Have you ever stopped to think about diversity in the business you work for? Consider gender diversity, ethnic diversity, and racial diversity. Are different groups given representation and better still, equality? What is the average profile of an employee, of managers? Can you see all walks of life reflected in your employees, in your leadership?
There are many benefits of diversity, but it’s less likely to be found in a company than you might expect. Diversity and inclusion is certainly a hot topic at the moment, so why is equal representation still proving so difficult to achieve? Adzooma looked into the business case for diversity and tried to uncover why the workplace still isn’t becoming more diverse.
What is diversity in the workplace?
In simple terms, diversity in business means employing a varied and diverse workforce. This covers people of different ages, genders, social, educational, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
In reality, true diversity in the workplace runs much deeper than this. Companies should be diverse and inclusive, creating teams of varied individuals who have equal opportunities. But the truth is, the business world is biased and no matter how much technology you integrate into your business to overcome bias, ultimately major decisions are handled by human beings. Emotional, and frequently irrational, human beings. Wherever humans are involved in the business processes, there’s always scope for bias to creep in and deviate from rational decision making.
So, is it possible to create true diversity in the workplace and reduce unconscious bias whilst we live in a biased world? And is it really technology that’s going to get us where we need to be?
Types of Bias
There are many types of bias, but they can usually be grouped into Emotional and Cognitive:
We make decisions based on our emotions, instead of logic. Emotional bias examples in business include:
- Bandwagon effect: We adopt ideas just because others are, rather than analysing the information carefully.
- Empathy gap: This happens when people in one state of mind fail to understand people in another state of mind. E.g. if you’re offended by something and you don’t understand why others aren’t.
- Hyperbolic discounting: When people make decisions for a smaller reward sooner, rather than a greater reward later.
- Negativity bias: the tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones.
- Overconfidence: when confidence in abilities causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives.
Where our biases result from incomplete information, or our inability to analyse the information available. Cognitive bias examples in business include:
- Confirmation bias: The classic one. We only listen to information that confirms our own ideas discounting new, conflicting, information.
- Conservatism bias: Where pre-existing data is deemed more valuable than new data.
- Anchoring bias: When we jump on the first piece of information we hear which usually affects our decision making.
- Recency bias: Future decisions are based on memorable, recent events, even if they are one-off events, because they are easier to remember.
- Frequency illusion: This occurs when a word, name, or thing you just learned about suddenly appears everywhere.
Any prejudice can have the potential to affect your business operations. Whether it involves future-planning, the day-to-day, or even the hiring process, nothing is immune. Whilst we assume a lot of these biases are subconscious, other far more serious biases – such as racism and sexism – are conscious, illegal, and widespread.
What are the 4 types of diversity?
The four types of diversity are internal, external, organisational, and world view. Exploring these will help us to understand what true diversity in business looks like.
- Internal diversity types are born with an individual and are very difficult to change. For example, ethnicity, age, race, and gender.
- External diversity types refer to characteristics that a person is not born with, that can be influenced, changed, or developed by an individual. These may include appearance, education, and interests amongst other things.
- Organisational diversity refers to factors belonging to any particular workplace. A few examples are work location, job function, and union affiliation.
- World view covers the way life experiences affect an individual’s view of the world. Diverse world views may be political, historical, or based on cultural events.
Now we know what it means to have a truly diverse workforce, do we even know when we’re being biased?
These stats illustrate the current state of diversity management and inclusion:
- Over 1/3 LGBT+ staff have hidden or disguised their sexuality at work because they were afraid of discrimination.
- There are only five black CEOs on the Fortune 500 2020 list —just 1%!
- According to the CIPD, 51% of HR professionals in the UK were found to be biased against overweight women – and were unaware that this was the case.
- Only 7% of the world’s languages are reflected in published online material, with English dominating at 50%.
This certainly highlights the business case for diversity and inclusion. Gender diversity, racial, and ethnic diversity are far from where they should be. But why is diversity important in business?
What is the importance of diversity in the workplace?
There are many benefits of diversity in business. When a company is truly diverse and inclusive, both employees and the business as a whole can benefit. Companies that employ more varied people automatically get the benefit of different perspectives. This increases creativity and productivity. Employee satisfaction increases and people perform better when employees feel included as individuals.
The case for diversity doesn’t end there. Recent research conducted by HRWins found that nearly 60% of U.S. and U.K. employers surveyed believe there is a direct financial impact on the business when an organisation is competitive in inclusion and diversity. So true diversity is likely to have financial returns too.
Humans are flawed but can technology be biased?
Youd think that removing a human from the process would weed out any bias, but thats simply not the case. When you consider that all technology was initially built and trained by humans then it’s only logical to assume that information was selectively applied, and therefore biased too. Subconcious or otherwise it’s called Algorithmic bias – and it’s everywhere.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted research across 189 algorithms developed by companies including Intel, Microsoft and Toshiba.
The purpose of the research was to see how accurate facial recognition software was on average, and if there were common failings. The results were concerning, to say the least. NIST’s research found that across the board all of the facial recognition software they tested was far less accurate when identifying African-American faces and Asian faces compared to Caucasian faces.
Congressman Bennie Thompson, chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security said “the administration must reassess its plans for facial recognition technology in light of these shocking results?”
Why is this important?
Facial recognition is increasingly common in our everyday lives. Many of us use facial recognition to log into our phones and computers, and airports have even begun to install facial recognition software so that you can guide yourself through customs.
As with any new technology, some flaws can be expected. For some time, facial recognition software has struggled with sunglasses and reading glasses. This is because the reflection from your glasses prevents the software from being able to get as many data points as it needs to build an accurate portrayal of your face. This might be an inconvenience but there are other ways to access your phone and researchers have continued to work on the problem.
NIST’s research is more troubling because it highlights a systematic problem with facial recognition and race in software that is used in law enforcement.
While some US states have banned facial recognition because it isn’t reliable enough, it is still being used in other states. Amazon, who sell the facial recognition software Rekognition to US police forces, declined to take part in NIST’s study. Previous research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had already reported that Amazon’s Rekognition struggled to identify women with darker skin, although Amazon denied the claim and called it misleading.
But why does technology still struggle with bias?
According to The Algorithmic Justice League, much of the problem lies in a lack of inclusivity at tech companies themselves. They report that “in the U.S, the teams designing all systems are not inclusive. Less than 20% of people in technology are women and less than 2% are people of colour.”
While there is no doubt that developers want to create cutting-edge technology that can best serve everyone, a lack of inclusivity within teams means there are only very specific viewpoints and life experiences being catered to.
How does this technology bias impact the workplace?
As many technologies become increasingly commonplace, they become necessary tools in the office. That means until the technology improves, it will hold back certain people unfairly. As shown in adzoomas infographic, Zoom is known for erasing black faces when it can’t find a pale face in the room. Try having an online business meeting when you can’t even get your face to show up on a video call!
Twitter’s algorithm has also been found to default to white faces over non-white faces when cropping images. This makes it more difficult to be seen online if you don’t have the right skin colour. The ability to be found online is increasingly important in many industries and this is just one way social media makes it harder for some people to be recognised.
Companies will also find themselves left behind if they cannot develop inclusive, accessible content as they’re limiting their own customer base. Companies that value diversity are proven to make more money.
How to promote diversity in the workplace
The benefits of diversity are clear, so how can we promote diversity in business?
- Bias blindspots: Seeing bias in others is easier to spot than in yourself. Make sure someone is assessing your bias regularly – and take regular tests. The Harvard Implicit Association Test is worth a try.
- Name-blind recruitment: This is already in place in the UK Civil Service, HSBC and the BBC.
- Better training of algorithms: In order to create less biased tech, we need to create algorithms that are trained with a full spectrum inclusion. That is, a more diverse data set.
- Get out of your comfort zone: Develop a working relationship with a counterpart who comes from a different background – it can only be a good thing for you and your business.
- Be more visible to your staff: Make your HR data more visible and easy to analyse. Not just for HR leaders or top executives but also for line managers who are increasingly being held accountable for performance.
- Keep improving yourself: There are a multitude of apps that can offer guidance on language and tone of voice, even providing “inclusion analytics” in real-time.
- Slow it down, smarten up: Use smart, or “slow thinking” to make decisions instead of making judgements on little to no data.
How technology HAS made us more accessible
While we’ve focused on some of the negatives of technology here, it’s important to note the many ways that technology has already made the workplace more accessible. Much software has been designed to make computers accessible for those with visual impairments, making offices more navigable, user-friendly spaces.
It’s about continuing this momentum and learning about the biases we may not be aware of that impact how accessible our workplace is to others.
It feels like catch-22 but solving bias in business and technology has to start with being better humans – knowing, owning, and correcting our collective biases. Relying on technology alone will not solve the issue of bias in the workplace.
Diversity is no longer an issue of compliance, it’s imperative to a modern, successful business. Open your channels of communication from the very top so your team learns how to give and receive feedback. Remember that real diversity and inclusion is about fostering an environment where all employees feel heard and appreciated.
Article contributed by Adzooma, an online advertising technology platform that helps businesses and agencies save time, effort and money while growing their business.
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