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Retorio How AI Enhances Diversity in the Workplace: Unlock Unique Identities woman sitting at desk and talking to her male colleague blurry in front
Elizabeth T. 08.11.2019 15 min read

How AI Enhances Diversity in the Workplace: Unlock Unique Identities

Till now, diversity referred to legally protecting underrepresented groups in the workforce. Now that much of those groups make up larger percentages of the global workforce, ethnic diversity has become a fixture, rather than an exception. The change in demography has ushered in the new workplace policies, but most importantly it enhances and streamlines HR functions and beyond. 

Article snapshot:

  • What is diversity
  • What makes diversity intricate and powerful
  • Key aspects in how diversity inspires a company's creative problem-solving
  • How AI is suited to identifying and highlighting employee's unique identities

Diverse ethnic representations points to diversity in other areas: gender, sexuality, religion, neurology, and physical ability. Companies are being made to pay attention to how each employee is, in fact, a nuanced blend of identities. Each individual interprets instructions, feelings, and logical thought processes differently. When a problem appears, each person may have a differing approach to solve it. With diversity steeped in various ethnic communities or neurological abilities, companies can leverage immense potential.


Why diversity competes

Ford Motor, DXC Technology, EY, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and SAP created a program to leverage neurodiversity. Together they formed Autism at Work Employer Roundtable, sharing best practices on hiring and managing employees with autism. Those on the autism spectrum are found to be detail-oriented, highly-motivated to contribute, highly analytical, and possess an immense ability to focus on tasks. These traits are what any employer would want.

Rajesh Anandan founded Ultranauts with his MIT roommate Art Shectman with one aim: one aim: to prove that neurodiversity and autism could be a competitive advantage in business. “There is an incredible talent pool of adults on the autistic spectrum that has been overlooked for all the wrong reasons,” says 46-year-old Anandan. “People who haven’t had a fair shot to succeed at work, because of workplace and workflow and business practices that aren’t particularly effective for anyone but are especially damaging for anyone who is wired differently.”

Neurodiversity is only one case of diversity benefiting employees and companies. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above-average revenue than companies without such diversity. With more perspectives comes more approaches to creative problem-solving. 


Does diversity cause conflict?

Diverse teams are usually associated with innovation and productivity. Do diverse teams do tend to possess a higher incidences of turnover and conflict? Is it a product of diversity itself?

In one study from over 800 workplaces, dimensions of gender, race, and age in the workplace showed the problem wasn't necessarily diversity itself. The core challenge was co-workers being isolated from each other and customers; this was the stronger indicator of employee turnover.

What does "employee isolation" refer to? Isolation derives from how some coworkers may tend to not interact with those from different demographic group. This definitely would match psychology’s theory on social identity theory: people tend to classify themselves and others into specific categories, inadvertently making an “in-group” and an “out-group”. Turnover would be likely derive from being categorised, which might be unsettling for some employees. Additionally, similarity-attraction paradigm shows that like-minded individuals (who may come from the same background, have similar personalities or interests) may have conflict with those who have differing temperaments or attitudes.

This kind of isolation can readily be addressed by hiring managers and communication specialists. It's a tough challenge. Despite its intricacy and others surrounding diversity in the workplace, McKinsey found that HR professionals still believe the benefits of diversity outweigh the challenges. Diversity creates a stronger, more adept team and work environment.

What makes diversity a challenge is what makes it particularly powerful. Diversity in the workplace ensures a variety of different perspectives. Employees possess different characteristics and backgrounds and tend to present a variety of different skills and experiences. Consequently, employees in a company with higher workplace diversity will have access to a variety of different perspectives, which is highly beneficial when it comes to planning and creative problem solving.


3 specific issues Does diversity addresses


Antidote to group think

Diversity could be the cryptonite of group think. When you have individuals with various backgrounds and trajectories, new perspectives arise. 3 psychologists originally proposed the term in 1972. When they formulated the term, they defined 8 characteristics of group think as:

  1. Denial of vulnerability – group members may not be willing to acknowledge their own fallibility or vulnerability
  2. Rationalization of decisions to minimize objections
  3. Belief in the absolute goodness of the group
  4. Intense dislike of outsiders – stereotyped and misleading portrayals of outside members and those who have left the group
  5. Group protectors – the spontaneous emergence of individual members who protect the group from conflicting information and perceived threats
  6. Strong peer pressure on all group members, particularly those who question group decisions
  7. Censorship of any disagreements within the group
  8. Belief that the group is unanimous and cohesive, even when some members object to the behavior of the group

Small peer groups, entire companies, and even whole countries can be subject to groupthink. The biggest danger is when people become unwilling or afraid to share opinions or facts with a group as they’re worried about punishment. The downfall of Enron, the energy trading company that falsely inflated the company’s revenue, could be an example. Employees did not want to “break the line” in voicing concern over the firm’s financial reality. Volkswagen cheating its carbon emissions test could also be a case of group think. The German automotive manufacturer's software was programmed to read carbon emissions were at a certain level; it takes a team of various individuals to give the "ok" on such a poor decision.

Consider "originals"

Adam Grant, psychologist and Wharton professor, writes in “Originals: How Non-conformists move the world” about how divergent groups bring about better options. “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” Grant understands how “originals” and this type of openness to diverse thinking revolutionises a company. Grant has spent years researching and interviewing individuals and regularly consults companies like Google, Pixar, and Johnson & Johnson. For companies who understand everyone has a valid point of view, the bottom-line speaks. One Dutch steelmaker found that having a simple suggestion box, where employees were welcomed to add their own 2 cents about initiatives or policies. The company saved more than $750,000 in 12 months due to employee recommendations. Part of a company’s diversity and inclusion policy could be a simple as creating a suggestion box.

Create a bigger constellation of creativity

Our minds organize information in a structured manner, so that similar pieces of information are associated with each other and effectively exist in proximity. It’s necessary for processing and managing day-to-day issues. However, as a result, we tend to look for solutions that are familiar to the problem itself, solutions that are familiar to us, or solutions that relate to other points we’ve encountered.

Creativity is problem-solving, more or less. It's problem-solving on a higher plane as it demands us to dispel our knee-jerk reactions to a challenge; often it’s demanded because known solutions simply don’t work. Creativity needs diversified thinking. Unexplored information unlocks other sorts of information that could be useful. If you’re searching for a different word for the company business presentation, take a look in the thesaurus. Inspiration for interior decorating, Pinterest could be a useful tool. Likewise, creating a diverse team is akin to creating a constellation of creative problem solvers. A wider range of knowledge, experience, and vantage points can only strengthen a company.

Adaptability to find the problem solver

The world is moving fast; companies need to be streamlined to keep up with technological disruption, changing government regulation, social movements and more. It’s time to start matching the innate cognitive strengths within a team member. Understanding the hard-wiring of a person does not only provide an advantage for companies in candidate search. It’s truly learning how employees react in certain environments and how companies can optimise the environment, team communication, and culture for a more inclusive group. As new technologies emerge, like artificial intelligence and big data have, companies will be able to give individuals the settings and tasks they’re able to perform best.

If identified correctly, technologies like AI can especially enable organisations to quickly identify which employee possesses the skills to solve a given problem. Integrating this kind of tech may be a challenge as it’s only beginning, but companies who begin now are at a clear advantage. Talent professionals will enhance and streamline HR as they build skills in quantifying emotional intelligence, team building built on experience and human intuition, and how certain personalities function (or not) towards a goal. Organizations who learn this now—rather than later—are at a clear advantage.

How does AI tie into this?


“Today when I think about diversity, I actually think about the word ‘inclusion.’ And I think this is a time of great inclusion. It’s not men, it’s not women alone. Whether it’s geographic, it’s approach, it’s your style, it’s your way of learning, the way you want to contribute, it’s your age - it is really broad.” – Ginni Rometty, Chairman and CEO, IBM

In a 2018 IBM and UNLEASH HR professional survey, 65% of HR professionals believed AI can deliver a more diverse and inclusive workforce. AI presents the technology that is suited to identifying and highlighting employees unique identities. When deployed correctly and appropriately, AI quickly learns to not only match skill sets and experiences, but runs a continual feedback loop in detecting bias. During the hiring process, this is especially helpful for biases that may often go undetected; AI provides a countermeasure and accountability for professionals who may not understand their own biases right away.

Enhancing and streamlining HR functions

According to IBM, AI supports in two critical areas: "ensuring all qualified candidates have equal access to job opportunities and supporting HR and managers in making fair employment decisions".

Usually there's a disparity between the number of job seekers and positions open. In certain industries, like technology, there is a greater demand for talent than there are qualified candidates. AI can enhance and streamline HR by easily increasing the awareness of opportunities by recommending jobs that job-seekers might not have considered for themselves as they're using familiar mechanisms. AI paves a unique path to see and understand potential skill crossover.

For example, those working in communication and or public relations might be qualified candidates for a user design writer or researcher position. Though a communications expert may not have considered that as a career alternative, AI can recommend these types of positions based on tasks and personality match. More and more, technology is becoming designed to interact with candidates and learn about unique identities in terms of skill, interest, and personality. AI can match those needs during the candidate search, rather than relying on keyword searches. With this kind of capability, AI presents inclusive hiring, increasing the talent pool while improving how the recruitment process.

Removing bias 

Removing and minimizing bias during the job interview process is one advantage. Inadvertently or not, hiring managers look for specific cues during an in-person interview. During interviews, vital information about the candidate is rarely available; hiring managers rarely get a holistic view and/or understanding the individual interviewing. With such information gaps, interviewers must fill in "missing information" by observing for subtle indications of their personality, character, and motivation. Two particular theories in psychology reveal how recruiters may need more support:

  1. Confirmation bias, which is the tendency to interpret information in a manner that confirms our existing beliefs. It's classified as a type of cognitive bias and an error of inductive reasoning.
  2. System justification, which shows that when we must choose, we tend to choose the option that is perceived to be less risky, continuing the status quo.

With sparse data, hiring managers have to make some pretty big assumptions and somehow contain risk. They hire people they may already feel they "know", rather than hiring those who they perceive as "not fitting in" the company culture. Amongst others, gender and ethnicity are attributes that often skew an interviewer's perception. Though they may not hold an intentional bias, this keeps them from correctly gauging the candidate's skillset.


Retorio use case

We noticed these biases in our work as well. Working with one of our clients, we noticed a statistically significant bias: newly-minted, female college graduates were not receiving second interviews from the client's hiring staff. Out of a hiring pool that was 68% female, all positions (3) were given to newly-graduated, young men. Hiring managers cited the winning candidates had "significantly more experience" and the "needed skill set" or the "potential" to grow into a role. Working with our AI, we revealed hiring managers the results: skill sets and experiences were nearly identical across nearly all candidates. 

These kinds of decisions show a huge oversight in hiring and choosing candidates, leading to serious financial disadvantage. A study by McKinsey found that companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits. "Originals" are needed to create a profitable and agile company. Often those kinds of employees don't look, speak, or think like the hiring managers. In cases like this, AI is a supportive tool in enhancing diversity and the streamlining in finding original thinkers.

With appropriate algorithms, AI highlights and recommends adding, removing, or replacing job board wording with neutral terms, or any wording that may lead to biased judgments, like indicators of age, gender, or ethnicity. AI offers truly a special solution that offers hiring managers the ability to provide an unbiased and more informative interviewing process.

Retorio's AI not only checks for biased indicators, but it additionally provides a holistic view of the candidate for a recruiting team. By delivering a scientifically-valid, personality assessment, hiring managers don't have to refer to inductive reasoning to fill in the massive information gaps about a candidate. They possess an additional tool and further insight into the identity of the individual candidate.

Plan the future, in-house

AI solutions matter in terms of formal recognition, promotion, and succession planning. By detecting potential discrimination, team managers have the opportunity to find the candidate they need. Employees who possess the needed skill set and leadership for a position will be given the new position or recognition they're qualified for. Additionally, certain AI's are also useful for searching and recommending employees by skills and experiences, which is particularly useful for internal hiring. Filling roles in-house are cost-effective as they're acquainted with the company, the process, and perform better than external hires. One of Retorio's clients found this use case particularly useful as they needed to form internal teams. Building effective teams quickly is another competitive advantage for companies.

AI Avoids adverse impact

Another motivation to integrate AI into any talent management strategy: it mitigates adverse impact. What is adverse impact? The term is applied when hiring decisions (inadvertent or not) are done as a result of "systemic discrimination". The past few years, this kind of impact has received greater scrutiny from regulators. It can be rather easily detected by viewing how the different rates of selection: if the selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group is less than four-fifths (or 80%) of the rate for the group with the highest rate, adverse impact could be detected. These kinds of hiring realizations create challenges for companies in the forms of lawsuits and other legal measures. AI could be one measure to mitigate adverse impact and become a "best practice" tool in creating a more inclusive workforce.

Common concerns over AI

Though a minority, 23% of hiring professionals are concerned about the AI being biased itself. Common concerns include, "doesn't the technology learn what human researchers input as parameters?", "Does it not imitate what it's 'told'?" The concern is understandable. Some AI tools have been shown to possess bias against certain candidates due to race, age, or gender. The most known example is Amazon's recruiting AI tool. After 4 years, the software engineer team shut down the operation as it had a clear discrimination against women. However Amazon's experiment revealed significant learnings: now other companies have learned from Amazon's initial try, reflecting and creating clearer and more thoughtful parameters. Additionally, it's also a lesson in why companies need diversity: the software engineers leading the project were mostly Caucasian male. They chose parameters they, the "in-group" were familiar with. With a more diverse team and greater awareness for diversity, parameters for an AI can be carefully constructed.

We've learned from Amazon's mistakes by creating a space of inclusion, by inviting topic experts and leveraging diverse data sets. 

AI can help enhance HR functions in honing a space of diversity. It does this by mitigating bias along the talent management process. It's able to ensure equal access to opportunities for both internal and external candidates. AI supports hiring managers who are short on time and information when conducting a candidate search. Personality assessments, skill set evaluations, and team building are how companies will be able to better understand the unique individual and predict how they'll be able to contribute within a group. AI is no miracle worker; it needs accurate date sets, thousands of hours of review, skilled researchers, and cognizant talent professionals. With those factors, a more inclusive and diverse culture will burgeon and thrive.


Leading companies leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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