Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have been rising over the past several years, gaining momentum after major events. One watershed event was the murder of George Floyd, which prompted nationwide protests and forced us to confront the racial and cultural perceptions we unconsciously hold and oftentimes perpetuate in the workplace.
But now, just a few years later, the state of the economy and widespread layoffs threaten to roll back much of the meaningful progress that has been made. A recent study shows that DEI teams are among those most affected by corporate cuts, with companies like Amazon, Nike and Twitter shedding their DEI professionals.
But DEI efforts aren’t just a publicity stunt and shouldn’t ebb and flow based on profitability, although it does lead to better business outcomes. Diverse companies report higher levels of employee happiness, are more likely to outperform their less-diverse peers and are 70% more likely to grow. In addition, diverse teams have access to a broad wealth of backgrounds, ideas and solutions that allow them to innovate more quickly and effectively.
Despite the considerable data supporting DEI, many companies don’t have a dependable system for ensuring their company follows its principles. Less than 25% of HR professionals indicated that their organization had “advanced” or “expert” DEI practices and only 9% rated their DEI initiatives as “very effective.”
Today, AI and machine learning are emerging as a solution to the DEI problem. However, especially in the early stages, these technologies run the risk of perpetuating the same biases as their human developers. Still, if combined with careful monitoring and evaluation, AI can be an effective tool for creating stronger teams and companies. DEI professionals are just as important now as they were three years ago, and companies need to invest in AI to complement an effective, data-driven approach to maximizing workforce diversity.
Even before recruitment and hiring, AI can help companies assess their current employee landscapes by comprehensively analyzing data while helping eliminate subconscious biases. Often, companies can “feel” diverse while still falling short of DEI goals. For example, many workers have unseen disabilities, are neurodiverse, or have other unique backgrounds and experiences that add a creative approach to the conversation. Workplaces that are not adding those voices are missing out.
AI and machine learning technology can highlight these often-overlooked culture holes by identifying key areas where the company is lacking diversity. Companies can use this information to pinpoint unintentional barriers in their hiring process, opening up opportunities for new additions that will strengthen and expand their team.
Once these key culture gaps have been identified, AI can help eliminate unconscious human bias and ensure that the best candidates are recruited and hired. Research shows a concerning lack of evidence that traditional strategies such as bias training are effective. AI and machine learning tools can help eliminate biases from the very start.
Humans are naturally inclined to similarity and confirmation biases, including innocuous ones such as similar hobbies or a prestigious alma mater. AI, however, doesn’t love the same sports team as an applicant or unconsciously prefer a Princeton graduate over an equally qualified University of Tennessee alum.
Companies also have used AI to craft job descriptions that remove barriers for qualified applicants. For example, Google’s Career Certificates program, which offers affordable training in key competencies, has hundreds of thousands of graduates. AI can help identify that these candidates are proficient in the required skills even without an advanced degree, giving companies access to an entirely new talent pool.
AI is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t work on its own. Generative AI is only as good as its inputs, so it’s essential to build a diverse team around the technology.
A common concern with AI is that it can actually perpetuate the very biases it was designed to remove. That’s because the technology, while sophisticated, is not actually intelligent. Its unquestioning acceptance of all inputs makes it excellent for objective analysis, but susceptible to skewed data. Ensuring this oversight is in place will mitigate the risk of AI bias through unique perspectives that help to spot bias early.
AI is a tool to help companies achieve their long-term goals, but it doesn’t mean executives can wash their hands of the hiring process. Companies need to stay involved in their AI programming, with regular audits, iterations, and human evaluation. Constant reassessment is key to ensuring that AI promotes DEI values. AI isn’t a cheat code, nor does it replace the need for human insight. But if integrated with the varied skills and experiences of a diverse team, it can be utilized to transform companies’ approach to DEI.
AI and machine learning technologies are changing rapidly, but they will only become more prevalent in our lives in the future. Leaders need to look at this technology not as a quick fix, but the beginning of the next phase of equitable, effective hiring practices. If used with care and intentionality, it can help change the recruitment and hiring process to promote healthier, happier, and more diverse teams that do even better work for their companies and their communities.
This article originally appeared in EBN and was written by Mark Brim, industry leader, services, for Aquent Talent. It is being reposted with permission.