Workplace technology and equity have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, technology has opened up opportunities to people who were previously shut off to it. On the other, many of the companies who make the technology we use on a daily basis have serious diversity problems themselves.
While there’s no getting around the fact that those complications exist, there are plenty of people trying to use tech to make the workplace more equitable. While some of the solutions come with their own sets of complications, many are incredibly innovative.
Here are few of them.
AI could reduce bias in hiring and promotions
When left to their own devices, most people aren’t very good at equitable hiring. If we don’t think consciously about our hiring choices we tend to hire people who look and sound like we do.
In order to try and get around this kind of human error, some have proposed taking humans out of the equation entirely. Instead, they say, we should turn to Artificial Intelligence to decide who we should hire for a specific position.
Some of these tools (https://www.fastcompany.com/3064050/this-ai-recruiting-tool-could-boost-diversity-and-improve-human-interactions) analyse people’s facial expressions, others look at their social media profiles and written tests. Still others use hundreds of markers to help employees identify candidates from more diverse backgrounds.
Similar tools meanwhile have been developed to help eliminate personal bias when it comes to promoting people within organisations.
It’s important, however, to remember that any piece of AI is only as good as the people who code it.
As Aman Alexander, product management director, CEB, an algorithmic assessment platform for recruiting and hiring told CIO.com:
“AI/machine learning can help close the diversity gap, as long as it is not susceptible to human bias. For example, recruiting contact center employees could provide AI/machine learning models with the historical application forms of hired contact center employees with high customer satisfaction scores. This allows the model to pick up on the subtle application attributes/traits and not be impacted by on-the-job, human biases.”
Age and disability could become non-factors
While there’s no doubt that some incredible advancements have been made over the past few decades, many disabled people still find it difficult to participate equally in the workplace. Often that’s not the company’s fault (there are some things you just can’t build and design for), but it is something that needs to be put right.
If the array of technologies being built for (and importantly by) the disabled is anything to go by, it will be, and sooner than we think.
Exoskeletons, such as the one seen at the beginning of the below video, could allow paralysed people to walk again, for instance.
Are machines becoming an extension of ourselves? pic.twitter.com/02zPsxfdSw
— WIRED (@WIRED) May 17, 2017
Wearables and other smart technologies meanwhile could make not just the workplaces, but a world built for the able, easier to navigate.
And when it comes to the elderly, well, technology means that there’s no real reason for someone in the corporate space to retire at 65. As long as they still have all their mental faculties and can operate a computer, they could continue working indefinitely.
Interestingly, the same may soon be true of more traditionally labour-intensive jobs. With robots increasingly likely to do much of the heavy lifting in such jobs, all that will be required of humans is the ability to operate them.
And in the jobs where physical strength is required, exoskeletons may again come to the rescue, giving octogenarians the power and mobility of someone much younger.
Breaking the language barrier
Language can be a major barrier to achieving equity in the workplace. You can have all the skills you want, but if you don’t speak the same language as everyone else, you’ll battle to even get in the front door.
Fortunately, recent advancements in technology mean that we’re closer than ever to instant, accurate translations.
Some companies meanwhile have installed dedicated translation software to make things easier for people who speak different languages.
Enabling, not creating
While all of these technologies are great, it’s important to remember that technology can’t create equity in the workplace, it can only enable it.
For companies to achieve real workplace equity, they have to make concerted efforts to use all the resources, technological and human available to them. It sounds difficult, but as a number of companies have shown, it doesn’t have to be.