How Technology and AI Can Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The call for an end to racial discrimination and injustice has become increasingly urgent. Customers, communities, and companies are reaffirming their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

They know the benefits: Research has repeatedly shown that diverse companies have more effective teams and are more likely to out-earn their industry peers, according to McKinsey. But many leaders acknowledge there has not been enough progress when it comes to having a truly representative workforce and eliminating implicit or explicit biases.

The issue is not a problem with the talent pipeline since there is more diversity in college graduates than ever before, for example. It’s a process problem, shared Judith Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer of SAP, during a live-streamed leadership discussion, “How to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Technology.”

Williams explained that critical challenges lie in employee life-cycle processes that are riddled with bias, like recruitment, onboarding, development, retention, and succession. Unfortunately, the awareness of unconscious bias and training to mitigate it are not enough.

“We know that unconscious bias awareness training doesn’t affect behavior,” Williams said. Glaring racial economic inequalities are persistent in many facets of life, including the labor market. Managers, for example, often disproportionately offer development or career advancement opportunities to the “go-to” people on their teams. We overdevelop some talent and under-develop other talent, she acknowledged.

“This is a natural thing for us to do as managers,” Williams said. “We want to get the work done, and we want to have that person we can rely on.”

Technology – artificial intelligence (AI) in particular – can play a pivotal role in correcting bias and helping companies make better decisions when it comes to scenarios like these and throughout the entire employee life cycle.

“An intelligent algorithm can remind us who haven’t we given an opportunity to, how can we encourage them, and how can we nurture them?” Williams said. “How can we mentor all the talent on our team and also think about technology helping us provide just-in-time training?”

Williams said she does not think technology is solely the answer, however. “We are people, and we are going to continue to work with people. But what technology can do is to help us work better with people.”

How Technology Can Support DE&I Efforts

Kamal Ahluwalia, president of eightfold.ai, explained that AI can help support companies to hire, retain, and upskill a diverse workforce by using equal-opportunity algorithms that do not rely on sex, age, pedigree, or other factors that can trigger bias.

AI systems are only as unbiased as the data that is used to develop them. To help mitigate bias, Eightfold’s deep learning technology uses billions of data points from more than 100 million talent profiles. Eightfold built a capability matrix that helps determine the jobs that people are capable of doing in the future. Eightfold’s technology, for example, can help transition service members into civilian jobs by breaking down veterans’ resumes into skills and match them with skills needed by employers. Without AI, veterans’ job titles in the military may be insufficient to show employers their potential.

Eightfold’s talent intelligence platform can also flag or validate skills that are not explicitly stated in resumes, so recruiters can pay attention to otherwise ignored candidates and broaden the talent pool.

Tata Communications, a leading connectivity service provider, uses Eightfold’s language search capabilities so the organization can quickly assess candidates’ skills and projected career trajectories to meet ambitious hiring goals.

Companies Leading the Way

Organizations across sectors are transforming their processes with technology in pursuit of true DE&I. Terex Corporation, a manufacturing company in Connecticut, for example, used social media and SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting to deliver inclusive messaging for recruitment. The company also used SAP SuccessFactors Succession & Development to reduce internal hiring bias so it could do a better job at evaluating female and underrepresented candidates for managerial and director positions.

Hero Group, an international food company in Switzerland, wanted to build a culture that is more attractive to diverse, young talent, including millennials. The company used SAP SuccessFactors Performance & Goals to create continuous dialogue around performance, track performance, and provide feedback.  The leaders at Hero Group realized that their passion for honest, authentic food and quality needed to be supported by a sustainable workforce that was diverse and younger.

According to Jill Popelka, president of SAP SuccessFactors, while technologies can support diversity, managers can work on driving everyday inclusion by making sure they listen to all their team members’ voices.

SAP’s own company initiatives include its Autism at Work program, which focuses on hiring employees that are on the autism spectrum, embracing the abilities of all people, and making sure they feel included in the organization. Beginning in 2013, it was one of the first initiatives of its kind to place an intentional emphasis on hiring differently abled candidates. Through this and other programs, including one that supports the visually impaired, SAP has been able to support and incorporate more employees.

SAP SuccessFactors Human Experience Management (HXM) Suite enables a business beyond bias with a suite of solutions to recruit and retain diverse talent, including highlighting bias in decision-making and supporting an inclusive culture. Popelka also established a DE&I council to ask tough questions of the company’s culture and its human resources (HR) technology solutions. The council is working on initiatives for products across the entire employee life cycle and for underrepresented minorities.

Popelka noted how SAP SuccessFactors solutions can be used to advance DE&I efforts in small and big ways. From a writing assistant that can detect bias in written communication to a calibration tool within SAP SuccessFactors Compensation, these solutions can provide a more equitable and inclusive employee experience.

What’s Next?

Technology can make a major impact on DE&I in organizations, but Popelka and other leaders reemphasized that we need more than technology. Eightfold’s Ahluwalia said that more uncomfortable conversations need to take place. He believes tying executive pay to progress in diversity efforts, or lack thereof, would be an important consideration.

Leaders modeling behavior and accountability are key, which is why companies need to set targets and track progress with transparency. Customers are watching, and they are demanding that companies make tangible progress to bring true DE&I to more workplaces.

Watch the replay of the webinar, “How to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Technology: A Leadership Discussion,” and learn more about how the SAP ecosystem of solutions and partner apps, like Eightfold, can support a diverse and inclusive workplace.


Kim Lessley is the director of Solution Marketing for SAP SuccessFactors.