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The Only Way to Beat Unconscious Biases in the Workplace

Feature Article | May 3, 2017 by Susan Galer

It’s been almost one year since I first wrote about a unique Customer Advisory Group that’s addressing gender equity in the workplace, and world events are conspiring to keep this topic at the forefront of many organizations – for better or worse.

Initially focused on tackling unconscious bias (think: photo-less resumes and word choice in job postings), the conversation now is based on direct feedback from customers feeling the pain. To find out more, I talked with Dr. Patti Fletcher, Leadership Futurist and Solution Management at SAP SuccessFactors, who shared what she’s been hearing from decision-makers in the Customer Advisory Group and the market at-large.

“I continue to get questions like are you planning to replace HR with AI, or are leaders going to use machines to decide who works for them,” said Fletcher. “Companies need to take a holistic view beyond just technology, mapping out their HR service delivery strategy in the context of innovations like machine learning. Using these technologies, we can gain insights from crucial data points that we did not have access to before. The result is more informed decision-making.”

Forget Shame and Go for the Nudge

Fletcher is among the experts speaking during a roundtable session, “Using Technology to Drive Business Beyond Bias,” at the annual SAPPHIRE NOW + ASUG Conference, being held May 16-18, in Orlando, Florida. She said that while chief diversity officers (CDO) are on the rise, that hasn’t necessarily translated into measurable results. Interestingly, one of the key findings of the Customer Advisory Board is that designated diversity leaders rarely have a seat at the table when it comes to human capital management (HCM) technology purchasing decisions. Along with an update on all the findings from the Board, chief among the topics for the session will be the role of technology in addressing diversity and inclusion, and how a CDO can influence technology decisions in the context of a company’s people strategy.

For example, AI and machine learning might generate HR numbers that feed shocking headlines to the media, but that’s missing the point. “We know the blame and shame game doesn’t work when it comes to addressing bias,” said Fletcher. “We’re finding out what does work is the nudge factor. There are 150 unconscious biases in play at our brain at any given time, and technology can literally interrupt decisions, nudging hiring managers to align with the company’s diversity and inclusion goals.”

While answers about effective bias prevention programs remain elusive, Fletcher said it’s clear companies need to have the right conversation. “This is not about replaying the old human vs. machine tapes,” she said. “When technology can take everything about someone – credentials, experience, cultural fit – and find the ideal match based on what the machine has learned about what it takes to be successful at your business, this fundamentally changes the role of HR.”

I plan to attend Fletcher’s roundtable at the upcoming SAPPHIRE NOW event, and look forward to sharing more lessons learned from customers on workplace bias.

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