Monday, September 16, 2019

HR technology can disrupt bias and achieve inclusion

Aug 16. 2019
Helen Masters, senior vice president and general manager for Infor Asia Pacific
Helen Masters, senior vice president and general manager for Infor Asia Pacific
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By HELEN MASTERS
SPECIAL TO THE NATION

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“Inclusion & diversity “(I&D) has become even more critical as the competition for talent, customers, and market share continues to increase at a rapid pace.

Businesses are having difficulty filling new positions, as well as those vacated by retiring baby boomers. Some industries, like manufacturing, technology, and healthcare, are experiencing workforce shortages often called crisis-level.

“By 2020 – next year – there will be an estimated one million more computing jobs than applicants who can fill them,” reports Code.Org.

Not only will organisations need to invest in building future-focused skills among today’s and tomorrow’s workforce, they will also need to challenge outdated definitions of what “appropriate” talent is.

In addition to losing out on talent, organisations leave value on the table when “inclusion & diversity” is lacking. Studies show that the benefits of an inclusive workplace and diverse workforce are undeniable for good business. For example, companies with the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians, a McKinsey study found. Inclusive and diverse teams are also more creative problem-solvers. When people from different contexts work together, their unique perspectives often lead to greater creativity. Leaders who appreciate diverse backgrounds are more likely to encourage and welcome colleagues to speak up, further opening doors for ideas to be heard and valued. This, in turn, drives innovation and creates momentum, making it easier to recruit new forward-thinking individuals, studies show.

Most organisations understand that inclusion and diversity is good for business, but despite this knowledge and good intentions, achieving a truly diverse workforce and inclusive culture remains a challenge. The underlying obstacles can be difficult to define, as outdated thinking can manifest itself in many subtle forms, from assuming a four-year degree is always mandatory, to downplaying relevant experience gained in the military. These outdated criteria tend to exclude “counter-prototypical” candidates and are at odds with the talent shortages that many industries face.

Unconscious bias can also be a driving factor and often undermines good intentions. It is normal to favour people we perceive to be “like us” in some way, whether in gender, race, ethnicity, education, or prior work experience – and all too often, we do not even realise we are leaning toward a particular group or letting favouritism cloud our perceptions. A biased filter can impact hiring decisions and influence how we run meetings, mentor colleagues, invite input or offer feedback.

What can we do to accelerate progress? Good intent is not enough. Admitting that we each (including me) have biases is the first step. Research shows that the more someone thinks they are fair, the more biased their decisions are – so self-awareness is key. But we need to go further: we need to take action to disrupt our biases and make more intentionally conscious and inclusive decisions. The good news is that technology can help us “hack” our natural human tendencies and focus on facts, not anecdotal suppositions or yesterday’s practices.

Over the past several months, there has been plenty of press on the negative impact that emerging technologies can have on inclusion, equity and diversity – from serious flaws in facial recognition software to AI yielding biased outcomes. These are valid concerns. But I believe that technology – when developed with an inclusive lens and used in conjunction with human judgement – can facilitate more equitable, optimal outcomes.

Here are some examples of how technology helps:

Accessible metrics. Every organisation should track workplace metrics and share data with stakeholders. Modern solutions feature user-based dashboards and self-service reporting tools, so managers can analyse trends, investigate driving factors and track personalised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Without tracking progress, it is impossible to know how our daily decisions and interactions are impacting our long-term goals.

An objective referee. AI-driven solutions can help decision makers focus on specific requirements, objectively defined. Solutions can anonymise resumes, help improve retention and boost performance levels. It is important, though, to test algorithms to ensure there is no adverse impact. Managers must oversee recommendations from AI-driven solutions and monitor for misapplications.

Tailoring talent strategies. AI can help organisations identify best matches for specific roles, as well as identify which individuals are likely to excel and stay with the company longer. Solutions can help managers identify critical milestones on the path to success and point to potential retention risks. This helps managers objectively identify individuals who may benefit from additional training or mentoring.

Making progress in inclusion and diversity is like training for a marathon. It’s one thing to know that I need to run a certain mileage to prepare, and it’s quite another to put on my running shoes every day and actually run the miles. Similarly, intending to be inclusive is not enough – nor is knowing that we each have biases that can get in the way. We need to put into practice the tactics that can disrupt bias. Technology and research-backed practices are crucial to my marathon training, just like it should be a crucial part of I&D initiatives. Technology can enable I&D and help companies be more precise in their interventions and practices. 

Helen Masters is senior vice president and general manager for Infor Asia Pacific.

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