Soccer team in a huddle

Using Technology to Move Business Beyond Bias

September 14, 2016 by Mike Ettling

As the leader of a global cloud company running mission-critical applications globally for over 4,500 clients and their more than 45 million users, I, like most executives, spend a lot of time thinking about people and the workforce.

At our size, and with the criticality of the HCM suite of applications we provide, there are only a few other businesses in the cloud developing the talent that I need. I am always looking for that unicorn of an employee. But of course it’s not just that employee that keeps me up, it’s all employees – because we want to be an employer brand of choice and we strive to represent the diversity that exists in the world we serve.

The talent shortage is a myth; it’s time to enlarge the hiring pond you’re fishing in

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic today and it’s not hard to understand why. We’re in the midst of the latest business model disruption as businesses are forced to digitalize or become irrelevant. And that means we need more people, doing different things, in jobs that in five years could be different from anything we see today.

That’s led many to regard us as in the midst of a talent shortage. But I believe that’s short-sighted thinking. I believe the talent shortage is a myth. It’s time to enlarge the pond you’re fishing in. And I believe it’s a self-addicted problem that we as leaders create by having too narrow a focus on who we attract, who we recruit, who we hire, who we develop and promote. And study after study shows this bias, more often than not, is unconscious.

The good news is there is an answer – which starts with all of us, and can be aided by technology as well.

We have access to technology today that lets us know for instance, a team’s gender balance is out of whack, or too many people with a certain skill or experience level are leaving faster than others. Our solutions have been telling clients that for some time now. Still the reality is, by the time your software or your HR partner comes to you as a leader and tells you your balance is out of whack, it’s really too late.

We’re focused instead on applying machine learning, intelligent services, artificial intelligence – built into the software – to enable you to identify the origins of bias before you get to that already out of whack state.

What Do I Mean by That?

Think about sitting down to write a job req. Many of us write job reqs for nurses unintentionally biased toward women. And maybe a welder job unintentionally biased toward men. But why must this be? Today our solutions solve for that by flagging words that lead to bias. Like spell check, flagging words and recommending alternatives that eliminate the bias. Meaning you open your job up to the best qualified person, expanding your pond to find candidates.

Why Does It Matter Enough to Fix?

Workforce diversity is no longer just about corporate social responsibility or fulfilling legal requirements. Diversity and inclusion have measureable financial benefits and implications to the success of your business. There are direct revenue, customer, and employee investment reasons to address building and maintaining a diverse workforce. The message we are getting from the research is clear: there are untapped kinds of talent out there, and companies are investing millions to reach it.

We Have to Change Our Approach, and Our Thinking

sfsf_ettling-graphicUsing the same traditional recruiting methods to bring the same people into the same traditional jobs and evaluating their contributions by the same traditional measures won’t help you win. Different results require different approaches, and different thinking.
It starts with rethinking our HR processes – who we recruit, who we hire, what type of work environment we provide, who we give access to development and training, pay equity –  and all have to evolve to ensure equity in all decision points across all employees. This means thinking differently about what the opportunities are that we’re offering people. This means thinking differently about jobs and careers.

As the nature of work changes and technology enables virtual communication and collaboration, our pond expands. We can open ourselves to those non-work commitments, geographical constraints, or scheduling requirements that prevent them from adopting such a rigid schedule.

Companies cannot create these fundamental shifts in what it means to work without powerful tools that enable them to measure and manage their workforce. At SAP SuccessFactors we have a strong focus on creating tools that allow our customers to support talent decisions that are free of bias and data-driven, ensuring new kinds of engagement for all people, all in people.

For you to develop customer-centric solutions that are powerful, dynamic, and useful for your diverse customers, we’re developing solutions that help you bring in the diverse perspectives, ideas, and problem-solving skills that lead to innovation.

People make the difference. Technology helps change the game. You can learn more about what we’re uniquely doing at SAP SuccessFactors here.

Mike Ettling is president of SAP SuccessFactors

Top image via Shutterstock

 

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