9 April 2019

Can Technology Help with Workplace Diversity?

When companies are diverse, their employees are happier and more engaged. This means they save money on hiring, giving them more money to invest elsewhere. Diverse companies not only save money, but they earn more, too. Businesses that hire more women make, on average, 15% more than companies with fewer or no women. Businesses that are culturally diverse earn 35% more than companies that aren’t. And yet the lack of diversity in business is still an issue.
8 min read
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Jeremy Bourhis
Demand Generation Manager
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When companies are diverse, their employees are happier and more engaged. This means they save money on hiring, giving them more money to invest elsewhere. Diverse companies not only save money, but they earn more, too. Businesses that hire more women make, on average, 15% more than companies with fewer or no women. Businesses that are culturally diverse earn 35% more than companies that aren’t. And yet the lack of diversity in business is still an issue. According to research conducted by TNG in 2018, 73% of people believe that they’ve been discriminated against when applying for a job. Criteria include: age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, appearance, weight, and health. That’s a whole lot of ways we can be judged, both consciously and unconsciously. Technology – when built and implemented correctly – can help to eliminate this. It can even teach us more about diversity. From hiring right through to exit interviews, technology can help you build more diverse, more successful teams.

Writing job descriptions

Job descriptions are the first thing candidates see. They’re often someone’s first impression of your company. Get it wrong, and you exclude candidates just in how you describe responsibilities or the company itself. We don’t realize it, but many of the words that we use are gendered. ‘Lead’, for example, is seen as masculine, while ‘train’ is feminine. We don’t consciously notice these differences, but they affect how we feel and whether we decide to apply for a role. That’s why tools like Textio are important. They pick up on these subconsciously gendered words and phrases we use so that we can avoid using them when writing job descriptions. They grade the gendered words in a job description and offer neutral alternatives so that the role will appeal to the most qualified candidate, whatever their gender identity. Cisco, one of Textio’s users, has seen a 10% increase in female applicants since using Textio. Its time to hire has gone down, too. Atlassian, meanwhile, used to have 10% of its technical roles filled by women. Women now make up 22.9% of its technical roles.

Filtering candidates

We’ve all heard about how AI can filter through resumes. You might use an ATS that does this yourself. Filtering them in this way is not only faster, but it also helps to eliminate recruiter bias. This ensures that the right people are put through to the interview process, not just someone who fits the idea in the hiring manager’s head. However, this type of software is still open to bias. Hiring managers often enter criteria or keywords into the software that they’re looking for on resumes. While this is usually geared toward skill sets, there’s nothing stopping them from including other criteria too, such as where a person studied. It may also fall foul to gendered language in the same way as job descriptions can.

Interviewing process

AI Robot Vera has been conducting interviews since last year on behalf of PepsiCo.Tengai takes this a step further. It's a robot interviewer that incorporates AI. The idea is to help with the early stages of the recruitment process, before candidates meet a human interviewer. This saves hiring managers time during the hiring process while also improving the quality of hires. Interviews can also be conducted using virtual reality. This allows candidates to be interviewed on an even footing – they can be given the same appearance, then placed in a series of scenarios they’d face on a typical working day. They’re then assessed on their skills alone. Technology can also help to conduct interviews with candidates that cannot attend in-person because of mobility or care issues. With employment so high, it’s important that businesses don’t confine themselves to one place – or a person's availability to attend an interview in person – to fulfill a role.

Working environment and equipment

One area that technology really excels is when it comes to the equipment we use in the workplace. For those of us that are differently abled, technology can be the difference between us being able to take a role or having to turn it down. Back pain costs the US economy billions every year. Motorized height-adjustable desks are one way to avoid the 13 million days off taken every year because of back pain. They’re also beneficial for people with long-term back pain that can’t stand up all day and lack the strength in their arms or hands to use a desk that requires them to adjust the height manually. Elevators can also make a huge difference for anyone with chronic pain or in a wheelchair. Even if a wheelchair-using employee works on the ground floor, they may still need access to upper floors for meetings. Failing to provide them with an elevator limits the number of meeting rooms they have access to, which could delay important meetings for simple accessibility reasons. Providing employees with laptops instead of desktops can also help those with chronic illnesses. Should they have a day where they’re unable to make it into the office, they can still work from home. Allowing employees to work from home reduces the average number of sick days an employee takes from 2.6 days to 2.4 days a year. In the UK alone, sickness absence is estimated to cost employers £29 billion a year. Anything companies can do to decrease this cost will save them money in the short- and long-term. Adaptive equipment such as alternative mice and keyboards are also available for those that can’t use the traditional equipment provided. As someone who used to get RSI and back pain in her previous role but no longer suffers from it despite spending longer at a computer than I used to, I can attest to how much of a difference the right equipment can make.

Taking time out

The traditional one-hour lunch break doesn’t suit everyone. Some people need to take breaks throughout the day instead. For instance, someone who needs to take prayer breaks can block these times out in their calendars so that teammates don’t accidentally schedule a meeting for during this time. Women who need a private room to pump their breastmilk could reserve rooms where they can do this privately if one isn’t already available for them to use. Employees who have Apple Watches can use the reminders it sends to ensure that they move about regularly. They can use this break to make a coffee, get some fresh air, or walk around the block to stretch their legs. All these activities ensure that employees aren’t stuck at their desks all day, helping to prevent lower back pain becoming an issue.

Employee training

It’s important to teach employees how to deal with the different scenarios they may experience. VR training can teach team members how to handle troublesome customers or colleagues. It can also teach them what is and isn’t appropriate conduct. For example, it could show employees a set of scenarios. They can then discuss why and why this isn’t appropriate so they know what to do if they're faced with the situation in real life. Chatbots can conduct similar training, helping to educate employees about diversity practices. They can then collate the data to inform future training and discover areas in which the company needs to improve.

Getting and receiving employee feedback

Employee feedback is one of the best ways for businesses to be held accountable in their diversity practices. Sending regular feedback questionnaires to everyone within the company helps HR teams to see if diversity policies are being followed through. A tool such as FourEyes can be used to create the questionnaire then use AI to analyze the data for any patterns. This saves HR teams hours of time aggregating data or setting up formulas and macros in Excel. Employee feedback can also be collected after onboarding and exit interviews to search for ways that the company can improve. Over time, the data can be collated to look for recurring patterns such as how often someone leaves a particular role or department. Technology can also be used to create spaces for employees to report inappropriate behavior. Allowing this to be done via a chatbot takes away the self-consciousness that can come with talking about sensitive issues in person. HR teams may then receive more detail on the issue, which means they’re in a better position to deal with what happened.


There’s no denying that, as humans, we’re prone to bias. So long as the technology around us isn’t programmed by people that are equally biased, it’s one of the best ways for us to ensure that our workplaces are welcoming for everyone, no matter what their background is.

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