvantaged workers, like Randstad USA’s TRANSCEND initiative, help equip applicants with relevant skills. Companies can partner with such programs or create their own skilling initiatives to develop specialized skills that give current employees and potential jobseekers opportunities for career growth.

Leveraging digital hiring tools so qualified candidates receive thoughtful consideration in the recruiting process is essential in today’s tight job market. By bringing humanity into the fold of recruitment technologies, companies can not only see all the best candidates for the job, but also work towards diversifying their workforce in a meaningful way.

Alan Stukalsky is chief digital officer of Randstad USA.