Diversify your team’s thinking – Technology-led D&I solutions

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Cat Mules

There is a compelling case for attention to diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the contemporary workplace - not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is good for business. Technology is providing some useful tools to help.

‘Workplace culture’ – on one level it is related to visible elements such as mentorships, social club activities, work flexibility, and employee recognition programmes. The deeper, and more important interpretation, relates to how a company’s workforce contributes to business success in the broadest sense. 82 per cent of New Zealand innovation leaders value a multicultural, multigenerational and cross-industry workforce, compared to 63 per cent in the general market.

Savvy business leaders recognise the undeniable truth: the work environment has an impact on how employees perform, and how the company is perceived to wider public stakeholders. Harmful work situations cause psychological and social harm, harm the organisation’s capability to draw in and hold talent, and limits its value and profitability.

New Zealand’s government diversity advisor, Diversity Works, shows us that issues of wellbeing, gender and age discrimination,  and perceptual bias are top D&I issues for New Zealand organisations. Alongside this there’s the need for checks on the effectiveness of bullying and harassment interventions. The technology industry does not fare well in most diversity measures.

In recent years employees have become more aware of the importance of workplace culture. Decentralised work patterns in response to the global pandemic will likely continue to accelerate the pressure on companies to establish and set out a diversity strategy that is unified and responds to employee concerns – even when offsite. Organisations too are realising the many benefits of developing a D&I policy.

In the emerging rapid-paced, hyper-connected business world, technology is playing an important role in developing D&I approaches.

1. Talent acquisition and hiring: Innovate to change your D&I initiatives

The competition for talent is fierce: today’s candidates put more emphasis on what a company stands for and what happens behind the scenes, rather than just the face value of a job. As technology facilitates the widespread exchange of information, people (including potential candidates) can access more detailed company information than ever before, and use this information in their decision making about whether a job fits with their moral and ethical worldview – and whether to stick around.

Technology can help. Global research finds a high 43% of organisations use some form of diversity and inclusion technologies for talent acquisition and recruitment purposes. AI tools can be used to detect the possibility of implicit bias in hiring, starting with the vocabulary used in job postings. Programmed-in sentiment analysis can be used to define exclusionary language and recommend alternatives. This is important to appeal to a varied candidate pool. Screening can be done in a later phase, to learn how qualifications align with each particular position.

Augmented writing software, Textio, draws on insights for inclusive language guidance and to avoid bias. / Textio

2. Make virtual D&I the norm for employee development

Engage employees and you’ll increase the chances of high employee retention. Research indicates that if they are invested in their jobs, 93 per cent of workers would remain in an organisation longer. Both the consistency of services and the value provided to employees can be increased by integrating diversity and inclusion into employee growth initiatives.

When developing employee development plans, D&I programmes are becoming the new standard. Technology makes this possible for organisations in all sectors. D&I instruments are available – or can be built – based on employee development, mentorship, and career progression. Training in virtual reality has especially proven to be a highly efficient solution for providing life-like experiences to workers, allowing them to better understand why D&I training is so important.

Immersive perspective-taking experiences are being created to reduce bias, as in this example from the Walk A Mile in Digital Shoes study / Semantic Scholar.

3. Use D&I technologies to develop employee engagement

Employee engagement is essential in today’s business world. The modern workforce isn’t just there to perform routine tasks – they want to feel connected and know that management is invested in their wellbeing and success.

Establish D&I goals with a clear employee engagement process to ensure you keep them satisfied, and proud to be representing your company.

Apply diversity metrics alongside engagement opportunities to access engagement in company mentorship programmes, social clubs, employee-task forces.

Virtual inclusion programmes are providing eLearning webinars and applications. Learning opportunities and coaching could be on-demand to allow staff to apply actionable improvements in real-time.

4. Closing the wage gap: How technology can assist

The wage gap in New Zealand has been linked to gender, race and age.  It has been found to be have a profound effect on employee morale. This issue is becoming more important with the Government signalling greater concern over pay disparities in the public sector – and in the private sector too.

Intelligent automation technology can detect these biases and ensure potential oversights are accounted for. A cognitive bot – for example – can sift through data from multiple sources, providing accurate insight into compensation and patterns across your organisation, revealing gaps and maximising fairness on an ongoing basis, while minimising error.

5. Use ethical innovation to drive D&I progress

As with all strategic endeavours, plans will need to be in place to ensure that the employment and wellbeing of your people is always the priority. Even though helpful technology is emerging, there is the fear that bots might amplify already present human stereotypes and biases. Align your organisation with ethical technology providers and incorporate critical checks regularly to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Traditional organisational learning courses are an important part of business diversity and inclusion efforts, such as company ethics training and implicit bias training. These initiatives are strengthened by technology-enabled solutions for D&I education, offering more hands-on opportunities to have a greater impact.

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

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