New California Bill Aims to Eliminate Racial And Other Biases in Hiring

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Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Senator Lena Gonzalez. Courtesy of CBM.

Imagine applying for a job online.

But instead of a hiring manager or some pre-screening software reviewing your application and pushing it along — or eliminating it — based on personal biases or other random criteria a company sets up, a smart computer program that is “agnostic” does the filtering, determining whether you are a good fit for the job or not.

Relying only on your qualifications and experience, the program does not consider factors like your name, your zip code, social connections or where you went to school in the screening process.
Sounds too futuristic? Well, the future may be right now — at least in California.

On Feb. 21, 2020, lawmakers in California introduced SB 1241 or the Talent Equity for Competitive Hiring (TECH) Act. The bill sets a new legal high bar against discrimination in hiring by writing clear guidelines for employers to follow that allow them to modernize their recruiting processes using technological tools that reduce bias, leading to a more diverse workforce.

Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) introduced the legislation in the Senate. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), and Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) are co-authors.

“California has a growing opportunity gap that leaves many families and communities in our state behind,” said Gonzalez after she introduced the bill in Long Beach along with leaders from community- based organizations and social justice groups. “Hiring discrimination plays a significant role in our current inequality. The TECH Act will help ensure access to jobs that offer competitive wages and upward mobility for all our residents.”

The TECH Act states “assessment technologies will be considered in compliance with anti-discrimination rules if: 1) they are pre-tested for bias before being deployed and found not likely to have an adverse impact on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity; 2) outcomes are reviewed annually and show no adverse impact or an improvement of hiring among underrepresented groups; and 3) their use is discontinued if a post-deployment review indicates adverse impact.”

Last September, the California Assembly voted unanimously to pass ACR 125, also known as the Fair Hiring Resolution. ACR 125 was a call to action for the state’s lawmakers to pass legislation that tackles implicit racial and social biases in corporate hiring by creating clear rules of the road for how employers can use these smart technologies.

Five months later, their motion has become a reality.

“Innovative technologies for hiring and promotion, including artificial intelligence and algorithm-based technologies, have the potential to reduce bias and discrimination in hiring and promotion based on protected characteristics, such as socioeconomic status or status as a formerly incarcerated person,” the resolution read.

“At the same time, these technologies can help employers reach larger and more diverse pools of qualified talent and better identify candidates with the right skills and abilities to succeed,” it went on to make the case for the merits of the legislation.

The TECH Act builds on a series of laws California has passed in recent years to fight discrimination in hiring, such as “ban the box” legislation prohibiting employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history before giving a conditional job offer, according to Jones-Sawyer.

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