How can technology help diversity

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

Paralleling a global rise in internet penetration and the development of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, technology specifically targeting Diversity and Inclusion (D&I technology) has become more prominent in recent years.

This technology aims to assist organisations in improving their diversity and inclusivity, from the recruitment process through to organisational outputs. Whether or not such technology can truly help diversity will depend on the algorithms underpinning the technology not containing their own unconscious bias and the ability of the technology to provide human-like empathetic responses when required.

At a fundamental level, technology is bringing people together. By 2022, global internet users are anticipated to grow from 3.4 billion in 2018 to 4.8 billion by 2022, bringing an extra 1.4 billion people online. At the same time, social media increases visibility of marginalised groups; online discourse allows minority groups that otherwise may struggle for visibility in individual markets to organise globally, amplifying their voices.

More recently, social media has been integral to how brands and consumers have engaged with the Black Lives Matter movement. Millions of people posted black squares on Instagram on #BlackoutTuesday, and despite pandemic-related restrictions, protests have taken place in various countries worldwide, many organised online.

Tech and recruitment

Beyond broader inclusion that comes with rising internet penetration, there are a range of diversity and inclusion technologies emerging that claim to be able to assist organisations in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, as well as producing work for a diverse audience. A number of these technologies claim to improve diversity, inclusion and equality at the point of recruitment, such as Talent Snap, a blockchain based system that uses AI to automate the hiring process and HireVue, which uses AI to analyse candidates' facial movements, tone of voice and word choice in order to assess suitability for a role. Other diversity and inclusion technologies provide a secondary or final check in order to identify any lack of diversity or unconscious bias, such as Pipeline, which uses AI to analyse business decisions and assess if pay, hiring, promotions and other human resources are contributing to gender bias and JanetBot, used by the Financial Times to analyse gender diversity on their homepage. While many of these technologies are designed to facilitate outsourcing, those that work in conjunction with human decision-making may also help diversity through simply increasing awareness; even if the technology does not achieve the level of diversity required in isolation, it may assist workers in recognising their own unconscious bias.

There are other D&I technologies that are able to fulfil more emotional functions within organisations. Virtual Reality, for example, can enhance diversity training by allowing participants to experience discrimination directly within the workplace; VECTRE is a VR tool that includes Perspectives Immersive Bias Training, with the belief that "seeing multiple perspectives and standing in someone else’s shoes helps nurture empathy and greater understanding of the lived experiences of your co-workers". Chatbots within the workplace also promise to provide an emotional function by assisting in potentially personal or difficult conversations; Spot, for example, is an AI chatbot for misconduct reporting, which allows complaints to be given anonymously. It is currently the anonymity element of such technologies that is driving their empathetic function, but similar tools may potentially also be able to provide an emotion-based response as the technology becomes more sophisticated in the future.

Tech in the workplace

Beyond recruitment, retention and diversity training, diversity and inclusion AI technologies could also have a significant impact on the inclusion of people living with disabilities within the workplace, such as text-to-speech reading options for those with dyslexia or descriptions of images for those who are visually impaired.

While D&I technologies may be able to provide significant assistance for people living with disabilities in the workplace and potentially assist in establishing more diverse, inclusive and equal workplaces, confidence in D&I technologies as unbiased tools still needs to be established. Such technologies face criticism that the people who create the algorithms behind the technologies may input their own unconscious bias, which could have a domino effect as the tool is incorporated into an organisation.

What will the future look like in 2030 from a diversity and inclusion point of view?

Moving into and beyond 2030, the world is predicted to become more diverse in a number of ways. This sentiment embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction worldwide and prompted numerous brands to rethink their diversity and inclusion practices.

All indicators point to a more diverse future. Increased migration and a rise in mixed-race partnerships are leading to more ethnically diverse populations; ethnic minorities are predicted to make up 20% of the UK’s population by 2050. At the same time, younger consumers especially are increasingly happy to explore the fluidity of gender identity and sexuality.

Alongside these changes in society, the make-up of government and legislative bodies is becoming increasingly diverse. In the UK, the number of LGBTQ+ MPs increased by 40% from 2015 to 2017. The number of ethnic minority MPs also grew from 41 (out of 650) to 52 during the same period.

Despite topline figures suggesting growing diversity and liberalisation around the world, albeit at different paces, many barriers remain. Negative attitudes towards minority groups, women, and different races and sexualities remain prevalent across much of the world and a populist, anti-diversity backlash is taking place in certain markets.

A perceived lack of representation of diversity in media

Another key challenge to diversity and inclusion moving forwards is a perceived lack of representation of diversity in media and advertising. In 2019, 31% of GB consumers and 43% of Gen Z agreed that "The media industry in this country is not doing a good job at representing diversity in TV programmes, films etc". In 2020, 33% of teens (12-19 year olds) agree that "Advertising does not do a good job at representing diversity in this country".

In order to assist with this shift towards diversity, there are new D&I technologies emerging that claim to help establish diversity, inclusion and equality within workplaces, while also checking the diversity of organisational outputs. Developments in D&I technology will potentially be able to assist in establishing a greater degree of diversity, inclusion and equality within the workplace and beyond. For example, algorithms that bypass human preconceptions and challenge bias will be developed.

While D&I technology provides an opportunity for a non-biased approach to recruitment and retainment within organisations, a deeper understanding of how human bias can infiltrate algorithms will need to be achieved in order for diversity and inclusion to be successfully outsourced. At the same time, empathetic technology is likely to become more sophisticated moving into 2030, potentially able to provide real-time, emotion-based responses to diversity and inclusion issues within organisations. While this is unlikely to usurp the role of human emotion, it provides an important option for anonymity.

This piece first appeared in A Future of Fairness - continue reading

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Last updated 29 July 2021