Using Artificial Intelligence to Drive DE&I Initiatives

Artificial intelligence is already starting to transform businesses everywhere, but can it help organizations with their diversity and inclusion efforts? A new report from Signium explains how the relationship between AI and DE&I is crucial for today’s leaders in helping make fair and unbiased decisions.

March 28, 2024 – Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing our world in ways that were previously unimaginable. From self-driving cars to personalized healthcare, it is changing every aspect of our lives including business, where its integration into operations is arguably the biggest shift since the internet was developed. Understanding the relationship between AI and diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) is crucial for today’s leaders as it helps make fair and unbiased decisions thereby promoting equal opportunities and mitigating potential biases in AI systems, according to recent report from Signium.

“Business leaders should be aware that from a larger societal perspective, AI could contribute to an increase in equality,” said Joanna Srokowska, global life sciences practice co-lead, Signium Poland. “There is the potential for a growing social divide between individuals who are proficient in using technology and can also afford paid versions of AI models and those who cannot. This may also be reflected at the organizational level, where resource-rich organizations can develop customized, well-trained solutions and less equipped organizations may lack the resources to adapt.”

Incorporating AI in business operations can have a profound impact on the workforce, according to the Signium report. “It can lead to automation of certain tasks, for instance: customer service, providing 24/7 support through chatbots and virtual assistants,” it said. “It improves sales and marketing by analyzing customer data and automating tasks. In operations and supply chain management, it can optimize processes and reduces costs whilst in finance it can automate transactions and risk assessment; in manufacturing, it can enhance productivity and quality control. Leaders who can anticipate and effectively handle the influence of AI on their business and employees are able to facilitate a seamless transition. This could present opportunities for reskilling or upskilling.”

Training and Tracking

Signium explains that automation can personalize training and learning programs that address specific skill gaps and development needs for all employees, ensuring equal opportunities and growth. “In addition, it provides a shift in perspective when dealing with challenges,” the report said. “Unlike humans, this technology does not have distorted notions, personal biases or emotional attachments that could cloud judgment. This allows programming to consider a wide range of possibilities and explore unconventional approaches to problem-solving.”

“We have observed that AI lacks typical ‘personality’ traits,” Ms. Srokowska said. “Without its own agenda, preconceived notions, and biases, it also lacks the positive aspects of ‘personality,’ such as emotions, personal values, or a desire for change. Therefore, we should view AI as an advanced tool in generating potential solutions, rather than relying solely on it to make decisions.”

Related: A Look at How DEI Can be Navigated Regionally

Furthermore, the report says that assistive technologies include tools for speech recognition, screen reading, and other technologies for improving accessibility for people who need them most. Computers can assist in tracking and reporting diversity metrics within an organization with data to help identify areas that require attention, measure progress, and hold organizations accountable for their DE&I initiatives.

Joanna Srokowska has over 10 years of professional experience in the executive search business. She has worked as a consultant with Signium since 2010. Between 2006 and 2010 she worked as research consultant and researcher. Ms. Srokowska has completed hundreds of searches for strategic middle and senior level positions in a broad spectrum of companies within the industrial, finance, energy and medical/healthcare sectors. At Signium, she also manages assessment center and development center processes.

“Technology makes it easier to identify previously missed favoritism and therefore promotes a more diverse and inclusive staff complement,” the Signium report said. “This in turn stimulates creativity and innovation. When leaders grasp the connection between AI and DE&I they can actively encourage the inclusion of diverse viewpoints.”

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just buzzwords; they are fundamental values that drive innovation and success in today’s business landscape,” said Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. “Embracing diversity of thought, backgrounds and perspectives is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a strategic imperative for companies looking to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

However, the Signium report notes that AI systems are not immune to biases and can inadvertently replay preconceived beliefs. “These algorithms are designed to learn from data, and if the data used to train is unbalanced, it can maintain and amplify those biases,” the study said. “This can result in discrimination affecting marginalized groups disproportionately and potentially skewed results that reinforce inequalities. Algorithms can learn to identify and mitigate biases in recruitment, performance evaluations, and decision-making processes which reduces unconscious biases and creates a fairer environment.”

Related: How to Use AI to Stand Out to Executive Search Consultants

Signium notes that the C-suite should be aware of diversity and any inherent prejudice in the development team, while regular audits and testing of systems can identify and rectify any discriminatory outcomes. “The use of AI tools to strengthen diversity would depend on the company culture and how committed it is to equal representation across, age, race, disability, ethnicity, and gender,” the report said. “This may attract a higher number of prospects and increase the quality of candidates. When companies are committed to inclusion, AI provides tools that affect change with measurable results.”

In Ms. Srokowska’s opinion: “Whilst robots may replace many jobs, AI will undoubtedly create the need for others. Individuals responsible for working with AI, understanding its algorithms, and providing training will likely play more critical roles in the future. It is essential for C-level executives to be able to articulate and understand how organizational values align with the application of machine learning and the use of AI.”

Unilever Addresses ‘Unconscious’ Screening

Signium points to Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company. They implemented an AI-driven tool to reduce biases in their hiring process. The company recognized that unconscious biases could influence decision-making during candidate screening. To address this, they developed an AI system that screens job applications based on predetermined criteria, removing any demographic information that could trigger bias.

“By anonymizing candidate data, the AI tool focuses solely on qualifications and skills, allowing for a more inclusive assessment of applicants,” the Signium report said. “This approach helps to minimize the impact of unconscious biases and creates a more diverse talent pool. Unilever’s implementation of this AI-driven hiring tool demonstrates how technology can be leveraged to promote DE&I in the HR domain.”

Signium’s 5 Tips to Enhance DE&I and Reduce Bias:

1. Foster Inclusion: Encourage collaboration among diverse teams, promote open dialogue, and ensure everyone feels valued and heard.

2. Diverse Data Collection: To ensure fair outcomes, it is crucial to collect diverse and representative data for AI systems. This includes considering different demographics, perspectives, and experiences. By incorporating diverse data, AI models can provide more accurate and inclusive results.

3. Regular Bias Assessments: Review the algorithms, data sources, and training processes to recognize and prevent errors that may emerge. Implement mechanisms to address biases and ensure imperialness in decision-making.

4. Engage Stakeholders: Seek input from different communities, experts and affected individuals to understand diverse perspectives and avoid unintended consequences. This approach helps create solutions that address various needs and concerns.

5. Ethical Frameworks: Develop clear, ethical guidelines for the use of AI systems in relation to DE&I. Establish principles that prioritize integrity, accountability, transparency and privacy. These frameworks can guide the development, deployment, and governance of AI technologies to ensure they align with DE&I goals.

“AI in DE&I is not a one-size-fits-all,” the Signium report said. “It’s merely a tool that minimizes possible prejudice and blind-sided favoritism. While technology has huge potential it should fit with the goals and aspirations of each organization and when it comes to recruitment nothing beats a human connection.”

Related: Why Finding Diverse Talent Remains a Challenge

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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