Of Humans – Biases, Perception and Representation
People have been increasingly talking about Diversity and Inclusion in organizations in the past few years. It is well documented, that organizations that are diverse treat their people better and are able to elicit better ideas from their people. Thus, they serve their customers better and this benefits the financials.
For me, there is a personal lens as well as a corporate lens.
I cringe when I see or hear my fellow colleagues treating individuals in a biased manner. I cringe when I hear of entire demographic classes laughed at, treated disrespectfully, ignored or discriminated against. I cringe when I recall some of my own past actions over the years. So, I have personally tried to modify my language and my behavior, I have encouraged others to do the same and, on occasions, disrupted proceedings to emphasize respect and unbiased views.
Technology to the rescue?
There are quite a few technology solutions. Most fall into the three areas of recruitment, analytics and creating a better people environment.
An organization should recruit diverse people in the first place. Because, job postings and related communications propagate the biases or limitations of the people within, there are tools that analyze the postings and suggest more balanced alternatives. There are tools that mask the key details of candidates from resumes to prevent prejudices affecting the selection process. There are even tools that aim to create a more equitable background check process.
As an organizational unit head, I am interested in the diversity and inclusion indicators of my unit. A range of analytics is available to me. There are simple numbers of constituent demographics. There is pay analysis. An example of that would be similar to what Salesforce did in a recent announcement:
“We’ve completed our fourth companywide equal pay assessment, which found that 5% of our 35,000 employees globally required adjustments. Of those who required adjustments, 39% were women, 54% were men, and 7% were due to race and ethnicity. As a result, the company spent $1.6 million to make those adjustments. ”
There are tools that quantify diversity using Organizational Network Analysis.
I have access to survey-based tools that determine the sensitivity of the organization to diversity issues. The “cultural map” of the organization can thus be determined. There are also tools that quantify the business impact of diversity.
But something that helps the organization to improve is better. Something personal, something voluntary…
Learning tools have a huge role to play here.
Virtual reality tools can create situations and invite role play. They help me understand the viewpoints of various subsets and minorities. They help improve my responses to specific situations.
Nudge learning is very important. Small, frequently repeated doses of training brought to me, rather than me having to sign up, attend and undergo, can vastly improve my behavior.
There are tools that enable participants in a group setting to ask questions anonymously; they help the meeting coordinators to gauge the true pulse of the group and could possibly take immediate corrective action.
A wonderful list can be found at https://www.cio.com/article/3374838/diversity-and-inclusion-technology-tools-on-the-rise.html
What Tech I wish also existed
What is available to me if I am affected by bias?
Some people may feel quite weak and helpless. Would be great if there is an intelligent chatbot front-end with which people can talk in order to describe their feelings and the adverse situation which they experienced. The chatbot could be supported by real live psychologists in case the state of the person is likely to have grim consequences.
When my self-esteem is sufficiently restored, I should be able to report the instance. With de-personalization technology it should be possible to extract anonymous data from the chatbot front-end and feed the statistics to the organizational units, the culture meters as well as to independent sociological researchers.
As I have been in the blockchain space for a while now, it is possible to utilize the blockchain characteristics of trust and pseudonymity to ensure that fake situations are disallowed but genuine alarms are raised. So, a blockchain-based system can be of much help here.
In organizations, the focus has been and is seen to be forthcoming on recruitment of candidates and on internal people. However, people within organizations also interact with the outside world. Is there bias in how different vendor people are treated? Is there bias in how different customer people are treated? There is some awareness about sexual awareness in these scenarios but not about behavioral biases. I am a vendor. I am a customer to my vendors. So, I would like to this area being addressed.
It would be great to use the principles of feedback here. An app could discreetly record my interactions on a daily or periodic basis. Offline, the system could scan the interactions to determine episodes of me showing bias, show me better alternatives to language and behavior, and thus encourage me to improve.
Surely, there’s more that technology could do.
Prashant Khambekar has diverse experience in engineering, management and business development of software products. He dons multiple hats – technical advisor, blockchain evangelist and now a writer too, among many others. At Harbinger, Prashant has been a ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ crusader and has worked on initiatives to help create a level playing field for everyone at Harbinger.