Published on in Responsible Business

A dramatic shift is taking place in the way businesses think about  diversity and inclusion. Once these were seen as obligations, simply part of businesses’ responsibility to society. Now, however, businesses are starting to recognise their value as a source of competitive advantage.

This comes down to two factors:

First, in an increasingly globalised and hyper-connected society, having a variety of perspectives can help your business navigate change.

Second, creating an inclusive and diverse environment allows employees to bring their best selves to work – which leads to better performance as people have more room to be creative and make bold decisions.

However, pursuing diversity and inclusion is a complex task that involves tackling some of the most deep-seated foibles of human nature. What are these, and how can technology help?

The power of the unconscious

Regardless of how sophisticated your employees are, everyone is vulnerable to unconscious bias. This is when a person’s background, personal experiences, social stereotypes and cultural context impacts their decisions and actions without them realising it.

For example, a recruiter who went to private school may be naturally drawn to the CVs of those candidates who have also been privately educated without the recruiter ever being aware of it.

The problem with unconscious bias is inherent in the name – you don’t realise when it’s happening, and it often influences us in subtle ways. It is therefore difficult to spot and to correct.

Being an inclusive and diverse organisation is about having a business based on talent and the right skills irrespective of a person’s gender, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or social background.

But unconscious bias in the recruitment process means you can’t get the right people through the door – so you fall at the first hurdle.

Enter the robots

Fortunately, there is a tool that can help you limit unconscious bias at the recruitment stage: Artificial Intelligence (AI).

At its core, AI offers the potential to create a ‘blind’ system that only assesses candidates on things that matter for the role. By screening out and/or controlling for factors like gender or social background, they create a more objective process.

There is undoubtedly appetite for this approach – a quarter (28 percent) of the British public believe the introduction of robotics will result in a fairer system.

Moreover, the adoption of AI could yield a more subtle approach to recruitment.

Not only can the  technology work through candidate application paperwork faster than a human, it can also incorporate a wider range of additional data sources into the assessment. For example, it could use the internal performance standards of existing staff to identify candidates with similar qualities.

This could help businesses identify unusual talent that they might have previously neglected due to unconscious bias.

The dangers

AI is already having an impact: recent research published by Korn Ferry Futurestep found that it has changed the way recruiting is done in the majority of organisations. Over half (51 percent) reported that using AI has helped them fill roles in a more timely manner.

However, you need to be careful when using AI to drive change.

These kind of technologies need to be trained, often with pre-existing data, in order for them to develop insights on candidates. This real world data can contain patterns that reflect existing biases, introducing the danger that AI will reinforce or even accentuate unconscious stereotypes.

To avoid this, businesses need to carefully consider their AI deployments and the data they use to support them. Moreover, you should develop  mechanisms and processes to ensure that bias does not accidentally filter itself into the technology.

A partnership that matters

It’s vital for organisations to foster a collaborative environment that is open to different ideas, perspectives and styles of thinking – not only for their own good, but for the future competitiveness of the British economy in a globalised world.

While the technology needs finessing, AI is a useful tool for bringing about a fairer recruitment process. Businesses should look to bring technology and HR together to drive this development forward, and create a more diverse – and therefore competitive – workforce.

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Steven Cox

Vice President, Fujitsu Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador at Fujitsu

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