Ask Addi P: Can Technology Improve Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives?
Dear Addi P.,
I'm an HR officer trying to find a balance between new technology solutions and employee-driven outcomes in hiring, recruitment and retention. I'm hearing concerns about computers replacing human workers, but I also recognize the potential for AI and automation to help eliminate bias and boost process efficiency.
So here's my question: Can technology improve diversity and inclusion initiatives without replacing human decision makers?
— Not a Bot
Dear Not a Bot,
You're not alone. According to a recent Brookings study, one-quarter of all jobs are at "high risk," which means 70% of their current task load could be handled by automated solutions. And increasing stress over replacement by robots may be negatively affecting employees' physical and mental health.
But automation and AI can also offer benefits when it comes to avoiding unconscious biases around hiring, benefits, promotions and terminations. In addition, advanced tools can help reduce data entry errors and streamline HR practices that have historically been bogged down by complex paper processes.
So where's the middle ground? Let's dig in and explore how you can embrace HR transformation without losing what drives departmental success: people.
Creating Cultural Change
It's often said that data is the "new oil" for enterprises — the essential resource that fuels strategy, spending and staffing considerations. But oil in the ground only offers potential; human talent is required to leverage big data at speed. As Gartner notes, successful digital transformation initiatives must also include significant cultural changes. The research firm predicts that by 2021, "CIOs will be as responsible for culture change as chief HR officers."
This speaks to the first part of your question: There is a necessary balance between IT and HR. Both bring something to the boardroom, and both are essential agents of change in a digital-first world. But how can you support a healthy balance between the two?
Designing for Diversity
Diverse and inclusive workplaces are now the employee expectation: According to HR Dive, 67% of applicants "want to join a diverse team." Many organizations are moving in this direction: as Forbes notes, Diet Coke recently removed labels from their cans as part of an inclusion campaign. Industries such as fashion — which are historically known for their exclusionary approach to marketing — have begun hiring staff tasked with diversifying brands and workforces, as CNN reports.
But one problematic factor, which you've called out in your question, often stands in the way of diversity and inclusion: bias.
Bridging the Bias Gap
As the HR Dive piece notes, two types of bias — affinity and perceptual — create situations where humans feel comfortable around people they perceive as "similar" to themselves and make assumptions about those who are different.
In HR, this "unconscious bias" can show up in everything from job descriptions to résumé reviews. Specific keywords could be used to target a particular group of prospective employees unintentionally, and even quick evaluations of candidates' names can prompt an unconscious response about capabilities or qualifications.
While ideas such as reworking job descriptions and setting diversity goals can help counter bias, it is often an unconscious factor, which means it may naturally resist identification and elimination.
Here, automated tools can help to bridge the bias gap by assessing applications, approving vacation requests and handling benefit inquiries without obstructive human intervention. Also, automation can help to reduce data entry errors and speed recruitment processes by collecting and connecting disparate data streams instead of relying on manual operations.
A Meeting of the Minds
Given the potential benefits of AI and automated tools, it's no wonder why staff are worried about their jobs. As Quartz observes, even jobs that depend on human-to-human interaction will be affected by these new initiatives.
But here's the good news: Collaboration, not elimination, is the order of the day. Instead of replacing human workers, AI-driven tools can help drive better, bias-free predictions, monitor for data abnormalities and improve processes around diversity and inclusion.
The bottom line? Deploying new tools isn't about replacing human decision-makers. It's about enhancing organizational impact to drive meaningful cultural change.
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