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For Indian Companies: Adopt Artificial Intelligence-Based HR Tools But With Caution

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Written by: Mimansa Sidhnath

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the future, we’re told. Experts say that around 40% jobs will be lost to automation in the next 15 years. According to the industry trends, HR seems to be one of the targets on our path to singularity.

AI tools are increasingly being built through machine learning to replace the hiring team in large companies. Soon, rather than sitting in front of a panel of interviewers, it will be AI tools assessing our personality traits based on the data that we share about and/or of ourselves. With the current pandemic-ridden world, this may turn into common reality sooner than we had imagined, or were ready for.

Representational image.

How Do AI-Based Hiring Tools Work?

So, you know the person that you send your resume to? Replace that person with a program that has been trained by humans for the process of recruitment by using machine learning algorithms. The experiential hiring tool is fed with lots and lots of information that acts as the knowledge bank for the hiring tool.

Once it has been fed and trained on all the information that the humans deem important, the tool is used to hire people based on behavioural traits, language, educational achievements, etc. – basically, the goal is to ‘familiarise’ the tool with what consists of ‘normal’ but also ‘desirable’ in the prospective employees.

AI tools are also increasingly being used to free up HR officials of the cumbersome task of periodically following up on the employees and their performance manually. Recently, Ungender spoke with Kanishka Mallick, HR Lead at Times Internet Network, where he mentioned that they’ve been using an AI bot called Amber that “reaches out to employees at their fixed tenures and chats with them and gives us a pulse of the organisation at various points in time.” AI tools are being seen as something that shifts the focus of hiring officials from non-value-adding tasks to more value-adding tasks, as described by L’Oreal about their hiring chatbot, Mya.

For example, Mya goes through job applications to filter the ‘best fit’. At the same time, it also answers recurring questions on policies, cultures and other basic questions about the company that the applicants ask. The Global HR of L’Oreal said that they saved 45 days on a six-month period for the UK team.

How Are These Tools Changing The Scenario In The Hiring Process?

AI enthusiasts see such hiring tools as a game-changer. They claim that the introduction of AI can help weed out biases that come with humans gatekeeping the hiring process, as has been the case so far. Professionals involved in the hiring process have been known to give disproportionate importance to how someone looks, their dress sense, body language, spoken skills, etc.

Experts see these new technology hiring tools as something that helps them save time and takes over the redundancy of questions that comes with the interviewing process. A common argument in support of AI is that it can be changed or altered to address biases and eventually remove them whereas people – takes quite a bit to change deep-rooted mindsets about how the society functions.

AI tools are also increasingly being used to free up HR officials of the cumbersome task of periodically following up on the employees and their performance manually. Representational image. Image Credit: Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images

Is AI Free Of Human Intervention?

The straight answer to this question is: no. Although singularity may not be a very distant future, the social biases of the world we live in are deeply embedded in AI. Why?

Let’s take the example of a hypothetical book to understand this. Let’s say a member of the Khap Panchayat writes a book on what an ideal village should look like. Now, think about it for a while and ask yourself if it’s possible that that book can be devoid of the directives on how ‘good women’ should behave? Even if we like to think it won’t, the deeply-rooted misogyny and patriarchy that has come up ever so often is highly likely to find its way into the contents of the book.

Our perceptions shape all that we communicate to the outer world.

Machine learning algorithms are also programmed/written by humans; it will only know what’s fed to it. Since, the selecting, sorting and feeding is done by humans, the biases leak into the codes/scripts, too. It can develop its own pattern of thinking, yes, but that pattern in itself wholly depends on the knowledge that’s fed into it.

The social cannot be scooped out of the technical just as the vice-versa is impossible. We live in a socio-technical world. It’s time that we normalise the notion of society and technology working in a symbiotic relationship instead of assuming that one is divorced from the other. The technology is within us and we are within the technology.[1]

How Can AI Systems With Biases Impact The Recruitment Process?

In their essay, ‘Design Justice, A.I., and Escape from the Matrix of Domination’, Sasha Constanza-Chock narrates an incident at the airport to emphasize the biases that makes an AI-infused social life harder for anyone who is not a cis, white person who conforms to gender-binary. They talk about the matrix of domination that gets embedded in the AI systems through the environment that they are trained in: the people, their ideologies, their biases.

Amazon recently did away with its AI recruiting system because they found out that it was discriminating against women applicants. Their AI was trained on resumes that were submitted to the company over the course of 10 years. Since most of them came from men, the AI inherently came to favour patterns that appeared in male applicants’ resumes. This is an important example to understand the effect of the information with the help of which the AI is trained. The AI adopted the bias that runs large in the STEM field: the scarcity of women/non-males in the field which in turn is a result of hundreds of years of dominant patriarchal power structures.

What Should Companies Be Aware Of When They Use AI-Based Tools To Manage Their Workforce?

Ensure D&I In The Tech Team

Only when those who code and train these complex machine learning algorithms come from different backgrounds of not just gender but also class, caste, race, ethnicities, age, and more, can we truly begin to think AI-based hiring tools will have a positive impact on how professionals are hired and managed? A homogenous group with little to no diversity cannot be expected to know how to be cognizant of a range of biases – there will be obvious slips and that will cost professionals who occupy a marginalised social position.

Reality Checks

Company leaders of those adopting AI-based HR tools and leaders of organisations making these tools need to be constantly aware of the changing times and adapt accordingly. When Ungender spoke with Aparna Devi Moola at EdGE Networks, on pushing for better AI tools based on changing times and client preferences, she said, “A lot of our clients are coming back to us today, saying, “We have D&I policies in place. What is your product doing to complement that?” If we don’t have that in there, they’re not interested in looking at us.”

Companies need to constantly keep a check on their policies and update them, as and when necessary. For that, the company leadership will need to ensure their D&I framework is robust enough that their workforce has the psychological safety to address issues.

Steps To Systematically Tackle Bias In AI-Based Tools

The first step puts the onus on the companies. As more and more companies adopt AI recruiting tools, experts suggest that weeding out biases in AI should be regarded as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The second step could be a national-level law. An Algorithmic Accountability Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives which makes a legal demand of the companies to audit AI systems for bias before using them in their processes. This is being seen as the first step towards the governance of AI systems. It would be a step in the right direction if the Indian government comes up with similar legislation in the near future.

AI is the most important part of what is being called the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and singularity is the alleged end product. If it will be useful or devastating for us is still very much a contested issue. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, while we’re still friends with the AI and not its servers, the most we can do is to use it to make the world a better place than what we have achieved till now: a society riddled with deeply entrenched social biases.

[1] For more on this topic which sounds rather controversial, check out this essay by Donna Haraway – A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.

About the author: Mimansa Sidhnath is a freelance writer and Communications Associate at Oorvani Foundation. She likes words and wishes that the vice-versa will come true someday. She can be reached at

Ungender Insights is the product of our learning from advisory work at Ungender. Our team specializes in advising workplaces on workplace diversity and inclusion. Write to us at to understand how we can partner with your organization to build a more inclusive workplace.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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