Accelerating Equity Efforts Through Technology

The challenges of achieving diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace are well documented. For years, the best intentions of even the most genuinely committed individuals and institutions fell far too short in closing the inequities gap. Despite the shortcomings, the failures of “managing diversity” have yielded a few important lessons and actionable insights. The mistakes and missteps made on the DEI journey are helping to ultimately achieve the ambitious goals. As social norms continue to shift and our institutions begin to slowly adjust, new challenges and even greater aspirations arise. Institutional learning is the added benefit of having a couple of decades of DEI experience behind us. Admittedly, we are getting better at understanding what it would take to accelerate the much-needed change. One of the primary drivers of such acceleration is the new tools and methodologies that help approach DEI issues with greater objectivity and impact.

Whether we call the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion DEI 2.0, IDBEA, or the next most current acronym, the bottom line is clear. Today we have evidence-based intelligence and powerful tools to accelerate our equity efforts. It is important to agree that achieving DEI goals will require greater resolve, clearer goals and a growth mindset approach. This selection of articles shows us how it could be done.

The present collection of articles is the result of the contributions by the speakers at the 2021 annual NYU SPS HR Analytics and Technology conference. The conference explored the role of new data and the latest technology tools that help achieve diversity and inclusion goals in organizations. Conference speakers represented leading technology companies, consulting firms, startups and academia. The range of topics varied from the uses of AI in DEI, gender parity, pay equity, neurodiversity, and agism. We added to the selection external contributions that address adjacent current topics of regulations and vaccine mandates. What unites these papers is the approach to DEI that requires the use of data and technology in presenting their case.

Dr. Sheri Feinzig, a partner at IBM who also teaches Workforce Planning at NYU, writes the lead article in which she urges careful consideration of the risks and opportunities that applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) entail. It does not matter how “intelligent” the new tools are, Dr. Feinzig notes, they are not the “plug and play” substitutes for human judgment. Socially intelligent technologies need to be used with discernment and recognition of their biases and limitations. Dr. Feinzig explains five policy priorities recommended by IBM that include the following 1) general AI literacy across society, 2) assessments and testing across AI systems, 3) transparency through disclosure, and 4) regular collection of consumer feedback. Dr. Feinzig advocates for the establishment of licensing practices that clearly state how innovative technologies can and can’t be used. Based on these fundamental principles, Dr. Feinzig illustrates how IBM drives action towards achieving such equity and inclusion with the use of ethical technologies. OneTen, a pathway for Black talent is a particularly powerful illustration of the application of smart technologies. Led by IBM’s former CEO Ginni Rometti, OneTen is a cross-industry initiative. It commits to hiring one million Black workers into family-sustaining jobs within 10 years thus addressing the systemic inequity issue directly. As the article shows, an achievement at such a scale could only be accomplished with the right uses data and tech.

Dr. Beverly Tarulli, former PepsiCo Talent Strategy Executive and current NYU professor takes on the perennial issue of gender pay inequity in the workplace. Dr. Tarulli debunks the perception that the gender gap has been closing in the last decades and explains how such data could be misleading. She lays out specific steps the HR departments need to take to conduct competent pay equity audits and respond to their findings adequately and in a timely manner. She also points out the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women in the workplace and how it continues to create challenges in achieving the equity most organizations aspire to. In summary, Dr. Tarulli urges HR professionals to acquire the necessary skills to be able to effectively navigate the workplace that is getting more diverse and more distributed.

Dr. Lori Trawinski, director of finance and employment at the AARP Public Policy Institute, and a faculty member at NYU, focuses her article on the greater need and opportunity for inclusion of senior workers. As Dr. Trawinski explains, the “great resignation” that gets a lion share of media attention, does not apply to many older workers. Despite their loyalty and the need to continue working for many, the age inequities in the workplace persist. Dr. Trawinski makes a compelling case as to why the current biases against older workers must change.

Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research, a people analytics consultancy, dedicates her article to the latest findings on inclusion using her company’s proprietary research methodology. Stacia Garr’s article details and explains the necessary steps needed to arrive at the practical insights that drive effective action. The article is instructive both for the story it tells and the method it offers.

Arthur Woods, Marcela Berland, Frank Gomez are a trio of practitioner-researchers committed to closing the gap between the promises of DEI and the results current programs deliver. In their article, the three research partners set out to explain specifically how they see the pathway to closing this gap. Their roadmap is to set specific goals, establish meaningful measurements and hold the broader organizational community accountable. Their most compelling conclusion is that DEI goals will not be achieved unless organizations are hardwired at the systems level to deliver on their DEI promises in all aspects of organizational life.

Drs. Andrea Darier and Lexi Martin, Principal researchers with Visier, argue with data in hand, that the current “great resignation” is disproportionally affecting women. The case they make is that the root causes for women’s leaving the workforce pre-date the pandemic and if not properly addressed, can continue to disadvantage female workers way beyond the pandemic. Darier and Martin offer a helpful set of practical sets companies can take to get back and become attractive employment choices for female talent.

Bob Greene, senior HR industry analyst, addresses a very specific issue of the effectiveness of employment-based vaccine mandates. The data presented are hot off the press, well organized and explained. In the end, a compelling emerges that the vaccine mandates actually work.

Dr. Katherine Jones writes about the employee experience in the pandemic using a visual metaphor of the three-ring circus. Dr. Jones believes that the pandemic era employee experience is a three-ring circus in its own right. Only one circus of the three is controlled by HR, the other two, technology, security and compliance are outside of HR’s immediate sphere of control. The situation that delivers effective results requires integration of all services regardless of their immediate oversight to serve the unified employee experience. Achieving such an alignment, Dr. Jones argues, is the exact challenge of the DEI function today.

Commissioner Keith Sonderling’s, EEOC, contributes the final and most compelling closing article titled: “How People Analytics Can Prevent Algorithmic Bias.” Commissioner Sonderling emphasizes the importance of creating a regulatory framework that will guide the uses of HR technologies in the workplace that are bias-proof and are used to screen in diverse talent, not screen out diversity. Commissioner Sonderling’s personal commitment to pursuing important regulations is particularly welcomed by the HR analytics and technology community.

“We cannot fully realize the potential of AI technologies for the American people – and for the global economy – unless those technologies are applied to uphold individuals’ most cherished rights: civil rights.”

In summary, the articles selected here represent a variety of perspectives from the expanding field of evidence-based DEI practice. The authors highlight the growing importance of analytics and technology in delivering tangible, measurable and impactful results to help make the most ambitious DEI goals achievable at scale.

Anna A. Tavis, Ph.D

Dr. Anna Tavis is Clinical Professor and Academic Director of Human Capital Management Department at NYU School of Professional Studies, Senior Fellow with the Conference Board, and the Academic in Residence with Executive Networks. Dr. Tavis has been named to Thinkers50 Radar for 2020.

Dr. Tavis is a former Executive Editor of People+Strategy Journal and is currently an Associate Editor of Workforce Solutions Review. Dr. Tavis published two volumes of edited essays Point/Counterpoint: The New Perspectives on People and Strategy (SHRM 2013 and 2017) that are approved for HR professional certification credit. Her latest book, Humans at Work was published in March, 2022.

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