By Michael Stuber, the European D&I Engineer
Although the trend is not new, the profoundness of digital transformation is only about to become clearer. While most areas feel as if they had to follow (or obey) digital standards, D&I should not only be seen as an object, but also as a driver of this change.
As a value chain, Diversity & Inclusion has the potential to contribute to many business priorities. While this has been described in detail for innovation, productivity, marketing, or organizational effectiveness, it appears to be less clear for digital transformation. Since this megatrend is seen as the dominant force impacting each and every area of (business) life, a more thorough look from a D&I perspective is important.
The Scope of digital transformation
Like every industrial revolution before, digitalization creates numerous disruptions, including huge opportunities, as well as losses, in quite a few industries or job families. While automation is already felt in many everyday situations, the dynamics of change present challenges for many involved, mostly due to its pace, complexity, and profoundness. Resilience has become a key need in this respect. At the same time, the dynamics of the new ways of working and an “everybody-can-do-anything” attitude needs to be managed. Finally, the redistribution of work to fewer jobs, some less and some more skilled, presents a challenge for individuals, as well as economies.
What D&I contributes to the success of the digital transformation
With thousands of start-ups and a specific generational culture, the digital era has created a widespread belief that everybody can achieve (and create) anything. This founding age spirit creates huge positive momentum which, at times, ends abruptly. D&I can add significant value by facilitating a self-awareness process for individual strengths (or weaknesses) and foster the recognition of existing solutions that have already been created by others (as opposed to starting from scratch). In many of these processes, generational, cultural, or competence gaps exist that can be addressed easily and effectively through a holistic process of D&I.
Related to the multiple changes that are going on and yet to come, D&I promotes an open mindset that is key to successfully driving digital transformation. Fostering open-mindedness is a critical component of well-designed D&I processes and unfortunately, lacking in many normative (e.g., policy- or metric-driven) frameworks. The other key component of successful D&I strategies focuses on inclusive behaviors and communication, which inevitably could and should encompass more flexibility and adaptability. Finally, as a theme that cuts across all elements of the D&I value chain, D&I contributes a fresh look at capabilities and, more specifically, new leadership competencies that are required in a digitalized world.
Reversed perspective: What is the impact of Digitalization on D&I?
Based on the success of digitalized HR processes, including standardized online applications and automated evaluation tools, D&I experts were filled with hope that the digital revolution would help to overcome existing barriers or biases toward diversity. Closer analysis and more in-depth research have shown, unfortunately, that most tools cannot meet this expectation for reasons that are embedded in the tools:
- Artificial intelligence creates knowledge and insight based on existing data and the patterns included in these data. This means that AI will inevitably reproduce biases that exist in the current reality. A powerful example of this dynamic is the attempt of the London Metropolitan Police to use AI to evaluate public CCTV data
- Software that is programmed to perform people processes, such as CV screening or evaluation, will reproduce biases that might well be embedded in the code—stemming from the designer or programmer who has to set criteria for the software to operate (e.g., if a career break is counted negatively, positively, or neutrally).
However, people analytics tools also show that dealing with bigger data in an effective way can create new insight that is relevant (and helpful) for D&I in that it unveils previously hidden patterns of attrition or subtle inequalities for example.
Some fundamental biases of the Digital Revolution
Previous industrial revolutions created inequalities. While this does not mean that it is happening again as a result of the current digital transformation, past experience should prompt us to check current dynamics with regard to D&I. In fact, some new technologies are widely described as drivers for D&I, as they improve accessibility (e.g., for people with disabilities), employability (e.g., remote work for people with dependent-care responsibilities), and inclusion of people in various global locations in collaborative processes.
However, it has been noted by many authors that digital success stories are usually “his story” and almost never “her story.” This may be fueled by the persisting gender gap in STEM education and professions, as well as by gender biases in the start-up environment, including among venture capitalists. In her book Bienvenue dans le nouveau monde, Mathilde Ramadier busts many of the myths that have been glorifying the start-up industry.
On the other hand, recent analyses have shown that the hi-tech industry does not automatically qualify as a role model for D&I. Their corporate cultures and employment policies have been admired for a long time—often overlooking the fact that the industry is operating in a more favorable setting compared to the steel, retail, or tourist industry, for example. New data and incidences provide clues that many of the larger hi-tech firms suffer from many of the same issues as corporations in more traditional industries.
This article provides an analysis on this specific aspect: http://en.diversitymine.eu/cool-hi-tech-brands-finally-hit-by-harsh-di-reality/
Michael Stuber’s company hosts a D&I knowledge blog called DiversityMine, which contains more than 1,900 articles. He contributed an article on the future of D&I to the fall 2017 issue of PDJ and wrote about diversity and group think for the magazine’s fall 2018 issue.