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Diversity, equality, inclusion & the machine.

Can a diverse workforce be the answer to some of the rising challenges for businesses & is AI the silver bullet answer to achieving it?

As we hurtle towards the 2020s, change and uncertainty seem to be looming on almost every horizon. Automation and AI, the fourth Industrial revolution, climate change, and threats in cyberspace will all pose varied and complex challenges to businesses, and our responses will be crucial in determining both survival and success in this ‘brave new world’. How to prepare for these changes is the big question for all of us, including HR professionals. According to a recent article from Boston Consulting, it is diversity that may hold some of the keys for success in this new environment.

A range of voices & perspectives is better for business

Diversity and inclusivity have long been an important issue for HR teams and human capital experts. There are strong moral reasons for ensuring that our workforces fully reflect the diversity of our societies, and that our workplaces are spaces where anyone, whatever their background, feels welcome and valued. Yet diversity is also increasingly being recognised as essential to business performance too. As the team at Boston note, it will be the organisations that are equipped ‘with a range of voices and perspectives’ that will be best placed, not only to weather the coming storms, but to innovate, take risks, recover from set-backs, and ‘turn challenges into opportunities.’ There is strong evidence to support this. One study has suggested that organisations that have an inclusive culture generate 30 per cent more revenue per employee, and are eight times more likely to achieve positive business outcomes, whilst diversity can also increase innovation by up to a fifth, and foster a sense of trust.

Bias & the machine

Diversity can be a major organisational strength, and the fact that more leaders and businesses are recognising its importance is great news. But how do we transform our workplaces into diverse and inclusive spaces and ensure we get the undoubted benefits that diversity can bring? The big challenge that many organisations are now facing is what psychologists describe as ‘unconscious’ or ‘implicit’ bias. These are biases or discriminatory attitudes that exist below the surface, and can affect our decisions and actions even when we’re completely unaware of them. They are a major problem – even if leaders and managers are fully on-board with diversifying our organisations, we might still be working in ways that are exclusionary or harm diversity without even realising. Some have argued that Artificial Intelligence can be a ‘silver bullet’ here. What better way to bypass this inherently human problem than through a machine? But there is a growing weight of evidence that shows that AI carries the same unconscious biases as the people who program it. This is alarming news. As more and more businesses adopt AI in their hiring and other processes, we won’t eliminate such biases, but will instead risk embedding them within the way we work.

So what can be done? A recent article from the team at Deloitte has suggested a potential way of tackling this, borrowing from an approach called ‘design thinking’. This involves gathering data directly from people within the organisation – especially from those most likely to be affected by discrimination – to get insights on how different people experience the work environment and issues that affect them. Collaborative and creative techniques are then used to co-develop possible solutions alongside the workforce, which are then rigorously tested and evaluated. Human data analytics can provide crucial assistance here – with organisations using that data on inclusion experiences together with the profile of their workers to help identify where certain groups encounter problems – either getting stuck, or leaving the organisation altogether. This methodology ‘redesigns environments from the bottom up, starting with people’, rather than dictating our workplace cultures from the top-down.

A diverse workforce is more prepared for the future of work

Such an approach could help to create a genuinely inclusive working environment, one which fully utilises all of the different skills, ideas and perspectives that a diverse group of people bring to a company. It can be a radical step – shifting some of the power from the top to the other areas of our organisations, but as the evidence shows, the possible benefits of increased innovation, resilience, creativity and problem-solving are too great to ignore. It is a way of working that doesn’t just address the diversity challenge itself, but one that transforms that challenge into an opportunity – making diversity one of our biggest weapons to solve the problems of the coming decade. At a time when the importance of durable skills like imagination and adaptability seems greater than ever, centring the experiences and insights of your people to embed diversity and inclusion in the heart of your organisation might just provide the answers we need.

Author -David Selway

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