In this article, Professor Dilshad Sheikh, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Business at Arden University, discusses how artificial intelligence (AI) may be impacting diversity and inclusion within businesses, due to the inherent bias that exists within the technology.

According to a report published at the start of last year, less than a third of the UK’s top jobs are held by women, and across different areas of society, with men still outnumbering women in positions of power by a ratio of two to one. To make matters worse, ethnic minority women are facing even greater levels of under-representation.

Women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields. A Tech Nation report looking into diversity in UK tech companies also revealed that 77% of tech director roles are filled by men. On top of this, it also found that only three per cent of black and Hispanic women and five per cent of Asian women make up the technology sector, with women as a whole only taking up 26% of the roles.

It is no secret there is more that can be done – within the technology sector and in the extended employment market to aid diversity. For some businesses, using technology to strengthen processes is a key way forward, and with the impressive advancements AI has made over the past year, it would serve many businesses to make use of such technology to push diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) agendas.

Could AI solve tech’s diversity problem?

There are several ways businesses can use AI to grow their business, and the two most common uses are: for recruitment and talent retention processes, and for quickening internal processes for faster, more efficient outputs.

For the former, AI can help HR teams attract new talent and use data to evaluate what’s causing higher employee turnover. It can help businesses identify where they have a gap in diverse talent. AI-powered tools can help businesses expand their talent pool by searching for candidates from diverse backgrounds and under-represented communities. This can help businesses identify qualified individuals who might have been overlooked in traditional recruitment methods.

AI can also eradicate the possibility of bias when hiring, by evaluating CVs by solely looking at skills and relevant experience. As well as this, it can help with job advertisements, by ensuring the language used in such adverts is inclusive, and therefore, they are more likely to attract a diverse cohort of candidates. Even during internal processes, AI algorithms are much less likely to carry bias and therefore can spot who may be suitable for promotions or pay rises based on aptitude tests or employee data. It could also analyse compensation data to identify pay disparities among employees based on gender, ethnicity or other factors. This could allow businesses to address any discrepancies and ensure wages are fair throughout the company.

All of these benefits could do wonders for DEI agendas; by keeping biases at bay, we could see candidates being promoted or hired solely based on their abilities and skills. However, these tools do result in us looking at the potential candidates in a very ‘black and white’ way. We can conduct psychometric testing, or let AI sift through hundreds of CVs to find the right person, but there are some problems that could surface.

The main issue that is spoken about is that the teams that have developed such AI software need to be diverse and inclusive themselves. A lack of diversity in AI development can easily result in an algorithm having the same bias as its developer, meaning the core problem would not be solved and that minorities are still likely to be excluded.

AI systems also need to be designed and implemented ethically. There remain to be many privacy concerns, as AI often relies on collecting and analysing large amounts of data. Companies that are using AI must handle sensitive information responsibly and prioritise user privacy to maintain trust and avoid potential discrimination or misuse.

On top of this, the problem that protrudes the technology industry is that there is still a fight against getting enough women or ethnic minorities to work towards a career in technology. This means a human element and human oversight are both necessary to completely ensure fairness and inclusivity.

Could adopting AI push out diverse employees?

For the latter reason mentioned, businesses can adopt AI to quicken processes for manual tasks, allowing staff to focus on more ‘human’ elements of a role. In the technology industry, for example, using machine learning algorithms and natural language processing, AI can automate many of the tasks currently performed by humans, from data entry to customer service. This could free up time for employees to do more thought-led tasks – ones that require strong soft skills, such as interpersonal skills.

A big concern of adopting AI in this instance, however, is that it will kick out people from their roles – especially junior employees. 30% of jobs in the UK are set to be eradicated due to the rise of automation, with more jobs set to involve working alongside or in tandem with new technologies. This research also found that only a minority of employees are currently up to speed and comfortable working with developing digital technology.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are still hugely under-represented in senior roles at work. In the technology industry specifically, women are also hugely under-represented. With minorities much more likely to be in junior roles, we also run the risk of them either losing their job to AI or missing out on their talent due to lack of upskilling.

For these employees, their jobs need not be directly threatened by automation. Instead, the rapid development of technology should mean they are more likely to be working alongside machines. While this will not present a challenge for everyone, it does mean people will need to upskill and require support in accessing education, whether from their employer or the state.

The technologies that power automation are incredibly sophisticated, but none are as powerful or sophisticated as the human brain. The jobs that remain will be ones that are increasingly reliant on cognitive and soft skills and cannot be replicated by computers – this means the technology industry has a crucial opportunity to upskill their junior employees to ensure they remain in the industry.

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