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Workplace bias is in the hot seat – how to use tech to eliminate it

October 21, 2020

Pathmal Gunawardana   

Vice President and Head – Americas, Tata Communications

Bias and discrimination in workplaces is still a problem across the world. In this blog post, Tata Communications’ Pathmal Gunawardana, Vice President – Americas, explores how tech such as AI can lead to a productive and inclusive work future.

Workplace bias is a real thing for us. The future of work is officially here – brought on by the immediacy of a pandemic, nurtured over the past seven months of remote work. But changes in the workplace have been in the works for a while now, thanks to a new wave of employees reshaping work culture.

Millennials’ influence on the workplace is very employee-centric, and topics like company culture, reducing bias, and creating an inclusive environment are commonplace in HR departments now.

“Business priorities must shift accordingly to match employees’ heightened expectations, and these changes need to happen in tandem with the shift to remote work. Technology can help make both transitions seamless.”

But as well-meaning as organisations are, many could use a boost from technology like artificial intelligence to help them effect change without letting workplace bias to seep in. Here’s how different kinds of emerging technologies can help reduce workplace bias and build a strong culture in any organisation.

Using AI to your advantage

Building a diverse and inclusive workforce starts with people, and as companies scale, they need to focus more on hiring employees that contribute diverse points of view. An AI hiring system can help achieve this goal by analysing attrition patterns to identify changes that should be implemented to refine the hiring process. In this case, AI can help enhance the hiring department’s collaborative intelligence, in which humans and AI complement each other’s strengths.

“Combining people’s aptitude in leadership and creativity with machines’ speed and analytical prowess could help a company move the needle on its D&I goals, without burdening teams with endless administrative tasks.”

Cognitive diversity is as essential as ethnic or gender diversity in the workplace, which business leaders are starting to realise. AI can be used to challenge leadership’s decisions by asking thoughtful questions meant to inspire decision-makers to revisit the assumptions on which their decisions are based. Alternative points of view are vital to ensuring business decisions are sound, and until every boardroom reflects the world around it, a little nudge from an AI tool that urges a business leader to consider a different perspective is welcomed.

Another way AI can help reduce bias is by identifying cultural sensitivities in the tone of voice and diction. AI can easily navigate communication in multiple languages to facilitate seamless interactions between teams around the world, even pointing out gender-based or potentially offensive language that could get “lost in translation.”

Internet of everything… including hiring

Internet of Things (IoT) devices can help employees and employers stay connected, even while working remotely. IoT can be used to track information in real-time and provide actionable insights about how employees can streamline and improve their work.

For frontline employees still going into the office, IoT solutions can help keep them safe.

“IoT-enabled SOS or panic buttons can be used to help employees during critical situations, or even identify work-related hazards before they’re a direct threat to employees.”

As workers are blending their work and personal time more than ever, there’s a great opportunity for IoT devices in smart desks to improve employee well-being, starting with posture. Sensors and software solutions can automate simple tasks at work, and that information can be used to drive operational efficiency.

Stay curious

In an increasingly competitive business climate, COVID is quickly separating the innovative from the antiquated. Before implementing AI or IoT as a quick fix for business issues, make sure your organisation has instilled a culture where employees are asking questions and sharing ideas with leadership to ensure you’re constantly innovating. Business leaders need to spearhead this change from the top to encourage diverse opinions that will ultimately keep a business nimble and competitive.

Leaders can do this by providing employees access to continued education in their field, and giving them resources to practice new skills. Especially as AI is transforming certain job roles, employees will value the opportunity to change and adapt along with this transformation. Not only will this help close the skills gap that is growing rapidly, but it will foster employee loyalty and inspire new ideas. 

Ultimately, new technology is nothing without the culture and dedication from leadership to back it up – especially when it comes to a topic as important as reducing bias in the workplace. Tools like AI and IoT are important pieces of the puzzle that can accelerate a business’ goals, but they can’t do all the heavy lifting. Top-down buy-in is the make or break for businesses aiming to stay ahead of the curve, especially during these tumultuous times.

Discover more about how a diverse workforce is the key to creativity and innovation.