How to use tech to eliminate workplace biases

Technology such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will not take away your jobs just yet, but can help companies create an empowered, upskilled workforce

Updated: Nov 26, 2019 01:40:13 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

The world of work is changing faster than we realise. We are living and operating in an era marked by new technologies, that are transforming and disrupting markets and businesses.

Along with this changing technology tide, there is a new wave of millennials who are shaping and redesigning the workplace culture of today. This new work culture has brought employees to the centre stage and has encouraged innovative ideas, collapsing the hierarchical barrier. Business priorities are changing to focus more on continuous personal and professional development, transparency, diversity and inclusion. There is a complete revolution taking place, not just in terms of technological revolution, but also in terms of talent and skill composition, and businesses need to quickly adapt to that.

For any business today to transform, employees need to be equipped with a winning formula to embrace advanced technologies. Some of the key elements that constitute this winning formula for corporates are further elaborated below:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Biased recruitment has been a concern in some organisations. An AI hiring system can help ensure diverse and unbiased recruitment. It can also analyse attrition patterns to create better HR initiatives for the overall workforce. Contrary to common misconceptions around AI taking away jobs, AI has immense potential to enhance collaborative intelligence and promote diverse thinking, while minimising the time spent on tedious administrative tasks.

According to a recent study, nine in ten (90 percent) leaders agree that cognitive diversity is important for management. An AI-based devil’s advocate can challenge business leaders’ decisions with insightful questions, displaying alternative viewpoints as well as throwing high-quality curveballs to trigger more creative and critical thinking. Such a system could bring contrarian perspectives to counter feelings of intimidation among junior workers and facilitate group thinking. Given the increasingly global nature of a business, one of the very basic but most essential aspects of making an employee feel included is to have the knowledge of their culture.

AI can help detect cultural sensitivities through tone of voice and previous inputs. It can also suggest alternative ways of approaching a team session, a dialogue with a customer or a tough conversation with a direct report. Leveraging knowledge of multiple languages, AI can translate in real time to facilitate smooth collaboration between employees from different parts of the world. Additionally, corporates today are also leveraging AI to address the concern of gender bias by using an AI-based algorithm to mask the gender, name and other details of a candidate at the screening stage, allowing the recruiter to assess the candidate purely on merit. AI-assisted performance management processes can now also, with the use of intelligent tracking and reporting, flag any bias when it comes to assigning ratings and compensation for individuals.

Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT today can empower organisations to connect directly with employees. While there are solutions for employee health and safety, others help with real-time information to improve worker productivity. Companies are adopting solutions such as IoT-driven SOS or panic button that aids in tracking and helping employees in critical situations. An IoT wearable device can provide analytics to proactively avoid hazards before they’re a threat to a worker.

Another interesting example is of smart desks that will warn an employee if they are practicing poor ergonomics; this will help gather enough data to improve the health and work conditions for employees. IoT sensors and software solutions can also digitise the daily tasks at work, allow for information to be converted into actionable insights in real-time thereby improving productivity and driving operational efficiencies. Overall, there is a quicker emergency response and reduced operational costs and overall employee satisfaction.

Continuous learning mind-set
In order to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive world, organisations also need to build a culture that not only facilitates learning but encourages diverse perspectives too. To bridge the digital divide, business leaders need to spearhead the change, investing in a range of external and internal training modules. In my experience, building an in-house content platform that is in alignment with business objectives, which allows employees to practice new skills, can effectively address the current skill gap and future skills requirements of employees.

An inclusive organisation is one that embraces innovation and braces its diverse employees to leverage it to the fullest. With technology disruption creating new roles, learning needs to be instilled as a habit and not a one-time investment to offer equitable opportunity for all employees. Today, it has also become imperative for corporates to continually find newer ways to attract, manage and retain the growing millennial workforce. Here, incorporating social proof techniques in learning platforms is key to reaching out to the millennial learners. It could be very basic as empowering internal content champions with programs like YouTube Creator Academy to make sure content is current, updated and personalised for all employee segments.

Ensuring employees also have the right skills to deal with this change and ride the technology wave has been the topmost priority for organisations, but many businesses have been slow to do so. While enterprises are already acknowledging the power of technology, those that have not yet begun to address barriers to inclusion through the eyes of the next generation of leaders run the risk of being left behind.

The writer is, Chief Human Resources Officer at Tata Communications.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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  • Jayakumar C

    It is always delightful to read through such thought provoking articles by an amazing visionary leader who commands great respect not only among the HR fraternity but also the other verticals of the industry.

    on Nov 27, 2019