I had the opportunity to intern remotely with Humanly as a UX Designer, where I worked directly with the CEO on designing an interview analytics feature that aims to curb unconscious bias early in the hiring process.

As the first-ever design intern at Humanly, I was lucky enough to work on a consumer-facing project that would be shipped to real users. I was given a lot of free-reign, which of course came with its challenges. But with that independence came growth. I want to share some reflections about what I learned.

Know your users

If you want to design a successful product for people, you need to remember that users aren’t just some ethereal data point, but are also people, with their own set of problems. You can’t begin to solve a problem without first understanding and talking to users. At Humanly, I spent weeks thinking about the following questions:

#1 Who is my audience?

#2 What stories do they have and what problems do they face?

#3 What other companies are solving a similar problem and how well do they solve them?

#4 How will this feature solve this specific problem for the user?

With these questions in mind, I began my journey of interviewing 11 people, from recruiters, to candidates, to hiring managers. At this stage, talking to different user groups is important in order to validate or invalidate assumptions and key hypotheses. After analyzing the insights I gathered, I was able to identify patterns and trends (varying across user-groups) - which ultimately helped inform how I would design the product.

For example, had I not spoken with recent job candidates, I wouldn’t have been able to validate my assumption that candidates were fine with being recorded during a phone screening. Ultimately, speaking with recruiters helped me better understand their challenges and how I should think about what information should be included on the dashboard.

Conducting Research

As someone who strives to create a more equitable society, I was thrilled to spend the summer working on a feature that uses automation to combat unconscious bias in the workplace. I firmly believe that change starts with hiring.

Historically, job descriptions are rife with gendered language, something which has real world consequences. A recent study by ZipRecruiter found that 70 percent of job postings included words ZipRecruiter classified as "masculine," such as "leader," "aggressive," and "ambitious."

This means that more people tend to associate men with these character traits. The study concluded that gendered wording on job ads negatively impacts companies and candidates because it limits the applicant pool. On the flip side, job ads that contained gender-neutral language had 42% more responses.

While some companies like Textio are already exploring how to create bias-free job descriptions, Humanly is looking at how to spot bias triggers during a phone or Zoom interview. By analyzing interviews between recruiters and candidates, Humanly’s voice transcription feature watches out for key metrics such as the amount of gendered words that were used in an interview, the amount of time an interviewer spends speaking, and whether the interviewer lets enough time elapse between a candidate’s answer and their question.

One of the metrics we decided to track was “gender-biased language.” Like many of you, I wasn’t sure which words were considered to be gender-biased. After looking at a handful of studies and speaking to authors of these papers, it became clear that gendered language isn’t always obvious, intuitive, or static. In other words, a Natural Language Processing model may categorize a certain word or phrase as being more biased toward female candidates. Yet, depending on the context in which the word is being used, it’s not always so clear-cut.

Because gendered language can be so innocuous, Dr. Andrei Cimpian, a psychology professor at NYU, suggests that it’s in “recruiters’ best interest to pay close attention to what they say and how they say it.” In other words, “The language that firms and recruiters use often sends subtle messages to potential employees about whether they are about to join a workplace where they will belong -- that is, be accepted and valued and feel psychologically ‘safe’,” explains Dr. Cimpian.

Design with purpose

During my internship, I realized that all design choices must have a purpose and decoration for decoration’s sake doesn’t serve the end-user. In fact, adding unnecessary frills may even add a level of confusion or detract from what you are trying to communicate.

As the design for the dashboard got more complicated, it became even more important to keep the interface clean and consistent. Some of my early wireframes were ugly ducklings, but by talking through the problems I was having and iterating often, my design thinking improved dramatically.
My experience at Humanly has strengthened my skills as a designer and has taught me how to explain and stand up for my design choices. By talking through the good, the bad, and the ugly, I was able to affirm how important it is to communicate with your team at all points of the design process.

Ultimately, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of such a cool team of people who are tackling challenging societal problems like unconscious bias.