November 15, 2016

EEOC Hearing on Big Data: Thoughts on Present and Future Usage

On October 13, 2016, a wide variety of experts, ranging from data scientists to lawyers, testified at the EEOC to highlight the implications of big data for the American workplace. Big data, as defined by the EEOC press release, includes “the use of algorithms, ’data scraping’ of the internet, and other means of evaluating tens of thousands of pieces of information about an individual” (EEOC 10/13/16 press release) to inform employer decisions.  Topics spanned areas such as data privacy, the effectiveness of big data algorithms, and possible EEO implications. DCI’s Eric Dunleavy, Director of Personnel Selection and Litigation Support Services, testified on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to describe the legal and ethical issues associated with big data.

Dr. Dunleavy set the stage by defining big data and providing examples of how they can be used to answer key questions from employers. After presenting possible implementations of big data, he summarized how they are currently used. He then closed by noting that even though big data offer predictive potential, there are various EEO-related questions that have yet to be thoroughly considered. For example, is it possible that factors in algorithms could be proxies for protected group membership?

Here at DCI, we have recently seen an increase in the number of big data questions from clients, particularly related to employee selection and recruitment. Tricky issues we have thought hard on include:

  • How to validate or defend algorithms that change overtime
  • Whether black box algorithms can ever be defensible if it is unclear what is being measured
  • What implications big data present for the internet applicant rule

DCI is working on a big data focused session  in December to cover these issues and more, so stay tuned!

By Sam Holland, Consultant, and Cliff Haimann, Consultant, at DCI Consulting Group

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