How digital credentials could solve for gender bias in hiring and promotions

Technology can fix a broken system by creating an even playing field for all candidates, showcasing certified skills and abilities.

How AI can be used to remove bias in business

Gender bias in the workplace may not be a new problem, but is still somehow an issue--especially in the male-dominated tech industry. 

Whether in hiring practices, promotions, performance reviews, or meetings, women continue being overlooked and underappreciated, despite having the qualifications and skills necessary for the job. 

"Many people are familiar with that very stubborn statistic that women are earning $0.80 to every $1 a man makes," said Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of Credly. "And we know that when it comes to the C-suite, women hold 5% of senior titles at Fortune 500 companies, and women are overrepresented among degree earners. 

"Clearly, we have a problem that many people would attribute to bias," Finkelstein said. "We have the qualified people; they have the skills, they have the academic credentials, but they are neither getting the positions, nor are they earning as much as male counterparts."

SEE: Recruiting and hiring top talent: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

While organizations have recognized the problem and attempted to prioritize diversity and inclusion through strong leadership, better policies, and empowering work environments, the problem remains--particularly in IT hiring and promotions, Finkelstein said. 

"Even with some concerted efforts to change the imbalance in the ratio of men to women in the tech industry, the issue is stubbornly resistant to significant change," said June Severino Feldman, CMO of Intelligent Product Solutions. 

"Part of this is driven by the 'safe' practice of hiring from a stable of known entities; the inclination is to favor someone you have worked successfully with in the past," Feldman said. "Hence, a predominantly male workforce often recommends hires from a predominantly male group of talented former co-workers who [they] see as a good bet."

However, technology may be able to help mend the broken system, according to Finkelstein, particularly through digital credentials.   

The traditional hiring process 

Job candidates have traditionally listed their own skills or achievements in a self-reported manner, whether on a professional profile, job application, resume, or in an interview, Finkelstein said.

"That would be fine, except for the fact that we know that 85% of employers have found a lie or misrepresentation on a resume or a job application," Finkelstein said. 

Taking the issue a step further, men are 58% more likely than women to lie or exaggerate on their resumes, according to ResumeLab. 

"There's a real drag on the decision-making process when employers are relying on self- reported, unverified information on which to make decisions," Finkelstein said. 

He suggested that this systemic bias could potentially be removed if there was no longer room for personalized interpretation of one's achievements. This is where digital credentials come in.

What are digital credentials?

"A digital credential is a verified portable piece of evidence of an achievement," Finkelstein said. 

The simplest way to think about digital credentials is to take a paper certificate you have--a diploma on your wall, certification card in your wallet, etc.--and place it in a digital form, stored on a personal device. 

"That achievement can be an industry certification, like your project management professional (PMP) certification, or the AICPA in accounting, or it can be for individual skills that might've been certified by your current or past employer," Finkelstein said. 

This digital format carries a lot more information than the paper sitting in a frame. Employers can see, in real time, if the certification is official, what source it came from, if it's expired, and more, Finkelstein said. 

"When you think about what digital credentials are, they are the currency of the modern world of work," Finkelstein said. "They show you what human capital people actually bring to any problem or to any opportunity." 

It's that common currency that evens the playing field for all genders, making career paths more visible, he added. 

"HR and hiring teams could collaborate on which sets of these credentials would be applicable and preferred for each open position," Feldman said. "These should be spelled out in the job description."

How to incorporate digital credentials in your company 

Finkelstein outlined three steps organizations can take to integrate digital credentials into their hiring and promotion processes. 

1. Take account of what certifications employees currently have

"Begin by acknowledging the achievements that their employees may already have, whether they be from inside the company or that had been externally validated," Finkelstein said. 

"Most organizations you talk to today will tell you they don't know what certifications and credentials their employees have, which people have gone out and taken courses online on their own or have invested in their own professional development," he added. 

Companies should survey their employees to determine what certifications and skills they are equipped with, keep a record of those certifications, and update it continuously.

2. Discover what credentials are already stored 

Some organizations might already have records of certifications people have, however, those records may not be digital. 

"Look at what kinds of outcomes are already being reported or captured across the enterprise and move that to a machine, [where it becomes a] readable, consistent, structured digital credential," Finkelstien said. 

'Rather than having every department and manager use their own paper certificate to acknowledge results, or relying on data being locked up in many different learning management systems across the company, or no systems at all, [companies should] create a common clearinghouse for skills across by instituting digital credentials," he added. 

3. Develop strategic priorities 

Organizations must look at their strategic priorities and use those as motivation to adopt digital credentialing, Finkelstein said. 

If managers are trying to appeal to upper management regarding digital credentialing, managers could frame the technology as a way to make progress with a strategic priority. 

Finkelstein provided the following example: If the company is engaged in upskilling and wants to bolster their employees' skill sets in the coming years, digital credentialing could be a solution to reaching that goal and attaining specialized talent. 

Effectiveness of digital credentials 

One of the best parts of digital credentials is that the technology has proved to be effective. 

A recent survey of Autodesk digital credential earners found that 91% of respondents considered their digital credential valuable to them in their career, Finkelstein said. 

Because of digital credentialing, some 15% said they got a promotion, 19% said they received a raise, and 32% said they landed a new job.

"Of those who received a promotion or a new job, 17% of them actually reported that their income increased as much as $10,000," Finkelstein said.

"Credentials are leveling the playing field. They're bringing greater transparency and trust to human capital decision-making. And they empower individuals to tell their story in a verified way, regardless of their gender," he added. 

For more, check out Diversity and inclusion remains a top priority for permanent and contract employees on TechRepublic.  

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