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Digital workplace trends can result in discrimination, says law academic

A new book by a CQU law lecturer has warned that digital workplace trends and artificial intelligence (AI) robot recruiters leave room for discrimination against people from disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds and people with disabilities.

user iconLauren Croft 21 August 2023 Big Law
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Melbourne law academic, CQUniversity law lecturer Dr Angelo Capuano has emphasised that digital workplace trends like “cyber vetting” through social media, interview gamification and AI-driven recruitment could mean applicants from working-class backgrounds don’t even get a call back when they submit job applications.

In his new book, Class and Social Background Discrimination in the Modern Workplace, Dr Capuano warns that the use of popular new technologies can create risks of discrimination.

“We know employers use cyber vetting to assess what they call ‘cultural fit’ … and there’s new evidence that employers may now deny giving people jobs simply because the employer does not approve of the lifestyle choices they perceive on candidates’ social media profiles,” he said.

 
 

“This is quite shocking, especially because certain lifestyle choices can be cultivated from upbringing and reflect our class, social and family background.”

While some recruitment algorithms, like contextual recruitment systems, are promoted as positive for workplace diversity, Dr Capuano said there are risks that the algorithm may filter out socially and economically disadvantaged people.

“Similarly, HireVue’s asynchronous video interviewing is a process of automating the interviewing of job candidates with AI assistance, but the design of this technology may disadvantage people who use manner of speech or words that are associated with the working-class,” he said.

Gamification in recruitment, which typically involves filtering job candidates based on the results they get from completing online games, can also be discriminatory.

“This is very troubling, as there are a range of medical conditions [that] can, and will, impact a person’s ability to complete these games. For instance, people with disabilities will be disadvantaged, or people on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’ due to their age, socioeconomic circumstances or upbringing,” Dr Capuano added.

“We’re also seeing social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn give employers detailed targeting options when advertising job vacancies, and location targeting means employers can make job ads visible only to people in particular locations. That can mean those who live in outer suburbs, or rural locations, may be denied from seeing job opportunities in a city … creating a digital form of ‘postcode discrimination’.”

Raised in Melbourne’s western suburbs, Dr Capuano was first-in-family to attend university and said he saw plenty of discrimination based on postcode and worse.

“I first discovered the ugly reality of classism in the legal profession when I tried to get a job – for example, when a firm asked me to brainstorm the people in my network who could become clients of the firm, but I had none, or when my pronunciation of words was ridiculed for not being ‘proper’,” he said.

“I was even told I didn’t get a job because the successful candidate showed more ‘commercial acumen’ through having a share portfolio!”

However, Dr Capuano eventually secured an associate role with Justice Peter Gray of the Federal Court of Australia and went on to study law at Oxford University with a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship.

“Being told that I was the first person from Melbourne’s traditionally working-class western region to win the scholarship since its inception in 1947 got me thinking about social mobility,” he explained.

“Digital workplaces and the changing nature of work from the fallout of COVID-19 creates new disadvantages at various intersections, especially at the synergy of ‘social origin’ and disability.”

Former Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG reviewed the book, and he said it “evidences some of the critical changes in the way digital decisions will impose consequences on human beings”.

“Despite many benefits, the gigantic shocks that lie ahead stretch beyond ChatGPT, to impose disadvantage on data subjects without human mediation,” His Honour said.

“This timely book uses particular algorithms to illustrate specific dangers and the urgent need for law reform and social awareness.”

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