Does AI Foster Inclusivity?
Artificial intelligence (AI) can have a profound impact on inclusivity. While AI has its critics, most experts believe AI can assist businesses in efforts to create more welcoming, diverse, and equitable workplaces.
Now integral to virtually every area of the business world, AI has already demonstrated the power it has to drive transformative new inclusivity initiatives. The following are some key areas where AI can be deployed by businesses to support their inclusion efforts.
AI AND ACCESSIBILITY
Improving access for those with disabilities is an important element of inclusivity. According to recent statistics, those with disabilities are underrepresented in the workplace. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 67% of those without disabilities were working or actively looking for work in 2021, compared with only 21% of those with disabilities.
Technical accessibility is one area where AI can be deployed to improve accessibility. Interacting with digital systems, which can present challenges for those with disabilities, is a requirement in most jobs. AI empowers innovations that make technology platforms more accessible.
Natural language processing enhances the accessibility of digital platforms, opening doors for those who cannot use conventional hardware interfaces to navigate websites and interact with other software tools. Predictive text also allows those with limited mobility to be more efficient with digital communication.
For the visually impaired, AI can empower text-to-speech tools that enhance accessibility. It can also be used for image recognition, making it possible to identify objects, read documents, and interpret physical environments. AI can even be used to analyze facial expressions, giving the visually impaired information they need to better engage with customers and colleagues.
One valuable step organizations can take regarding accessibility is to include those with disabilities in discussions about technology design. People with special accessibility needs can provide insights into what works and what doesn’t. Their participation can ensure the practical aspects of accessibility are considered and addressed, making workplaces more inclusive for others with similar needs.
AI AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
The ongoing shift to remote workplaces has created more opportunities for those with unique accessibility needs. As people with disabilities have typically adjusted their living space to accommodate their needs, working from home does away with the challenges posed by inaccessible workplaces. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that employment of those with disabilities increased by 12% since the COVID-19 pandemic—an increase driven in part by the increase in remote work opportunities.
However, distributed offices have created other challenges to inclusivity. By opening the door to remote workers, organizations have extended the talent pool into international waters. Consequently, some workers now face language accessibility and cultural literacy barriers.
Again, AI can help here by breaking down language barriers. AI-powered tools translate text, audio, and visual media into virtually any language. The best tools deliver translation nearly in real-time, which means employees who struggle with language comprehension can get translations while meetings or other exchanges are happening. AI can also enhance translation with context awareness, providing explanations for slang and culturally specific references.
AI-powered translation can also be applied to text-to-speech platforms, allowing employees to hear email and other messages in their native tongue. Training materials can also be translated with AI, making career development more accessible to those with language challenges. AI can enhance virtual reality training environments in ways that simulate immersive cross-cultural encounters.
By empowering real-time translation tools, AI also drives cross-cultural collaboration in the workplace. Studies have shown that effective collaboration is more challenging to achieve in remote work environments than in traditional workplaces. While proximity challenges play a role in this, insecurities with language and culture also contribute to the problem. AI tools can be leveraged to improve inclusivity and increase collaboration.
AI’s ability to deliver hyper-personalization can also mitigate cultural differences and promote inclusivity. By leveraging data to create tailored employee experiences, AI can ensure that diverse preferences and needs are accommodated. Integrating AI-driven personalization with standard work platforms also supports inclusivity by avoiding the identification of certain groups as having special needs.
AI AND BIAS MITIGATION
Bias is one of the greatest challenges to inclusivity in the workplace. Stats show that employees who experience workplace bias are 33% more likely to feel alienated and 34% more likely to resist collaboration. And it can surface in a wide variety of areas—from hiring, to promotions, to pay, and beyond.
AI can help identify bias in a wide range of business practices. Hiring data can be analyzed to detect biases in sourcing, screening, interviewing, and selection processes. AI can also examine the corporate language used in job postings to identify biases that may communicate a lack of inclusivity.
Performance data can be analyzed to identify patterns of bias in ratings, promotions, and salary. These patterns can include slower rates of advancement among certain groups or pay gaps. In cases where promotions are automated, AI can audit algorithms for embedded societal biases.
Using AI to analyze employee feedback can also help identify biases. By segmenting employee surveys into groups based on gender, ethnicity, age, and other demographics, AI can compare employee sentiment to uncover the presence and impact of biases.
While AI can be used to identify workplace bias, it also introduces the threat of bias. AI must be trained, which means it inherits the biases contained in the training material. The possibility that AI is introducing bias into hiring processes and threatening inclusivity is a widely debated concern.
To guard against AI bias, companies must commit to systematic reviews known as AI audits. The reviews must be conducted regularly to ensure that biases do not exist in training data or algorithms.
Companies that commit to inclusivity give themselves a competitive edge in today’s business world, benefiting from greater innovation, productivity, and retention. AI-powered tools can help businesses attain higher levels of inclusivity, but there are dangers to consider. Integrating AI into business processes is most effective when businesses understand and address its potential to undermine inclusivity efforts.
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • JANUARY #402 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Ed Watal is an AI Thought Leader and Technology Investor. One of his key projects includes BigParser (an Ethical AI Platform and Data Commons for the World). He is also the founder of Intellibus, an INC 5000 “Top 100 Fastest Growing Software Firm” in the USA, and the lead faculty of AI Masterclass—a joint operation between NYU SPS and Intellibus. Forbes Books is collaborating with Ed on a seminal book on our AI Future. Board Members and C-level executives at the World’s Largest Financial Institutions rely on him for strategic transformational advice. Ed has been featured on QR Calgary Radio and Medical Device News.