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Using technology to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace

August 11, 2021

Ina Bajwa   

Global Head - Learning & Development, Tata Communications

Efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace can often be hampered by unconscious biases, at different stages of an employee’s lifecycle. Here we explore the technologies looking to tackle this proactively.

The progress and enthusiasm the corporate world has shown towards overcoming the long-established concerns of poor diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been palpable, especially in recent years. Many businesses today are now dedicating more time and resources than ever before to make sure their workplaces are more equitable going forward.

Conscious efforts to hire more individuals from minority groups, promote more women into senior roles and create a more inclusive leadership, have been made by us and other organisations. And while progress has been slow, it’s still encouraging that it’s happening.

However, even with overwhelming internal support and desire to do better, organisations can still struggle to make significant progress in their inclusivity goals. For instance, the unconscious biases that a leader doesn’t know they have towards various groups of people can end up sabotaging the very initiatives that same leader was championing.

“Research from McKinsey suggests 47% of workers are more likely to stay with an organisation, and seven times more likely to describe their organisation as high performing, if it was inclusive.”

So, it is in every business’ interest to figure out how to get a handle on these hurdles to workplace diversity and inclusion.

So how do business leaders overcome this bias barrier? In this piece I’m going to explore how technology is helping leaders circumvent our human flaws to help move their organisations closer towards being completely merit-based environments.

Tackling unconscious bias at the root

Whether it’s how a company hires new staff, or retains existing workers within the organisation, unconscious bias has a direct impact on a business’ bottom line.

The impact of global movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter has meant senior leadership are perking up and taking notice – and action – to address the levels of diversity and inclusion in their own companies.

It has led to a new wave of tech start-ups who are looking to support businesses in achieving their new goals, many with the aim of removing bias.

One example is in the hiring process, and how a firm sources talent. Unchecked biases have the potential to further entrench existing views or beliefs – whether people are aware of it or not – in ways that can be very hard to untangle from the corporate culture and prevalent mindsets.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics have also bolstered efforts in understanding an organisation’s culture, giving them the data that enables them to clearly see where groups may be underrepresented or under-paid.

“By removing biases, it can help set your organisation on the right path for your diversity and inclusion journey. And the benefits are clear.”

Diversity enriches an organisation. It can offer a greater spectrum of backgrounds and experiences, giving a business greater potential for creativity, stronger ideas, and fostering innovation. There is clear evidence that shows a diverse and inclusive workforce is happier, as well as more productive.

Tools to help manage the unconscious bias in the workplace

Following the rapid acceleration of digital transformation over the last year, it has meant the use of digital tools throughout an organisation has become much more commonplace and accepted.

Tata Communications created its own CV masking tool to help make our hiring process more equitable. But these days, there are also a plethora of new innovations available to businesses to specifically help them better their diversity and inclusion.

We’ve picked out five tools which are helping reshape organisations of all sizes today:

Removing biases from the hiring process – Hidden:  Using an app-based experience, it eliminates the potential influence of unconscious bias by anonymising candidates. It also encourages a focus on pooling talent from a myriad of different sources, bringing a much wider range of experiences into the hiring shortlist.

Advanced analysis to prevent gendered language in job ads – Textio: Another tool in the hiring process, Textio uses advanced language analytics to review job adverts along with a company’s brand content. The tool can then help a business communicate in the way it wants to be seen by replacing some of the word choices with more inclusive language. On job adverts, for instance, it can help prevent issues surrounding gendered language, which can be off-putting to some candidates.

Understanding pay gaps with analytics – Gapsquare: In certain countries, many companies now have to report their gender pay gap by law. Following this, many businesses are taking this a step further to examine other inequalities too such as their ethnic pay gap. Gapsquare is an analytics software that allows leaders to monitor their equalities data while also giving recommendations on how to close those gaps.

Improve employee retention and seek anonymised feedback– Pluto: Using an unusual employee survey format, this tool encourages workers to provide deeper and more meaningful responses to how they might be feeling. As well as helping foster greater inclusion, Pluto can also allow anonymous communication channels for staff to raise any concerns. By giving staff a mechanism to speak up without fear of harming their career prospects, it can help create a more inclusive and safer environment.

Supercharge employee development through mentoring – Mentorloop: To ensure there are opportunities for ongoing learning and development, mentoring both within your own companies’ networks and externally is crucial. Mentorloop acts as a matchmaking service for prospective mentees and can play an essential role in showing commitment and value to employees. Whichever tool you decide to explore, it is important to understand that ensuring a good level of diversity in a company and building an inclusive culture is not a destination – it’s a journey!. And how one organisation approaches it will be different from another.

“Technology exists in this space to help remove barriers to access, whether it’s breaking down unconscious biases or simply helping leaders understand what’s going on within their own business.”

And while technology is playing a big, influential part of this challenge today, it can’t be relied upon alone. It also takes a deeply committed leadership to creating and sharing the best opportunities for all people, regardless of their differences.

To learn more about how your business can be equipped for the future of work, check out another of our blogs, Adapting and growing into the new world.